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IT Related Code Requirements Affecting Your Hotels

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October 18, 2019
Feature Article
Jeremy Rock - jrock@rockitgroup.com

Over the last few year, industry IT professionals have focused on ensuring that their hotels and entities are in compliance with ever-growing data security and privacy legal requirements. What started with PCI then evolved to EMV, GDPR and now CCPR has consumed the attention and resources of many IT departments. It appears this will continue for the foreseeable future. However, a growing number of federal, state and local code requirements unrelated to data security are becoming a growing concern for the industry and IT departments in particular. 

A number of these new code requirements fall to the construction, development and engineering teams. But others fall under the headline of "low voltage systems" and require integration with hotel applications and systems. Industry IT and technology professionals must address these new requirements as part of their current roles and responsibilities. IT departments should familiarize themselves with these new codes and with any impact on hospitality applications, systems and operations they may have.

The requirements tend to focus on new building codes including:

Building Energy Efficiency Standards
--Energy managements systems
--Lighting systems control Employee Safety

Employee safety tracking and communications Life Safety Requirements
--Emergency responder DAS systems – ERRCS
--Area of Refuge (AOR) Two-way Communication System

Building Energy Efficient Standards
Some states have taken a proactive approach to climate change and carbon emissions by enacting legislation that requires residential and commercial buildings to be equipped with energy savings systems to reduce power consumption over an established period. In many cases, the assumption is that this affects all new construction. But the reality is that hotels undergoing renovations are also required to retrofit buildings with energy savings systems. California appears to be leading the way. On July 1, 2014, the California Title 24 (T24) Building Energy Efficiency Standards took effect. It requires new commercial buildings - and those undergoing renovations over 10,000 square feet - to install energy saving control mechanisms. The goal: to achieve energy efficiency and preserve both outdoor and indoor environmental quality. The building code changes were a response to the state requiring new nonresidential buildings to meet Zero-Net Energy standards by 2030. Building code updates affected lighting, heating and cooling, ventilation and water heating. Other states are beginning to enact similar standards. IT professionals might expect architects and building design teams to address these energy management requirements. In reality, the greatest focus is the impact on guestrooms, where monitoring occupancy can lead to higher savings.

The interaction between guests and energy saving systems and the opportunity to interface these systems with other technology calls for a strategic approach to system selection. The level of communication among them is a primary requirement. Others offer varying levels of room automation. Much of this has been dictated by ownership, brands and management companies, efforts to offer an enhanced guest experience and/or participate in the savings these systems can generate. However, that's changing with new mandates being issued by states, cities and other regulatory agencies. A number of industry-specific products, such as Telkonet's EcoSmart platform, are specifically designed to meet or exceed Title 24 requirements. Telkonet's system offers enhanced features such as occupancy-controlled lighting and HVAC, demand response capabilities and a central energy management control system. Its cloud-based application lets IT and engineering staff monitor analytics and maximize efficiencies, all while ensuring occupant comfort – which provides an even greater return on investment (ROI).

Another key development is guests' desire to control their hotel experience with a cellphone or other mobile device. From self-check-in to keyless entry, hotels are looking for more ways to let guests manage their hotel stays and experiences from hand-held devices. IT must be involved in specifications for these critical low voltage systems. Key in-room integrations include those that allow guests to synchronize their own streaming media accounts with the room’s TV, manage the room controls (in some cases via voice personal assistants like Alexa) and interact with hotel operations for specific requests such as in-room dining. New guest experience systems such as Intelity, iRiS, Lutron, DigiValet and KeyPR have applications that can control or interact with a number of key systems including:
  • PMS - check-in/check-out /guest preferences
  • Energy management - control HVAC/fan-coil units
  • Doorbell system - provide a communication network
  • Door locking systems - another point of validation for occupancy
  • Minibar - communications and online charge posting
  • Lighting control
  • Shade control
  • In-room safes
  • Voice activation systems
  • In-room entertainment

The HVAC system and TV represent 80 percent of in-room energy consumption. Enseo is leveraging IoT technology via its "Fido" room control platform to manage consumption levels. "Fido can reduce total energy consumption in guestrooms by as much as 15 percent, which is an enormous savings for hotels. Realizing an environmental and financial benefit is a win-win for everyone," said Enseo CEO and Founder Vanessa Ogle.

Many of these new mandates will be revised every few years to keep codes current as new standards develop. For example, Title 24 is set to update every three years. The 2019 code requirements will take effect Jan. 1, 2020. The next revisions will take place in 2022.

Meanwhile, cities are mandating their own additional code requirements. The city of Los Angeles' Energy and Water Efficiency Ordinance requires privately owned buildings in Los Angeles that are at least 20,000 square feet be benchmarked. Owners must disclose annual energy and water consumption. Privately owned buildings of 20,000 square feet or more were required to begin reporting June 1, 2019 and must continue to report by June 1 of every year. Beginning in 2020, they must demonstrate energy and water efficiency, or prove they are on a pathway to it.

Staff turnover, lack of time and changing priorities also work against hotels in their efforts to achieve these savings. Using technology can definitely streamline these efficiencies. "Verdant EITM energy management service ensures savings by putting Verdant's energy management experts in control of the settings, 24/7. On average, customers subscribed to Verdant EITM  achieve 38 percent more guestroom HVAC runtime savings than their 'do-it-myself' counterparts," said John Attala of Verdant.


