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Building a sustainable future: Best practices for energy-efficient 9-1-1 emergency communications centers

As sustainability continues to be a priority, architects, engineers and builders are implementing more energy-efficient designs, including those that are net-zero. Net-zero energy buildings are structures that produce as much energy as they consume, making them highly energy-efficient and sustainable. The ultimate goal of these designs is to significantly reduce the amount of harmful emissions that contribute to global warming.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), buildings are responsible for 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, meaning the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry has an opportunity to pave the way toward a healthier, more sustainable future. At Wold, we’re committed to educating our clients on, and promoting, the benefits of implementing as many sustainable strategies as make sense for their projects - whether or not net-zero is the identified objective. Designing energy efficient buildings can lead to massive reductions in energy consumption, and to achieve this, sustainable strategies must be considered on the front end of any project.

Of the many project types that Wold designs, 9-1-1 emergency communications centers require careful consideration of specific parameters to ensure the strategies for achieving high levels of energy efficiency align with the critical operations needs and substantial technology loads associated with these facilities. Our team has worked with numerous clients to find a balance that meets their organization’s unique objectives.

When implementing sustainable design strategies for 9-1-1 emergency communications centers, there are three best practices to consider:

  1. Identify communications and technology systems requirements (and power loads) early. This helps establish an accurate benchmark for determining an overall approach for offsetting the building’s power requirements. The largest power load that must be accommodated in the design of a net zero facility is the electrical draw for the emergency communications and technology building equipment.

    Lake County, Illinois’ new Regional Operations & Communications Facility, which is scheduled to begin construction in Summer 2023, is a great example. This facility will include a space for 9-1-1 communications and emergency management operations and is targeted to be both net-zero and LEED Gold certified. The final size of the solar array field will be directly related to the building’s calculated Energy Use Intensity (EUI). The EUI of a standard office building (utilized eight hours a day, five days a week) seeking net zero certification would typically be less than 25. Based on the around-the-clock energy use requirements of an emergency communications and emergency operations center, the EUI for the Lake County project is benchmarked to be 89. Narrowing in on this number at the front end allows our team to properly plan ahead and ensure all requirements are met.
  2. Consider geothermal heating and cooling. A significant component of net-zero energy is to eliminate the reliance on natural gas. As part of the new Lake County Regional Operations & Communications Facility, the on-site solar array will be constructed, coupled with a geothermal heating and cooling system. This process will result in full electrification, thus eliminating the need for natural gas and reducing the building’s overall carbon footprint. Our team has implemented energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling plants in numerous building designs, including the Hennepin County 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Facility, a modern facility in Minnesota that maximizes the reliability of communications, staffing efficiencies, and operating expenses by collocating three integral functions comprising the countywide public safety communications enterprise.
  3. Use energy modeling throughout the design process. Understanding and balancing the structural hardening and energy efficiency effectiveness of exterior envelope components will guide design decisions – from early design concepts all the way through the construction and building stages. The robustness and redundancy of building systems should be evaluated in comparison to the energy usage of available options. Additionally, the complexity of the emergency communications center building type requires that all of the various building systems and strategies are considered cooperatively to ensure informed decisions are made that will not jeopardize operational objectives.

    A great example is the Scott County Emergency Communications Center in Davenport, Iowa, which leverages energy modeling throughout the process and uses drought-resistant prairie grass landscaping, energy-efficient mechanical systems, and ground source heat pumps that keep air-handling units off the roof and away from the potential danger of suffering storm damage.

When it comes to sustainable building design, and especially when pursuing net-zero building energy, implementing these strategies on the front end of a project is key. These best practices not only reduce the building’s overall carbon footprint, which helps preserve our planet, but can also offer long-term cost savings and healthier, more comfortable environments for occupants.

At Wold, we’re committed to elevating energy efficient designs that reduce the environmental impact of the communities we serve. If you want to learn more about our experience and capabilities or need additional information about how we can assist you with your energy-efficient facilities, please reach out to our team by calling 1-888-254-6789 or emailing info@woldae.com.

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