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Editor's Note: Fall Backward, Into Historic Opportunity

Aug. 27, 2020
FROM OUR SEPTEMBER ISSUE: As an anxious autumn arrives, it seems every U.S. business and home needs to find a new normal. And we all know what necessity breeds...

As you read this editorial, you likely will be as troubled by the uncertainties of this anxious autumn as I am, if not more so. 

Amid an ongoing global pandemic that, at press time, had already claimed more than 180,000 U.S. lives and triggered an historic economic recession, the new school year has stumbled out of the gate across the nation. Last month, our August cover asked, “Will Schools Be Ready?”

As it turned out, the answer was, “It’s complicated.” 

From coast to coast, the best laid plans for K-12 school districts and colleges and universities seemed to change every day last month. As positivity rates for coronavirus soared among returning students at places like the University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, and the University of Alabama, administrators at every level, in every state, revisited their plans for fall. Remote learning, in one form or another, gained greater momentum each week.

(As difficult as this year has been, try to imagine it without computers!)

Similarly, downtown building owners and real estate firms across the U.S. have had to rethink, well, everything… about how to maintain operations, retain tenants, and attract new ones to replace those who have left. As a result, facility managers and building engineers are gaining influence now (as noted in a recent post on our website by OSIsoft). Indeed, health and safety concerns have never been more crucial to the market than they are now, as real estate firms try to coax thousands of businesses and millions of Americans back into downtown offices.

“We have an opportunity to challenge what work is, how it should be approached and where it can be performed,” said Charles E. Gulledge III, P.E., this summer in his inaugural address (online) as ASHRAE’s new 2020-21 president. “We can engage our workforce in activities that seek and create value. Data becomes a critical resource. Everything that unfolds in the future revolves around data,” he predicted.

  • To watch Gulledge's inaugural address, see below...

Toward that end, Gulledge also announced that the new society theme for his term will be “The ASHRAE Digital Lighthouse and Industry 4.0.” The theme focuses on reimagining the building industry by not only integrating industry segments, but technology, as well. He explained how capturing and linking knowledge requires an understanding of how to collect, store, and analyze data so that it is both insightful and actionable.

 And it will take engineering expertise to interpret that data and to outline the menu of actions it demands.  

 Not surprisingly, of course, our industry will not have all the answers, either. As our cover story this month details, HVAC systems can only do so much in the mitigation of infectious disease transmission. And just adding fresh air to old ventilation systems will not have the desired effect on anyone’s—or any building’s—health and performance.

But we should all take at least some comfort this fall in knowing that many, many bright and creative minds, in this industry and across many others, are still working feverishly to get our lives back to normal. And at press time, there is real optimism out there now about new forms of COVID-19 tests that many experts say will be “game-changers.”

Scientists at the University of Illinois, Harvard University, and Yale University all are reportedly racing to develop and mass produce simple saliva tests (strips that you lick) that can determine virus positivity within 15 minutes. Cheaply and easily. If those tests arrive this fall and quickly become commonplace at jobsites, schools, and businesses, then my editorial in this space next month could be considerably sunnier. Let us all hope!

Comments? Questions? Please e-mail me at [email protected].