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By Mark Zoller, Paladin, Inc

As a commissioning provider and design engineer with a background in competitive running, I’ve come to appreciate the parallels between building resilient systems and training for a successful race. Just as a runner must prepare for the challenges of a tough course, building owners and operators must cultivate a culture of resilience to ensure their facilities perform optimally over the long haul.

So, what does resiliency really mean for a building being designed and constructed today? It’s about creating harmony between the building’s systems and the people who operate and maintain them. Like a runner who must be in tune with their body, we need to design and install systems that are congruent with the owner’s operational capabilities. It’s not about having the most expensive gear; it’s about finding the right fit for the client’s needs and abilities.

When considering the elements of resiliency, we must look beyond mere redundancy. Having three boilers instead of one looks great on paper, but true resilience lies in the team’s ability to rapidly and reliably switch over and adapt when challenges arise. It’s like a runner’s ability to adjust their stride when faced with an unexpected obstacle on the course.

Building resilience also means considering factors like the building envelope, which acts as the first line of defense against the elements. Just as a runner must be prepared for varying weather conditions, our systems must account for the conditions on both sides of the wall, managing optimal thermal conditions on the inside while keeping the rain and impact of the elements on the outside.

While we can plan for historical weather patterns, the human component remains the wildcard in building operations. To ensure optimal performance, we must focus on the human factor – maintenance, operations, testing, and calibration. Like a coach passing on wisdom to their team, we need to have a plan in place to perpetuate knowledge and proficiency among building operators.

So, how do we safeguard buildings against those “out of our control” components? It’s about fostering a mindset and processes that help restore optimal integrated functioning when individual failures occur. When I raced half marathons and 10k courses, I continuously monitored my foot strike, breathing, and heart rate, tuning them as I went and adapted to conditions as they presented themselves. Similarly, building operators must be mindful of the systems they oversee, leveraging experience to fix issues and solve problems.

Balancing risk and reward is an ongoing process in building operations. Like a runner who sacrifices a bit of speed for endurance, we sometimes trade a bit of efficiency for durability or extra maintenance time for manpower economics. The key is to continuously optimize rewards based on the risks taken, predicting potential failures and integrating ways to detect and remediate them quickly.

Ultimately, creating a resilient building is a team sport. Just as a cross country team relies on each member to score points, a resilient building needs everyone from the janitors to the CEO to play their part. When there is respect for all positions and a shared commitment to resilience, that’s when things come together optimally.

Resilience is not just about what’s on paper; it’s about what’s in people’s minds and beliefs. It’s an active, participatory process that requires cross-training and communication across all levels. Executives need to engage with operators, asking questions and ensuring the resources are in place to support a resilient culture.

In the end, a building with machines from the 1960s can be just as resilient as a state-of-the-art facility if the culture is centered around resilience. Like a runner’s high that comes from proper preparation, the peak performance of a building comes from the building blocks of a resilient culture.

As commissioning providers, our job is to champion this culture, to be the coaches that guide building owners and operators toward the finish line of optimal, long-term performance. By fostering a team mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement, we can design and construct buildings that stand the test of time, no matter what challenges they face along the way.