Preventing BMS Alarm Fatigue for Improved Efficiency

November 16, 2022
CIM Team

The central aim of automated building management systems (BMS) is to maintain a facility’s correct operation while maximising its efficiency. The BMS controls major subsystems like HVAC, hot water and central heating, chilled water, etc. It is designed to monitor these subsystems for critical failures and generate alerts accordingly—but without the right analytics, these alerts can quickly turn into data overload and “BMS alarm fatigue.”

BMS receive data from a wide array of sensors, from lighting systems to HVAC. They often display dozens of interrelated alerts without indicating how they are connected, which tasks are high priority, or what actions should be taken to resolve them.

In our recent report on energy blind spots, we found that facility managers receive an average of 12.5 alarms per day, with more than 50% receiving up to 30 alarms daily. With such high volume, it’s no surprise that urgent alerts are getting drowned out by background noise.

BMS alarm fatigue can cause delayed or missed responses to genuine alarms, with profound ramifications for energy consumption, thermal comfort, and building safety.

Fortunately, data analytics can help prioritise alarms, making it easy to identify and action the ones that matter most. In this article, we’ll explore how leveraging the right data can prevent BMS alarm fatigue and keep your buildings operating as efficiently as possible.

What causes BMS alarm fatigue?

Our survey found that one in three facilities managers feel their BMS wasn’t adequately commissioned. This process is usually done under time pressure—not to mention by the BMS vendor themselves—so quality can suffer. Additionally, only 24% of facility managers say their BMS is actively helpful in identifying HVAC issues that create inefficiency. A whopping 76% feel there’s room for improvement.

Further, identifying operational improvements is outside the scope of work for most BMS vendors. Their job is to maintain conditions; improving your site’s energy efficiency is likely not a part of their brief.

With more than half of facility managers reporting as many as 30 alarms per day, it’s no wonder most feel their BMS is a less-than-perfect diagnostic tool.

BMS alarm fatigue can result from a host of contributing factors:

  • Repetitive alarms
  • Redundant alerts
  • Incorrect settings
  • Faulty hardware
  • Unactionable alerts

When your inbox is flooded with dozens of daily alarms, the urgent and actionable can easily get lost in the fray. While two-thirds of our survey respondents receive BMS alarms, only one-third react to them.

And for each day that passes without action on high-priority issues, the cost impact can be significant.

The true cost of HVAC inefficiencies

HVAC-related alarms are particularly important, because HVAC systems are the biggest single contributor to a building’s energy costs. Yet many facility managers are left scrambling in reactive mode to address critical errors—not to mention inefficiencies.

One in every three facilities isn’t currently leveraging data to identify high-value HVAC priorities. Nearly two-thirds say they are deficient in data collection and analysis for HVAC, and 40% have a reactive HVAC maintenance strategy.

In other words, facility managers often don’t have the tools to get out ahead of the challenges they face on a daily basis. They respond to crises as they happen, rather than benchmarking performance via historical data and sharing lessons learned with their sister sites or even their peers.

In part, that’s because poor BMS commissioning and legacy systems are hampering rather than helping BMS control. As Conor Murray of ASHRAE Ireland has said, “Without accurate, reliable, and relevant data, you cannot make intelligent decisions around HVAC.”

There’s often a gap between the lofty promises of data analytics and the gains that building owners and facility managers realise. This gap in identified versus actual savings comes down to the inability to triage issues in real time and separate critical alarms from white noise.

A preventative strategy is the key to controlling maintenance costs

A BMS alarm is only as good as its resulting action, but most sites can’t quickly identify next steps or triage based on priority. The BMS knows if an alarm is critical, but it can’t recognise opportunities to optimise equipment in advance or deliver operational improvements.

Building analytics software helps create a preventative strategy based on data, enabling a condition-based maintenance routine rather than one that centres on frequency.

To illustrate this point, we’ll use John as an example. John is a facility manager who works with multiple legacy systems, each on a separate PC: BMS, CHP, thermal oxidisers, wastewater treatment plants, etc. …. All of these run on a plethora of separate platforms with no interconnectivity.

John is frustrated by the lack of transparency inherent in this setup, which leaves him at the mercy of third-party contractors. His role is highly reactive; he’s constantly juggling priorities and has no time to think strategically about how to reduce spend and hit carbon emission targets. Moreover, John is working toward these goals in the midst of a perfect storm. Ever-increasing energy prices and carbon dioxide reduction targets actively thwart his efforts. He faces a multitude of new challenges without the resources to overcome them.

Fortunately for John, building analytics provide an opportunity for prompt, clear ROI on a number of levels. By surfacing the best opportunities for efficiency gains, particularly within HVAC systems, analytics save John hours of time, effort, and data overwhelm.

Using CIM’s PEAK Platform, John can quickly and easily identify the BMS alarms that genuinely require action. He knows which specific actions to take next and which alarms he can safely deprioritise. Armed with targeted data, John is well-equipped to achieve his operational and budgetary targets.

The impact of analytics data on HVAC efficiency

High-value tasks like HVAC system improvements or repairs can be identified quickly with building analytics, preventing unplanned downtime and avoiding costly mishaps.

HVAC analytics software can reduce energy costs by:

  • Assisting with maintenance: Ensuring adequate maintenance regimes (condition-based instead of schedule-based)
  • Tracking excessive operation: Reduce equipment runtime when it’s no longer needed
  • Ensuring suitable installation: Remove control point overrides, ensure proper physical installation, and verify that control algorithms are operating correctly

BMS alarms are only as effective as we make them. Building analytics tools like CIM’s PEAK Platform transform alarms from a pain point into what they were always intended to be: a powerful tool that helps facility managers and building owners meet their objectives.

Identify and prioritise the actions with the biggest impact

As BMS alarm fatigue demonstrates, the solution to a building’s HVAC and other systems inefficiencies isn’t more data. The solution is leveraging the right data to help bypass the white noise and take the actions that matter most for your budgetary and environmental goals.

When facility teams know precisely where and how to take action, efficient and cost-effective operations will follow.

See how CIM’s PEAK platform can power a data-driven approach to maintenance that has proven to be a smarter, more efficient, and more cost-effective solution than the traditional reactive approach. Watch a demo session of our innovation PEAK Platform here.

CIM Team
November 16, 2022