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Living the dream

Tim Bushell talks about separating the myth from the reality

The Atlantis.
The Atlantis.
Making a splash: the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins.
Making a splash: the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins.
Tim Bushell, director of engineering for the Atlantis.
Tim Bushell, director of engineering for the Atlantis.

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As the Atlantis embarks on a project to refurbish 300 hotel suites and introduce more green initiatives, the person responsible for tracking all energy costs is Tim Bushell, director of engineering.

Bushell joined the hotel group in February 2008, seven months before its official opening as the first resort on The Palm Jumeirah, which very nearly did not happen after a fire broke out on the premises.

“The only significant fire we have had in the duration of the life of this building was on September 2, 2008, when the outside skin of the roof caught fire, damaging the green dome on the roof over the Grand Lobby,” he said.

“Because the incident occurred prior to the hotel opening there were 400 senior staff working in-house at the time, including security and facilities management and Dubai Civil Defence, the police and fire services were quick to get to the scene.

“Together with Palm Jumeirah and Nakheel Security we closed The Palm and the tunnel allowing only key staff to move in and out from the mainland.

Eventually, the fire and its consequent smoke and water damage were put under control. The building was jointly checked, the fire alarm reset and with the exception of three spaces in the bakery, room service kitchen and grand lobby we were fully operational the next day. The grand lobby was then repaired and operational as a check in space for guests a few days after we opened.”

Bushell added as a result of the fire, he agreed with the designers to change the hotel’s fire cause and effect plans and over the next year created a staged evacuation different to the original cause and effect it had which is the one it currently uses today.

“The other lesson we learnt from the fire was improving the accessibility of some of the spaces in the hotel as they were difficult to get in and out of and these have been improved. As such, there are more access points to get out of certain confined spaces and access to the roof has been simplified.”

Bushell was in charge of all technical systems at the hotel including the ventilation, cooling, fire alarms and BMS but with recent re-organisation it has focused on BMS and utility bills.

His job is to account for those costs, which can amount to several million dirhams a month.

“Historically the hotel covered all electrical, water systems, gas and air conditioning (AC) but as each of these areas has evolved over time more people have focused on a particular sector of the overall FM role.

“I am in charge of keeping the utility costs down on each area which is broken into district cooling, which is just under half of the total costs, electrics, which accounts for just over a quarter and the remainder is 50/50 between potable water and gas.

“FM in the wider sense includes culinary, security and cleaning but because those functions in a hotel are very much front of house, dealing with guests, the FM service is reduced to technical, refurbishment and landscaping. My team does not cover security, cleaning and culinary because those are part of the hotel functions.”

The overall FM team is around 260 people and there is a hierarchy for all of the major teams who each have their own level of supervisor and manager.

As director, he works closest to his associate director and manager and reports to the senior vice president of facilities, Ian Connolly.

Prior to joining Atlantis, Bushell spent 20 years in commissioning management — taking a finished building and making it work by checking all its fire alarm systems, AC and technical equipment.

Thanks to his knowledge about how a building works, he would work on a contract with a building manager or assist the FM with their operations.

“Even some of the offices that are being built today are quite technical. A lot of the time people in FM come from a soft side and don’t necessarily understand how everything works from scratch. You have to have a history from somewhere to be able to do it,” he said.

High profile work included projects at Vodafone World HQ at Newbury and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. Sometimes Bushell would spend a year in one job or weeks or an afternoon trouble shooting in another.

He worked for two companies; Cardiff Commissioning Ltd, which still remains today and the now defunct Commissioning Southwest in Bath.

“I started my professional career as a designer in the late 70s doing mainly international work in between Hong Kong, Singapore, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Most of it was based in London and involved short trips overseas.

Eventually, I moved from Ove Arup & Partners London office to their Bristol office. I got to spend more time onsite with a project and realised I was more interested in the later stages of a project, in handing it over and making it work.”

Speaking about each major division, he said BCL Fire Systems, a sub division of BK Gulf, do day to day checks on the fire alarms as part of its PPM (planned preventive maintenance) and Bushell will check it with his FM team.

“We respond to any misuse, or interruptions caused by the ambient conditions such as salt water and damp air. There are also a number of pre-alarm faults in the system which we respond to and incidents of true pre-alarms which come from excessive smoking in the room, incense in the room or overheated cooking areas, which could lead to fires so we respond to those.”

The Atlantis is currently finishing a project with Dubai Civil Defence to fully integrate its control room with its system so it can see every alarm and respond to any incidents.

The BMS is the overall automated control of the HVAC systems which also monitors non HVAC devices such as electrical switchgear, security systems, fire alarm, kitchen systems etc.

