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Teamwork

As I am writing this column on September 24, less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I am compelled to address that all-consuming topic. So, you ask, what could commissioning have to do with those horrific events? Well, our firm is the Commissioning Specialist for the Pentagon Renovation Program., and we have seen first hand the benefits of commissioning at that facility.

The hijacked airplane struck the nearly completed first “wedge” (Wedge 1) of the renovation project. Without writing specifically about the attack and its results, I have to say that I was very proud of our staff (10 of whom were at the Pentagon that day and all safely escaped) and their accomplishments over the past two years of the Wedge 1 renovation. I thought about how rewarding it was that we commissioned the building mechanical, electrical, and life safety systems, because their proper performance under the unthinkable circumstances undoubtedly reduced property damage, if not saved lives.

However, I quickly reminded myself that it is not the Commissioning Specialist firm alone that made these systems work; it was the entire design, construction, and facilities operations team whom we led through the commissioning process. Just as in any great and complicated endeavor, it was necessary for all parties (and there are certainly a lot of interested and responsible parties) to pull together and strive for the same goal.

The Design Intent Document, introduced through the commissioning process, was the basis of shared communication regarding system performance goals. By the time we reached the end-of-construction testing phase, there was little disagreement regarding what constituted acceptable performance, and all contractors were expected to demonstrate that performance through the functional performance tests. Once we got over the initial bumps in the scheduling and coordination process, testing proceeded smoothly and with good communication among all those involved.

The key point I want to make is that not all tests were completed successfully when first conducted. Deficiencies were found, documented, and corrected and then retesting was performed to demonstrate compliance with the design. This includes the critical life safety systems. If the initial deficiencies had never been discovered through the commissioning process, they may not have been corrected before the September 11 attack.

Wedge 1 was in the midst of a lengthy phased completion and occupancy move-in period. We were about 97% complete with our functional performance testing and had some retesting yet to be performed. Fire alarm testing and retesting was completed in August. That is one of the few bits of good news coming out of this whole affair.

Part of the not-so-good-news, of course, is that we will have to start all over again. Reconstruction plans are well underway, and we are confident that commissioning will play a prominent role in those efforts. Through very unfortunate circumstances we have been able to demonstrate the benefits of commissioning almost immediately following completion, and we expect that all design, construction, and building owner commissioning team members will make the commissioning process proceed even smoother the second time around.

We like to say that, “Commissioning is a team sport,” and this particular project team should feel like they’ve won the World Series. To keep a positive outlook, I think we need to approach the reconstruction effort as going into the next World Series as returning champions.

 

COMMISSIONING: GETTING IT RIGHT

Engineered Systems, November, 2001

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
President
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318
rteesmag@QSEng.com