Hospital Facilities Managers Are Finding Ways To Make Their Buildings Smarter with LoRaWAN
By Christopher Hariz
on July 8, 2021
In an era of smart devices – from phones to watches to toasters – hospital facilities managers often find themselves wondering why it’s so hard to get a smart building.
Using technology to solve even the simplest of problems often unleashes a host of unexpected issues: Trying to maximize energy savings via occupancy sensors? Great, you’ll just have to install wireless access points across your building, run power lines to every room, bring in the IT team to help set up the complex software, and watch out for hackers!
Faced with a situation like this, even the bravest facilities manager might decide that it would be easier to just send someone to make the rounds and turn off lights.
Fortunately, new advances have made it possible to avoid the typical hassles that come with making buildings smarter. New wireless communication technologies are designed to support thousands of devices, come with minimal infrastructure, are easy to install, and have strong security built-in.
Let’s take a look at some of the typical issues that facility managers face when adopting technology, find out how new networks have solved many of them, and learn about some real-life examples.
Typical Challenges for Smart Building Technology
1. Poor Security
Hospitals face the threat of constant cyberattacks from dangerous groups seeking to steal data or install ransomware on critical systems. Hospitals were forced to pay more than $100 million in ransoms to hackers just last year. IT teams are often focused on minimizing these risks.
Standard smart building technology is deeply connected to the networking infrastructure of the building. Any security
vulnerability can affect the entire network, and vice versa. This risk alone can often stop a smart building project in its tracks
and usually requires intensive testing and assessment to make sure devices are properly secured.
2. Complex Network
When using standard WiFi or Ethernet based networks, every device has to be assigned an IP Address. Networking infrastructure can only handle a limited number of devices connected simultaneously, so adding more devices requires expanding infrastructure.
When a smart building project adds hundreds of devices, it puts a massive strain on these typical networks – often requiring hundreds of additional wireless access points, complex network management systems, and painstaking electrical work. The cost and hassle of setting up this additional infrastructure is a problem that few are willing to take on and puts many smart building projects on ice.
3. Labor Intensive Setup and Management
Typical wireless internet-connected devices need to be individually configured when they are installed. Usually, they need to be told what wireless network to join and given a password to use. This is often a frustrating process: struggling to connect with the device via smartphone or computer, hunting down the required information, and dealing with confusing user interfaces.
With a smart building project, this problem – and the frustration that come with it – becomes 100x larger. Setting up and managing hundreds of these devices requires a technically skilled team, weeks of work, and the mindset of a zen master.
4. Misaligned Incentives between the Facilities and IT Teams
To solve the technical issues posed above, most facility managers turn to their IT team. However, a smart building project that makes life easier for a facilities team usually does the opposite for the IT group. They are faced with a difficult project that doesn’t provide them with any direct benefits – and they’re on the hook if anything goes wrong. This dynamic results in IT teams that reject or slow down smart building projects.
How New Networking Technologies Solve These Issues
LoRaWAN is a networking protocol that enables secure & simple long-range communication with fleets of connected devices. It can support large networks with millions of devices without significant power or infrastructure costs.
Designed for Security
LoRaWAN has been designed from the onset with security as an essential aspect, providing state-of-the-art security for highly scalable connected device networks. Unlike many other networking technologies, it offers dedicated end-to-end encryption.
Additionally, the entire network can be set up separately from standard Wifi networks. This allows a smart building project to stay isolated and avoid the risks involved in connecting to a hospital’s main network.
Simple Network Built for Smart Devices
Thanks to low-frequency communication and a unique communication protocol, LoRaWAN networks need very little infrastructure to provide service to a huge footprint of hundreds of devices.
During our tests in urban hospital environments, a single LoRaWAN gateway can cover a multi-story building the size of a city block – coverage even reaches into sub-basements & operating rooms.
Super Simple Setup
Unlike standard connected devices, LoRaWAN devices have all the information they need straight from the factory – no network names and passwords required.
That means that LoRaWAN devices don’t require any technological know-how to set up. Simply provide power or a battery and let the device do the rest.
No Need to Involve Other Teams
By removing the technological hurdles involved in security, infrastructure, and setup, LoRaWAN allows a smart building project to be easily set up by anyone in the facilities team without even having to use the hospital’s network.
This means that the IT team doesn’t have to be involved and the project can be managed directly by those who benefit the most from it.
Real-Life Examples of Projects
Atlantic Healthcare – Emergency Light Testing
Sabina Certa, the Construction Controller & Property Manager at Atlantic Health Systems in New Jersey had a major logistical and compliance problem.
She is in charge of 400 buildings and needed to manage the testing of over 10,000 emergency lights and exit signs every month across a massive footprint. Based on internal estimates, this testing was wasting 600 man-hours of labor every year. Sabina told us that she “just didn’t have enough bandwidth in-house for testing” and was hoping we had a way to solve this problem.
Fortunately, we did! We created smart emergency lights and exit signs that test themselves automatically and communicate via LoRaWAN.
Sabina was worried about taking on a smart building project, but, thanks to the benefits of LoRaWAN, her facilities team was able to get started without any special setup. The smart lights installed in exactly the same way as standard lights – she just had to plug in a few gateways and everything happened automatically. Best of all, since there was no need to use Atlantic Health’s internet, she never had to talk to her IT Team.
“The lights were extremely easy to set up – It was like magic!”
Sabina Certa, Atlantic Healthcare
Check out the full case study detailing Sabina’s experience.
What The Future Holds
Hospital facility teams are under constant pressure to streamline operations, reduce failures, and improve efficiency. To do this, every facility manager will need to take advantage of connected device solutions that eliminate problems like emergency light testing.
This means that it will be more important than ever to reduce the hurdles and hassles that are involved setting up and managing fleets of connected devices.
Networking technologies like LoRaWAN and the companies that utilize them can establish a strong partnership with hospital facility managers and automate many of the problems that facility teams face.
At Hexmodal, we work with our partner hospitals to do this for a variety of different facility issues: emergency light testing, room pressure monitoring, equipment tracking, and more. Get in touch to learn more!
ABOUT HEXMODAL TECHNOLOGIES
Hexmodal uses Smart Devices to make more time for their clients by automating the testing of emergency lighting, and the monitoring of negative pressure rooms. With no capital investment or IT involvement, Hexmodal’s devices are affordable and easy to install. Hexmodal proudly supports thousands of devices at hospitals and other large facilities in the United States. Hexmodal has offices in Brooklyn, NY and Providence, RI. www.hexmodal.com
The ASHE Annual Conference 2021 in Nashville brings together the nation’s top experts and practitioners in healthcare facilities management and engineering! We’re very excited to meet all of you there and welcome you to our Booth #421!
Chris explains in this video
Case Study With Atlantic Health
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