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“Automation” doesn’t equate to Automatic Safety



It’s been over 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic, but we still retell the legendary ship’s story with great regularity—both for interest in the vessel’s feats of engineering, and for the tragedy of its untimely demise. But, in recounting this story, it’s impossible to avoid mention of the ship’s perceived “unsinkability,” as well as how this egotism led to an inadequate number of lifeboats and subsequent loss of human life.


In fact, one might argue that the Titanic’s story survived specifically because of its value as a cautionary tale.


Today, facility managers are thrust into roles not so different from those of the Titanic’s crew; both must define risks for those under their care and prepare for them as best they can. As we look at this comparison, an obvious question arises: has our technology made us overconfident, and—as a result—underprepared? Are we, for instance, less likely to enact company-wide fire drills because modern smoke detectors are so accurate that forewarning of a problem should provide us with enough time to evacuate?


Are we less likely to check plumbing or electrical systems because sensors should alert us to problems in real-time? Do we maintain the same attention to detail when artificial eyes are supposed to look where we cannot?


On the topic of automated processes, a recent FM Link piece had this to say:


“Automated databases are very effective and valuable—once the data have been entered and as long as the database is updated to ensure its accuracy and timeliness. Thus, facility managers must be prepared to commit the resources necessary to develop and maintain an automated database. The magnitude of this commitment is almost always underestimated.”


As FM Link notes, trust in technology is an essential portion of virtually every modern job. However, understanding the role and significance of human review within automation cannot be overstated. Facility managers who install sensors should recognize their value, but also the added responsibility of routinely checking these sensors (and the systems they monitor) for malfunction.


What’s more, FMs should continue to rely on their most time-tested and reliable sensors: the tenants under their care. Often, small problems reported by team members, tenants, or management can be indicative of larger system failures. By looking at the root of a problem—rather than simply eliminating the surface issue—facility managers can better adapt their responses to ensure long-term security.


When it comes to protecting those on our “ship,” let us learn from the errors of the past and take nothing for granted when it comes to safety. Otherwise, the ship may sink automatically.


This is a continuation of our discussion on automation. What other challenges do you think stand in the way of automation tools? 

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