Employee Safety Alert Systems
Cities are mandating that employees who could be subject to sexual harassment or other potential offenses be equipped with portable emergency contact devices. These gadgets, often referred to as panic buttons, may be used to request immediate assistance if the employee believes they're at risk of sexual harassment, assault or any other emergency or crime. Cities like Chicago, New York, Miami Beach, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Seattle have enacted ordinances or passed legislation requiring the use of panic devices for hotels. Some states have bills requiring the use of such devices in all hotels. While none of these bills has become law to date, many believe that it's only a matter of time before these mandates sweep the country.

In addition, employee unions like Nevada's Culinary Workers Union Local 226 have made employee safety and protection part of new contract negotiations. Measures would require hotels and casinos to provide panic buttons for key departments such as housekeeping, where employees may be subject to sexual harassment or other crimes.

Finally, the American Hotel & Lodging Associated (AHLA) and many major hotel brands announced the 5-Star Promise, which commits to increasing safety for hotel employees with full implementation of panic button systems at all affiliated properties by 2020. They're requiring that the communication infrastructure for these systems be a part of construction and development projects.

In response to this, a number of hospitality focused system providers are offering solutions and working to integrate devices with other key communication platforms. TraknProtect, a leading provider, offers a stand-alone application. It can be deployed off its own plug-n-play communication network to leverage other systems' wireless communication networks. TraknProtect has partnered with Ruckus Wireless and Aruba to leverage IoT-enabled wireless access points that will provide location and positioning to target the panic buttons' exact position. The addition of applications like panic buttons, which leverage beacon technology, is leading to engineering changes for some wireless designs. Additional access points are being added to improve panic button tracking accuracy. Partnerships are in the works with in-room systems providers such as Allbridge, INTEREL and SONIFI to deliver communication requirements.


Other companies are providing their own employee safety options. React Mobile uses a mobile app directly linked to hospitality management solutions such as Amadeus HotSOS and Knowcross, to provide location-based alerts in the event of an emergency. Karen O'Neill, president-Americas for Knowcross, said React Mobile advanced panic button technology will equip hotel workers with the KNOW Housekeeping and KNOW Mobile app. With them, they can easily track, respond to and manage situations that require immediate attention.

Enseo's MadeSafe alert system leverages its existing platform to deliver high-speed internet access, digital signage and HDTV to identify distressed employees in real time. It can effectively notify security and other staff of the exact location in an emergency. The solution also provides flexible reporting features, an essential requirement for major brands. "As first responder strategies are refined, the flexibility of their architecture will accommodate the required changes and protect the hotel or owner's investment," said Enseo's Ogle.

A relative newcomer to the space is ASSA ABLOY's Vostio Location Solutions, which was officially launched at HITEC 2019 and is already being implemented around the world. "Its core advantage is the ability to identify the exact location of an employee in distress, therefore saving precious time for first responders to arrive the very moment that they are needed," said Nicolas Aznar, president, Americas at ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions. The fully scalable cloudbased platform will ultimately offer an array of expense-reducing, revenue-enhancing functions like real-time tracking for the precise location of amenities such as maid carts, baby cribs, room service trays or A/V equipment.

CYRN and Guardian MPS offer solutions and apps tied to smartphones, but it's unclear how well these operate within typical hotel building structures. Given the various mandates and technology offerings, hotels should be accounting for deployment of these systems (if they haven't done so already) and developing operational plans for how these systems can work for their properties.

Life Safety Requirements
Many life safety communication systems don't fall into the realm of IT or technology. But a few will likely require input or focus given their potential impact on a hotel's infrastructure and low voltage communication requirements.

Emergency Responder Radio Communication System Distributed Antenna System (ERRCS DAS):
This system – also known as a Public Safety or First Responder DAS (Distributed Antenna System) - is mandated in building requirements for many municipalities. The network retransmits fire or police radio frequencies from outside the hotel (where the signal is presumably stronger) into the building, where it's usually weaker or nonexistent. While ERRCS is referenced in the new International Building Codes (IBC) standards, the requirements are mandated and usually fall under the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) or fire marshal. These systems have strict requirements and must be well thought out and engineered ahead of development. The design process for engineering these systems can take time. They typically involve predictive modeling and in-building testing using iBwave Design.

Area of Refuge (AOR) Two-way Communication Systems
Another new building code requirement is the development of areas of refuge. This establishes a location for building occupants who can't take the stairs without help. It sets a meeting place by an exit - typically near elevators or stairway vestibules - so guests can wait for first responders' instructions. It also requires two-way call boxes to let occupants communicate with officials.

These requirements aren't limited to new construction. They also apply to hotel refurbishments. Design and construction teams working on renovation projects often believe their hotels are grandfathered into previous construction codes and not affected by new requirements. That isn't always the case. Teams should verify that new code requirements won't impact their projects. It can be expensive and difficult to retrofit later and could impact a redesigned hotel's opening. ITs ever-increasing role now includes addressing all low voltage communication concerns. While many organizations focus solely on data security and privacy concerns, it's important to keep an eye on these mandates to ensure you're meeting all requirements.


©2019 Hospitality Upgrade 
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