Sandia LabNews

Sandia to release first risk-based approach to building management software for use by GSA


RAMPART, Sandia-developed software believed to be the first risk-based approach to building management, may soon become a tool to help the General Services Administration (GSA) assess the risks of natural disasters, crime, and terrorism to the nearly 8,000 federal buildings it manages nationwide.

GSA turned to Sandia in mid-1998 following the Oklahoma City bombing and several devastating natural disasters to create a screening-level software program that could analyze the risk of potential threats to buildings. After nearly three years of development, RAMPART, for Risk Assessment Method — Property Analysis and Ranking Tool, is ready to be rolled out.

"Traditionally buildings have been built to code, which pays attention to disasters that have already happened," says Regina Hunter (6804), RAMPART technical lead. "RAMPART looks to the future probability of events occurring and what there is to lose if those events take place."

The software development is part of Sandia’s Architectural Surety┬« program, which uses technology to make homes, shopping malls, offices, public buildings, and infrastructures safer in a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

While the initial RAMPART software was developed specifically to analyze risks for GSA-managed buildings, it could easily be adopted for other critical facilities such as embassies, school systems, and large municipalities.

"We think RAMPART could have wide application for other government agencies and in the private sector," says Rudy Matalucci (5862), the RAMPART project manager.

Starting this month the RAMPART team will be taking the software on the road, giving formal training sessions on it at the ten GSA regional offices. The first was July 10 in Denver, to be followed later in the month with a session in Fort Worth. Training at the remaining regional offices is planned through the end of September.

In developing RAMPART, the Sandia team built equations for threatening events — natural hazards including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, winter storms, and floods as well as crime and terrorism — and information on the building’s location, construction type, numbers of people housed, types of activities underway, and numerous other factors. The equations could then determine the risk for an event at a particular building.

For example, Regina says, take an empty warehouse slated for demolition in an area highly prone to hurricanes. While the potential for a hurricane is large, the consequences are unimportant, and therefore risk turns out to be very low."

However, if it were a large federal building that housed thousands of people, including several hundred from "lightning rod" agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and was in the same hurricane-prone location, the risk would be much higher, she says.

RAMPART consists of a user interface, a threatening-events database, and an expert system of rules that embody the GSA’s knowledge about buildings and tenants and Sandia’s knowledge of risk analysis. Using the software, it will take a GSA staff member less than two hours to complete a building risk analysis.

Easy to use

One of the important aspects of RAMPART is that it is easy to use for the GSA staffers.

"All users have to do is point and click their way through the assessment," Regina says. "They will be asked basic questions about the building — location, construction, security monitoring, etc. — and the computer program will do the rest."

"The interface does not request any information that a GSA property manager can’t reasonably be expected to have access to," Regina says. "For example, the user is not asked to evaluate risk or to provide data on the probability of natural hazards in the area." Instead, RAMPART contains this information in its database.

After completing a building assessment, users learn whether the building is considered to be a very high, high, medium, low, or negligible risk. They receive additional information about the risk factors in the form of a bar chart that shows the risk for the consequences analyzed for each hazard. The graphical presentation allows the user to see and distinguish at a glance both the infrequent high risks and the frequent low risks that the building presents.

From the start and at each stage of the RAMPART project, Sandia developers made sure that GSA regional offices were involved in the software creation. Regina met with five of the ten regional offices at least once and with the field office in Albuquerque three or four times to query them on their needs and obtain input on the software as it was developed.

"I loved this project so much that I’ve visited regional offices on my vacation," Regina says. "I thought it was important to find out what the regional offices thought about the software. Their responses led me to change the software in my attempt to make it a real tool for GSA."

"Standard software development practices dictate that analysis and design of an application be done in the very early stages of a project," says Sharon Shannon (6804), one of the team’s programmers. "For RAMPART, however, no one knew in the beginning how to do risk assessment for buildings, and interaction between Sandia’s team of risk analysts and GSA property managers is an ongoing effort."

Conferring with people in the field offices, for example, helped Regina get a better handle on what consequences to include. Ultimately death, injury, loss of mission capability, loss of property, loss of content, loss of use of property, and first responder risk were listed.

One example of how she changed the software to meet the GSA needs was the first- responder aspect. First responder means the first unit, like a fire department, responding to an incident. The software initially asked a question about how long it would take for a first responder to arrive at the building, with options listed between five and 20 minutes. After noticing that some folks at the Auburn, Wash., regional office were perplexed over the question, she asked them what the problem was.

"I learned that in some of the remote buildings in Alaska it might take days to get a first responder, which basically means no response," she says. "So we changed the software to include an answer of ‘none.'"

Regina says RAMPART will continue to change as the GSA regional offices begin using the software after the road show. She anticipates the regional offices will help work out the bugs to improve the software.Sandia to release first risk-based approach to building management software for use by GSARegina says RAMPART will continue to change as the GSA regional offices begin using the software after the road show. She anticipates the regional offices will help work out the bugs to improve the software.