Restore Confidence and Combat Pandemics by Retrofitting Mission Critical Public Facilities
07/07/20 : Robert Horton

Restore Confidence and Combat Pandemics by Retrofitting Mission Critical Public Facilities

DFW airport at night.

By Robert Horton, Vice President of Environmental Affairs, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

The COVID-19 pandemic completely upended the familiar rhythms and routines of modern life. As countries around the world began to shut down, airports that once welcomed millions of travelers a day were eerily quiet. National and international commerce and business flights saw a dramatic drop in volume as the spread of COVID-19 increased.

Nevertheless, for airports like Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the duty of transporting essential people and supplies to their final destination never stopped, even as our economic model was thrown into chaos. In April, we saw passenger traffic decrease by 92%. Yet at the same time, our electricity demand stayed constant and our electricity costs actually increased by 8% due to price increases. With a reduced number of travelers and subsequent revenue decreases, it became imperative to dynamically manage our buildings to reduce operating and maintenance costs. Even more importantly, we have renewed responsibility – as a gateway to our communities – to keep our customers and employees safe.

Our experience highlights the acute challenges facing public facilities in the age of COVID – and the need for new investment to give us the tools to address not only this pandemic but future disasters that present similar problems. It is why we were proud to join 80 organizations and businesses who signed a letter to Congress in support of a proposal to renew mission critical public facilities – including ports and airports but also schools, hospitals, military facilities and others – to make them safe, resilient, and flexible, while using costs savings from efficiency improvements to help cover the costs. 

For DFW, our immediate challenges are two-fold. First, we must enhance our facilities’ air flow and indoor air quality, which will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and other contagions and make our facilities healthier and safer for everyone. We want to leverage technologies that strengthen our understanding of building occupancy and spatial utilization, allowing flexibility in how we strategically manage social distancing and sanitization efforts. Secondly, we need to gain flexibility in our building energy systems to optimize cost performance based on actual throughput while achieving the desired comfort levels for travelers and employees.

Of course, this is not unique to airports. Schools, hospitals, community shelters and other public facilities are facing similar pressures The good news is that the Mission Critical Renewal proposal can help address the challenges with an innovative mix of public and private financing that will make our facilities safer and more sustainable, reduce operating costs, and help us preserve jobs.

The mission critical proposal is crucial because it uses federal funding for safety and resiliency improvements to leverage private funding for efficiency upgrades so that these projects can recoup the costs through energy savings and human health benefits. The structure of this proposal allows facilities to undertake projects that otherwise would be difficult to finance while putting Americans – especially those in the construction, engineering, and manufacturing trades – back to work. With more than nearly 432,000 workers in the energy efficiency industry out of a job, this program is needed now more than ever. 

As Congress moves us forward on the path to recovery, we strongly encourage our elected leaders to consider mission critical public facilities. We need to be able to respond to the ongoing challenges of the current pandemic crisis and prepare for future emergencies. We need to help hundreds of thousands of Americans who are currently out of work return to employment. When people come through our gateway to the community, we need to be able to reassure them that they will be safe. Join us and the Alliance.

If you are interested in learning more, or adding your voice in support, please contact the Alliance’s Alexander Ratner at aratner@ase.org.