COVID-related real property activities: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—April 24, 2020
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Response to COVID-19
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Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is preparing to support requests from departments, agencies, provinces, municipalities and non-profit organizations for additional accommodation space required for COVID-related activities or emergencies.
- PSPC is leveraging its real property expertise and holdings to ensure Canada has access to facilities and accommodation for a range of eventualities
- In particular, PSPC is proactively looking at how best to accommodate temporary hospitals as well as provide housing for vulnerable populations to allow for self-isolation and quarantine
- Depending on what is needed in a given situation, the department will determine whether requirements can be fulfilled by leveraging government assets or private sector options
To ensure preparedness, PSPC has developed a web map application allowing end users to locate:
- federal Crown owned buildings
- lease warehouses and housing (residences)
- homeless shelters
- universities and colleges
- COVID-19 testing centers (nationwide by province)
Over the past weeks, PSPC has supported ad-hoc requests from various jurisdictions to provide temporary lodging to vulnerable people. Below is a summary of lodging and space requests.
In response to the Northwest Territories Government (GNWT) request to provide shelter in Yellowknife, NWT as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PSPC, in collaboration with Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, temporarily transferred a 36-unit vacant residential apartment building to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to enable members of the community’s homeless population to self-isolate. These residential housing units are made available to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation at no cost to support and protect these vulnerable members of the community.
Similarly, PSPC is currently working with GNWT to make 4 vacant housing units in Hay River, and 2 vacant housing units in Norman Wells, available for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to house the homeless or other vulnerable populations. GNWT could potentially request access to 60 additional vacant housing units for a similar purpose in the communities of Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Norman Wells and Yellowknife, NWT.
Remote Indigenous communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan
PSPC is working closely with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to ensure that needs identified for Indigenous Peoples and communities are identified and addressed. For example, PSPC has contracted for temporary shelters in preparation for COVID-19 outbreak in remote Indigenous communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
City of Montreal
The City of Montreal made a request to PSPC to make use of the former YMCA facility that located at the Guy-Favreau building to temporarily house homeless people that had to be relocated from the former Royal-Victoria hospital.
On March 20, 2020, PSPC entered-into a lease with the City of Montreal for a period of one month with an option to renew for an additional month to provide shelter for at-risk vulnerable populations including the homeless. On April 9, the City of Montreal asked for a renewal on a monthly basis, until approximately end of August.
Bon Courage Charitable organization
This charitable organization has seen the number of families requiring support quadruple over the last weeks; from 50 to more than 200 families. This organization was looking for a bigger facility that would meet its needs while providing the ability to enforce social distancing between volunteers.
Given that the former headquarter facility for the National Film Board has been vacant since last fall, the Bon Courage organization reached out to PSPC to enquire about making use of facility to facilitate food distribution. The department has signed a lease agreement with the Bon Courage organization. The agreement will be renewed on a monthly basis until August 31, 2020.
The department has also been working with National Defence, ISC and others to source up to 10 easily storable and transportable respiratory care units. These would be intended for use by provincial and territorial public health authorities to treat acute respiratory disease and distress.
Each unit would provide a 100-bed facility, including 20 intensive care unit (ICU) beds, that could be set up in any community facility (for example arena or convention centre) where it could tap into local utilities. It could also operate independently in austere conditions with its own generators. This self-sufficiency makes the mobile care units extremely flexible, and they can be deployed where the need is greatest.
To date, PSPC has been able to leverage its own inventory to meet the needs and provided access to each jurisdiction at no additional cost. Depending on the needs and volume of the demand for lodging, PSPC may need to turn to the private sector (including universities and colleges) to secure space. A source of fund will be needed to enable PSPC to secure lodging solutions and ancillary services (food, security, etc).
PSPC will continue its engagement with federal and community stakeholders to gain an understanding of possible lodging needs for vulnerable populations and put in place solutions as needed.
Keeping buildings safe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
With global efforts focused on the containment of COVID-19 outbreak and the prevention of further spread, PSPC has implemented measures in the national real property portfolio to aid in these efforts.
