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The Impact of Covid-19 on Control Room Design


Control rooms have always been designed to withstand catastrophic events such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks. Now they must also prevent virus transmission. BAW Architecture is at the forefront of this new design wave.

The work of a control room operator is essential to the functioning of society: We are talking about the safe regulation and flow of electricity, oil and gas, and the safe sourcing of precious metals that power everything from smartphones to electric cars. Operators are therefore the very definition of an “essential worker.” Nothing less than the infrastructure of modern civilization is reliant upon the continuous, safe execution of their duties.

And their work cannot be done remotely. You cannot control a power plant or electric grid from home. The security systems inherent in the hardware and software used by operators are matched only by the defense and aerospace industries. It is inconceivable at this point in time that a decentralization could take place.

The Effects of a Mass Outbreak

A mass outbreak of illness at a control center could cripple a company, and be potentially catastrophic to the industries they serve. In a worst-cases scenario, if multiple occupants of a control building were to come down simultaneously with an illness, there would be no way to call on substitutes—as one could in the education or farming industries—because the work is so technical and highly specialized. There is also no way to “postpone” the work—in the way many medical procedures or airline flights can be rescheduled—because the industries they work in literally cannot shut down.

We all count on these invisible, indispensable people every day of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it will affect control building design going into the future. Even if a vaccine is found for this coronavirus, the reality is that control buildings are designed to last decades, and their design must anticipate the potential of another virus necessitating social distancing, masks, and a rethinking of ventilation systems. Contact BAW today for an assessment of your control room or building.

The Challenges

The work environment of a control room operator poses unique challenges when it comes to thinking about protecting against virus transmission. Among the chief concerns are:

  • Operators usually work in close quarters
  • They work in enclosed spaces without windows, due to security concerns
  • Single points of entry and exit often exist due to security concerns
  • Current ventilation systems do not take into account the realities of virus transmission

A Changing World

In the past, the guiding principle of control room design was to optimize performance, and protect the operator and plant from outside threats, such as extreme weather, terrorist attack, or a high altitude electromagnetic pulse. It was never a design criteria to protect occupants from each other. Now it is. BAW is envisioning this new layer of criteria for a successful design, without increasing spend. Among the ideas we are probing are:

  • New entrance and exit configurations
  • Greater isolation of operators, resulting in reconfigured room and consoles
  • Redesign HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems to optimize for isolation
  • Redesigning security features to limit human contact

BAW is ready to face the challenges inherent in this new reality. We have been at the forefront of control room and control building design for the past 30 years, and the journey continues. You can trust us to deliver the type of creative, robust, cost-effective solutions that have made us the leader in the industry. Whether you are considering a new build, a brown-field upgrade, are mid-stream through a redesign, or would simply like an assessment, contact us for the world-class expertise that has made BAW the control building architects of choice for Fortune 100 companies around the world.


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