Send in the engineering troops

Military facilities present an army of challenges—exacting codes and regulations, stepped-up security issues, and budgetary concerns. Here, engineers who’ve earned their stripes on such projects share advice on how to win the battle.


Kevin D. Bomboy, PE, LEED AP, Chief mechanical engineer, STV Group, Douglassville, Pa. Courtesy: STV GroupDavid Callan, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, Vice president, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago. Courtesy: McGuire EngineersRobert L. Crance, Mechanical engineer, Black and Veatch, Overland Park, Kansas. Courtesy: Black and VeatchJoseph H. Talbert, PE, ARM, Project manager, Aon Fire Protection Engineering, Lincolnshire, Ill. Courtesy: Aon Fire Protection EngineeringWilliam Valdez, Northwest justice and civic sector leader/principal, DLR Group, Seattle. Courtesy: DLR Group


  • Kevin D. Bomboy, PE, LEED AP, Chief mechanical engineer, STV Group, Douglassville, Pa.
  • David Callan, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, Vice president, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Robert L. Crance, Mechanical engineer, Black & Veatch, Overland Park, Kansas
  • Joseph H. Talbert, PE, ARM, Project manager, Aon Fire Protection Engineering, Lincolnshire, Ill.
  • William Valdez, Northwest justice and civic sector leader/principal, DLR Group, Seattle

CSE: What engineering challenges do military facilities pose that are different from other structures?

Kevin D. Bomboy: One of the main challenges is providing force protection measures to prevent the building from being a target of terrorism. Required setbacks to eliminate hiding places for bombs dictate the placement of outdoor mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection equipment—chillers, transformers, etc.—farther from the building than would be otherwise desirable. Outside air intakes have to be elevated to make it more difficult to execute a chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) attack on the building. Emergency shutdown systems are required to close all outside air dampers on indication of a CBR attack. Because of the regimented routines of the occupants, plumbing systems in military barracks have to be designed to serve brief periods of very high demand usage in showers and laundries. The stringent requirements for physical, electronic, and information system security that most military facilities have can be challenging to meet.

David Callan: I think there are several engineering challenges and opportunities. The most obvious engineering challenge is security. Depending on the installation, an engineer can encounter a need for physical and environmental security (i.e., CBR protection, cascading pressurization, filtration, and protection of openings). These apply not only to the military, but also many federal applications with national security interests employ these techniques. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have seen a raising of the bar with respect to security standards. Perhaps a less obvious challenge—one I consider an opportunity—is the breadth and depth of building and systems types an engineer will encounter working with the government and military specifically. We have been involved with housing, office environments, labs, medical buildings, food service, and others.

Robert L. Crance: Military facilities must be designed to support specific criteria beyond what is required by code for commercial facilities. The additional criteria includes provision for force protection, requirements for reduced energy and water use beyond current code required performance, design of facilities for a useful life greater than usually required for commercial construction, and, for some projects, considerations to support continuity of operations. Special criteria necessary to support mission objectives can include higher degrees of air quality achieved through special filtration processes, requirements for redundancies, provisions for system decontamination, and special facility and system post-event survivability.

Joseph H. Talbert: Military facilities have a wide variety of occupancies and uses, which makes for very interesting projects.

William Valdez: Many of the military projects DLR Group is involved in have sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIF). Particularly unique here is the need to comply with Intelligence Community Directives (ICD) 705-1,705-2, and other applicable ICD and Intelligence Community Standard (ICS) technical specifications for physical security requirements. The nature of this kind of design problem-solving in architectural, mechanical, and electrical disciplines can be very challenging.

CSE: Please describe a recent military facility project you’ve worked on—share challenges you encountered, how you solved them, and engineering aspects you’re especially proud of.

Crance: A recent telecommunications central office facility was designed to provide 36,400 sq ft of new building space used for data/switch functions and administrative support space. The project was located on a very tight site and was required to support integration into the existing infrastructure with minimal impact to ongoing system operations. This project was designed in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council LEED-NC v2.2 rating system to achieve a Silver certification. Achieving this favorable building performance was accomplished through careful integration of all components of the facility design and by using commonly applied HVAC system solutions with long proven performance histories rather than implementing any developing or unproven technologies that may not support the critical nature of the facility mission.

Valdez: Our engineering firm is extremely proud of having a hand in making Fort Carson, Colo., one of the “greenest” installations in the country. Through the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) construction, Fort Carson has gone through an enormous expansion of its facilities and infrastructure. Our firm has been involved in six of the new buildings at Fort Carson during that period. Of the six new buildings, two have been certified LEED Gold while the project requirements only mandated LEED Silver. One of the key success factors for the team has been our integrated approach to sustainability, the process of empowering all engineering disciplines to generate ideas together in creating the sustainable systems for each project. An example of one way that we elevated sustainable design at Fort Carson was through a ground source heat pump (GSHP). This geothermal heating and cooling system serves a 13,000-sq-ft facility. It uses 40 400-ft-deep wells that transfer heat into and out of the building by circulating water below ground where the Earth’s temperature is constant. Prior to our Division Headquarters Band Training Facility project, Fort Carson had never used such a system. Because of this, the biggest challenge was educating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the GSHP system is proven technology, would yield the performance requirements of the request for proposal, and would be easy to maintain. In the end it has become a great success story for both DLR Group and Fort Carson, which led to our use of GSHP systems on all six facilities that we’ve designed there. GSHP systems have become the new standard.

Talbert: One recent project involved the installation of a fire alarm system in a particularly noisy environment. Because the occupants were required to wear hearing protection, all occupants were effectively “hearing impaired.” The solution was to supplement the speakers in the space with visible notification appliances situated so that all occupants could see the visible notification appliances from any point in the room.

STV Group’s recent military facility projects included work on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Armed Forces Reserve Center; shown here is a bay of its operational maintenance shop. Courtesy: STV GroupBomboy: STV works on numerous military facilities each year, ranging from headquarters and training facilities to housing and dining facilities; each brings unique challenges. One common challenge is the design/build delivery method very often used for military projects. This delivery approach is very prevalent in military facility projects and requires development of a building MEP design during bidding in sufficient detail and accuracy for our build partner to generate a bid price. This requires skill, diligence, and focus to generate a 30% to 40% design over a very tight schedule. Meeting the energy-efficiency requirements of the project, while holding the construction costs within the authorized funding limits, can also be challenging. It is gratifying that nearly all of our military projects have been able to qualify for LEED Silver certification or better. 

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