- PSPC is committed to providing its clients with healthy and productive work environments
- We continue to liaise with Health Canada to determine appropriate cleaning and maintenance protocols for our buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Should additional measures be recommended, PSPC is ready to implement them
Although occupancy levels are currently reduced, PSPC buildings remain operational and all mandatory maintenance and life safety system testing continue on our regular schedule ensuring that essential government functions can be delivered in a safe environment. Additional measures taken include:
- amendment to national cleaning specifications to augment cleaning/disinfection of high-touch points to twice daily
- cleaning contractor capacity remains adequate to fulfill this new demand
- should resource constraints arise, PSPC will work with client departments to reprioritize the number of serviceable locations
- it is expected that PSPC will continue twice daily disinfection of high touch surfaces
- incident reporting and specialized disinfection protocols are in place for suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19
- as of April 17, 2020, PSPC has actioned 414 requests for specialized disinfection within 275 buildings, affecting 53 departments nationally
- hand sanitizer stations are being installed at building entrances
- direction has been provided to reinforce maintenance measures taken to operate buildings in a reduced occupancy state (for example management of building water systems)
- posters have been placed in elevators, washrooms and common areas to raise awareness of proper handwashing practices and factual information on COVID-19
- dissemination of various communiques to clients and contractors promoting personal protective practices as well as targeted messaging to the cleaning community to emphasize the need for additional diligence in cleaning/disinfecting methods
- support for client community enhanced service requirements (for example, cleaning and disinfection for shared work environments, installation of plexiglass shields in border service interfaces)
- ongoing engagement with service providers and industry (BGIS and the National Building Owners and Managers Association) will ensure that maintenance measures remain current with evolving best practices
While social-distancing and telework provisions are reducing general occupancy rates in our buildings at this time, we recognize that, in the future, occupancy levels will begin to increase.
In anticipation of this, PSPC is developing procedures to ensure healthy and productive work environments for the eventual return to full occupancy in our buildings. Examples include reinforcing protocols with client departments on social distancing awareness in high traffic areas, responding to special cleaning requests, ensuring adequate performance of water and ventilation systems in line with up to date industry recommendations, and ensuring elevators and other alternative circulation pathways (stairwells) are well serviced.
For all PSPC engineering assets, including bridges, dams, Alaska Highway, and Esquimalt Graving Dock, the following measures have been implemented:
- reduction of onsite staff to keep operations going following social distancing guidelines as much as possible
- daily monitoring of staff health (anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms are asked to stay home)
- extra cleaning and disinfection services for the office
- hand liquid sanitizer and Lysol wipes are provided for staff and careful monitoring of regional health issues
So far, there is enough staff to maintain services at all sites requiring operators, for example, dams, Burlington Lift Bridge, Lasalle-Causeway, Esquimalt Graving Dock, and Alaska Highway.
We are monitoring the situation very closely and working with stakeholders on contingency plans.
Looking forward to post COVID-19 Real Property Services
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With global efforts focused on the containment COVID-19 outbreak and the prevention of further spread, PSPC is engaged with central agencies and industry in planning business resumption activities for a staged and progressive return to work for public servants and occupants of its portfolio.
- PSPC is committed to providing its clients with healthy and productive work environments
- We continue to liaise with the Employer (Treasury Board Secretariat) and Health Canada to establish guidance for departments in terms of staged return to offices combined with telework, as well as to determine appropriate cleaning and maintenance protocols for our buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Should additional measures be recommended, PSPC is ready to implement them
A large proportion of the public service has transitioned to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices remain open and have been maintained for essential and critical workers to support the Government of Canada efforts nationally. Guided by the public health agencies within regional jurisdictions, we anticipate a progressive return to work when we flatten the curve and remain within health care capacity.
