ASHRAE has a long-standing collaborative relationship with the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE), which focuses on the overall engineering needs of medical facilities to create uniform guidelines. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Bhansali said ASHRAE and ASHE have been sharing information they have gathered to help with the process.
“Under normal circumstances the process can be time consuming, but there is an awareness that working together to expedite certain things during this process is essential,” he said.
ASHRAE follows a 3-4 year cycle for updating its standards, and the next 170 standard is likely to be released in the fourth quarter of this year and thus does not provide enough time to properly vet and address questions raised by this pandemic to be included in this update. But over the next few months, interim directives may be incorporated to guide health care facilities to make responsible decisions using information and priorities that are now at the forefront of the health care industry.
Another outcome of the pandemic is a newfound awareness of the value and necessity of many of the systems that engineers are responsible for designing and recommending for all buildings, especially in the health care industry.
“When we are collaborating with our clients, it’s incumbent upon us to educate them about these systems, what they can do, and what they will need for their particular facility,” Bhansali said. “While the standards are usually a minimum requirement, going beyond for the resiliency of the system is considered on a case-by-case basis. Facilities in urban, suburban and rural areas will each have different considerations, and will look to their engineers to custom fit the right systems for their particular needs.”
In the long term, the ASHRAE guidelines will be a valuable tool to help medical facilities make smart investments that will create safer environments, and new efficiencies to convert facility usage in the event of a future health crisis.
“We can never predict what or when something is going to happen, but we can prepare for that time when something does happen,” Bhansali said. “We need to be prepared on all fronts for viral outbreaks, whether they are airborne, waterborne or transmitted through a droplet. Engineers can provide valuable insight from experience on what will be practical and useful in the design of health care facilities.”
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