Case study: Public safety meets resiliency goals

featuring Cameron Brown

April 28, 2023

People sitting in a room filled with computers at an operations center.

Mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure needs to be evaluated during the design phase for added resiliency

For the San Antonio, Texas-based Quarry Run Regional Operations Center, the idea of building resiliency was well-defined. A tour of the operations center doesn’t start with its bright and sunny administrative spaces or even at the high-tech, futuristic public safety answering point. Instead, all tours start in the electrical room located deep inside its hardened, mission critical core.

The room, with its rows and rows of electrical conduit aligned in an intricate pattern of overlapping and parallel pipes, is the building’s beating heart. The mechanical room also gives a sense of the complex and thoroughly thought-out systems that make this building fully resilient and seamlessly operational in the event of any emergency.

To achieve resiliency goals, this facility was designed to withstand severe weather events and backup four different public safety call centers across three counties. The client knew what the responses were to those events and how the building needed to operate before, during and after each event.

In particular, the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems design had to overcome multiple types of failures. Incorporating redundant components and pathways ensures that power is available to the facility at all times and all communication equipment stays within operating temperature.

Defining resiliency

Page Electrical Engineer and thought leader Cameron Brown developed some questions to help guide owners through defining the level of resiliency required for their building:

Stone and metal exterior of an emergency operations call center designed for resilience.
© Dror Baldinger, FAIA

What type of failures or events are you planning for?
It could be a natural disaster or a failure in one of the building’s systems. Each event will need a separate response. Do you need to plan for hurricane winds? Are you in the 100-year flood plain? Or 500-year flood plain? Are you in an earthquake zone? Will you seismically rate the equipment and/or the pathways? It’s important to talk about the faults you want to plan for, what type of responses are appropriate and whether to plan for multiple simultaneous failures of separate systems. Responses to these questions will significantly change the design.

How long do you plan to be without resources?
Whether it is spare parts, fuel or water, what is the plan to overcome the fault? How many spare parts will you store and where will you store them? How much fuel do you need on-site? How difficult is it to get fuel? Where will the fuel truck park to refuel? Is a temporary generator connection a better option than on-site generation? If you are using chilled water for cooling, will you store water in case of a water disruption? Do you need to have pumped refrigerant units for critical spaces instead of water storage? These questions help owners think through how to respond during the event.

Will the building be operational during the event?
Different events pose different real-time operational challenges. For example, if the building needs to be operational during a hurricane, that will change what equipment, if any, can be placed outside. That, in turn, raises the issue of whether to incorporate hurricane-rated generator enclosures or build generators into the building. What if only part of the building needs to survive? How does that change the electrical distribution and HVAC systems?

Will the building be staffed 24/7?
That decision defines the type of responses the system can have and how much automation is required to respond effectively. If the building will be staffed during normal business hours only, then more automation may be necessary. If an operator is always present to help triage the situation, that reduces the demand for automation can be reduced. Finding a balance is important.

Content modified from an interview with Cameron Brown that appeared in Consulting-Specifying Engineer Magazine

About Cameron

Cameron has contributed to some of Page’s most challenging projects in recent years, including a number of complex, fast track data centers. Cameron has been responsible for power distribution and lighting design; coordinating with owner agents, power utility companies, manufactures and consultants and construction administration.

Cameron Brown

Engineering Director