Working collaborativey with central agencies and consulting with industry partners for best practices, Real Property Services is contributing guidance to departments to support them in establishing their plans for return to the workplace. Return to the workplace strategies may be based on the nature of the work and the services provided to Canadians and the current set-up of their workplaces. There are many factors to consider to ensure physical distancing, and other guidelines which may be provided by the public health authorities, can be accommodated within the workplace. Effective return to work strategies will likely include balancing office work with teleworking, improving network infrastructure and bandwith, and providing employees with access to mobility tools such as laptops, mobile phones and virtual collaboration platforms to ensure continued program delivery.
As employees return to buildings in greater numbers, maintenance and life safety systems will be monitored as per health agency guidelines to ensure that government functions can be delivered in a safe environment. From a workspace perspective, additional measures anticipated:
- Suggestions for balanced ratios for teleworking and office presence through cyclical scheduling of office attendance
- Communications to clients and contractors promoting personal protective practices as established and/or recommended by health agencies
- Ongoing engagement with central agencies to ensure that PSPC measures remain current with evolving best practices
- Reviewing how we work in the context of maintaining social distancing and cleaning of office spaces
Continue engagement with central agencies to collaborate on guidance for workplace return to work strategies.
Guidance will include balancing teleworking and office occupancy, social distancing within the office environment and in high traffic and common areas, responding to special cleaning requests, ensuring adequate performance of potable water and ventilation systems in line with up to date industry recommendations, and ensuring elevators and other alternative circulation pathways (stairwells) are well serviced.
Continue to develop procedures to ensure healthy and productive work environments for the resumption of occupancy in our buildings.
The new GCworkplace scenario
GCworkplace is about how we work, and not just about the design of the workplace. It is based on serving a mobile workforce and providing flexibility to employees. Therefore, departments who have adopted GCworkplace are often better positioned to respond in times of crisis due to the integration of technology, mobility, results-based management/culture and space prior to events.
Many Departments have begun to take the steps necessary to enable remote and mobile working by issuing mobile devices, increasing network capacity and establishing flexible work policies. GCworkplace designs permit departments to decide how the space is used and to adapt easily to changing needs. Employees can choose their preferred work setting, which means they can respect social distancing and their individual preferences for distancing and are not restricted to a single work location. The open nature of GCworkplaces allows for easy and effective cleaning.
We are monitoring what industry world-wide is considering post- COVID-19 to determine if any adjustments would be necessary to the workplace design and ensuring our Government of Canada workplace fitup standards reflect current practice. For example, new requirements require that hallways and circulation spaces are sufficiently wide to enable more space for people to pass. The easily adaptable nature of the modern GCworkplace can incorporate these types of changes; however, our traditional workplaces will be more difficult to adapt.
We are closely monitoring industry best practices and the advice of the health agencies regarding shared spaces, including meeting rooms, kitchens, and common spaces to assess the need for cleaning stations at the entrances to common spaces.
GCcoworking provides departments with access to inter-departmental shared space. Similar to GCworkplace, departments that are using GCcoworking spaces are well-positioned to adopt flexible return to work strategies. The GCcoworking workplaces are well positioned to support the return-to-work as an alternative work location. The 36 departments that have been onboarded, will have access to these alternate work locations, which are technology-enabled, meet security, workplace safety, and ergonomic requirements of employees. Upon re-opening of the sites, an additional 25+ departments will be onboarded to ensure we provide additional flexibility to support government operations.
In order to respect cleaning and social distancing requirements, these spaces can be easily reconfigured and workpoints can be taken offline. The flexibility of GCworkplace applies to these spaces. We are currently reviewing the potential implementation of a space reservation system, which could leverage the sensor technology already in place, to minimize “walk-ins” to better plan utilization within these shared spaces.
Each GCcoworking site has an on-site representative, called a CoPro, whose role is to ensure the proper functioning of the site, ensure the health and safety of the site and its users, and to respond to various user queries. The CoPro observes the operations of the site and supplements regular cleaning by wiping down workpoints between users. Additional wipes will be available for any user of the site to conduct an extra wipe down of the workpoint before their use.
As user feedback is a key element of these workplaces, users of the locations will be invited to complete a survey that includes questions related to user perception of the cleanliness, effectiveness, and the general health and safety of the site. This feedback will inform the operations of the sites going forward.
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