Sports, entertainment venues: Automation and controls

Sports arenas and entertainment facilities involve complex engineering solutions. Five consulting engineers offer advice on building automation and controls.


Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis. Courtesy: McClure EngineeringDouglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada. Courtesy: Clark County, NevadaBill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Syska Hennessey GroupKevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas. Courtesy: Henderson EngineersBruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Arup

Participants (left to right):


Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis

Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada

Bill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles

Kevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas

Bruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles 

CSE: When designing monitoring and control systems, what factors do you consider?

Evans: From a fire protection standpoint, the initiating devices (primarily sprinkler water flow and smoke detection) must be taken into account and the associated output functions (primarily audible/visual alarms and activation of smoke management systems).

Cooper: Integration into a campus system (where applicable) is one of the major factors we must consider. In these cases, the equipment is often less of a factor than the way the existing systems are being operated and by whom. Significantly different operations philosophies can doom a project if not sorted out early and often. If you want to guarantee that a perfectly operating building system will not function correctly on its first birthday, hand it off to an operator who has not bought into the control schemes of the original design.

Larwood: Complexity is always a factor, as well as cost. The system should be matched with the sophistication of the operator.

McKinlay: Control and monitoring systems need to be seamless in operation and also be able to provide continuous feedback as to the operating characteristics of critical systems to minimize failure during the event. This includes major HVAC equipment, fire life safety systems, lighting, and electrical systems. The monitoring and control systems need to effectively switch between redundant systems to balance loads and prevent outages. In event of a power failure, the control systems need to automatically and quickly switch to backup systems to minimize downtime.

Lewis: When it comes to building controls, we want to provide a system that is robust and easy to integrate. After the contractor has installed the system and has left the job, we want to make sure the end user is trained in, and understands how to modify the designed system. Due to reduced maintenance staff and increased energy efficiency standards, automating as many controls as possible seems to be in the best interest of the end user.

CSE: What are some common problems you encounter when working on such systems?

Lewis: The typical issue with controls is usually the start-up process. The contractors do a great job integrating the building systems but are always under the gun to get all equipment up and running and programmed while construction is still happening. This makes it difficult to properly assess a project in a final punch and verify the equipment is working as designed.

McKinlay: That these systems are not properly commissioned and don’t have the flexibility for expansion for future needs of the venue, ensuring efficient use and predicting the future needs and flexibility.

CSE: When integrating systems, what challenges must you overcome?

Cooper: You have to ask who is responsible for the temperature control system operation and who is responsible for lighting controls scheduling. If it’s the same person or group, the challenges are minimal. If it’s not but they play well together, integration has a good chance. If it’s not and neither person/group wants the other touching their “stuff,” integration may not be the best solution.

Lewis: The integration of multiple disciplines is typically straightforward. The biggest challenge, or area to watch, is coordination. The design team needs to be cohesive and share information back and forth. The second big issue is to understand from the owner how the building will be operated. While most owners are very good at understanding revenue streams, the actual day-to-day operations of a building sometimes pose challenges. We have learned over the years how to ask the right questions to assist the owner team and really make the integration of systems work for the owner.

Larwood: One common concern is the security of routing data of the building automation system (BAS) and lighting over a backbone that serves the data network.

Evans: One of the primary areas fire protection engineers specialize in is coordinating fire protection aspects between differing disciplines. This includes the architectural aspects (fire-resistive construction and egress) as well as the engineering disciplines (secondary power supplies, smoke management systems, and structural fireproofing) and contractors (fire alarm and sprinklers).

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