“Some of this is used to assist us in utility work, some of it is used to ensure other systems are running correctly. The bulk of it will control ventilation rates and temperature in all the spaces that have AC,” said Bushell.

“The BMS covers the whole resort, the same as the fire alarm system. It consists of 120 ‘communicating out’ stations, which in turn talks to two main control rooms and there is a certain level of web access for people who are not in the control rooms.”

Bushell said the BMS allows his team to check historical records against guest comments and to modify temperature conditions in all the rooms, restaurants, conference halls and corridors.

“At the moment, there is no direct communication between the BMS and lighting control. We switch and dim some lights by an independent lighting control system, which includes both back of house, front and theatrical lighting, such as the exterior of the building when we light the hotel at night.”

The BMS is managed by Siemens and the fire alarm by BCL.

FM technical services
Chilled water is run via six incoming points from the district service supplied by Palm District Cooling. Each of the six points has its own control panel and billing point and the energy is transferred via plate heat exchanges.

“We then take that and distribute it for either dolphin cooling, fish cooling, AC and fridge freezers. The heat from the main fridge freezers is transferred into hot side of the district cooling system and currently we share the two operational plants on the crescent with the other hotels that are coming onboard such as the One&Only, Ottoman Palace, Sofitel, the Fairmont Palm Hotel and Mövenpick. There are meant to be 30 hotels on the crescent eventually,” added Bushell.

Electricity comes via six main sub station groups from DEWA, which the hotel supports with a number of stand-by generators for life and business criticality, ie for humans and animal life such as the fish tank systems.

The fish at Atlantis are insured for millions. Life safety includes the lifts and fire systems, which together with the data centres, are all supported on generators and UPS (uninterrupted power supply).

The electricity then goes through a DEWA regulated distribution system, to reach its final end user point eg water pumps, room sockets, and AC plant.

“Currently, this is being controlled and monitored by a combination of hand and automatic systems to find excess usage which can be cut back without interrupting the front of house or guest experience or from changing too much back of house operations,” he said.

“This involves an element of participation by the rest of the staff in the hotel including turning off their PCs, or the office lights at night, many of which are all still manually driven.

“Utilities account for 30 plus million dollars a year. My job could be overwhelming because of the amount of responsibility that I have but at the same time, it is exhilarating because if I can save a couple of percent revenue on outgoing costs, it is a lot of profit for the company as a whole.”

Bushell currently has to find extra savings on the monthly forecast and as the end of the month draws close he has to analyse his figures on a daily basis. As the month progresses, the forecast becomes more accurate and is compared to the same forecast from the year before.

Gas comes to the resort via four main gas meter points produced by Lootah BC gas (British Colombia). Lootah Gas makes synthetic natural gas at the base of the Palm from liquid propane and compressed air and has its own network of pipes that passes the Shoreline apartments and the fronds and covers the entire crescent.

The primary use of gas at the Atlantis is for cooking and heating the waterpark and pools in winter.

Finally, potable water and its drainage equivalent is the last of the engineering utilities. The water comes from the reverse osmosis plant on the crescent from Palm Utilities and the sewage goes back to the crescent sewage plant.

New projects
A number of conferences and beach events are held on a regular basis at the hotel and these have a high level of FM support to ensure either supply of temperature or power during the build-up, the event itself and after the tear down.

“The best event to date, excluding the Grand Opening Party, which saw a world record attempt for the number of fireworks it had, was when Dubai hosted the Sports Accord annual meeting which included the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and all of the individual Olympic federations,” said Bushell.

The hotel recently extended Nasimi Beach, which allows outdoor parties to function more smoothly.

In addition, there are a number of projects to enhance the hotel such as the refurbishment of 300 guest rooms.

It also plans to make the Ramadan tent and party deck area for functions a permanent fixture.

“Due to the sheer amount of events we have and the speed at which some of them need to be organised, we can host a 1,800 seat event virtually overnight thanks to the beach deck area and Ramadan tent so we want to make it a permanent feature to allow for more flexibility and a better response time,” Bushell added.

“This is the first time I have lived and worked overseas on a full time basis.

“I enjoy the expat nature of Dubai and the unexpectedness of working here. It is a bit like working at the United Nations with 57 different nationalities.

“It is surprising how little miscommunication there is across the different divisions especially as English is not everyone’s first language.”

The biggest highlight of Bushell’s career has been running the services during the Grand Opening Party to make sure all the fireworks were let off safely while the building was operational.

“We had to keep the fire alarm and temperature conditions operational because we had 400 paying guests staying in the hotel while everyone was out at the party. Most of them watched it on a private TV channel in their own room or in the restaurants so we had to keep the building safe at all times.”

Green savings
The company plans to enhance its green efficiency by swapping its light bulbs with energy efficient ones

“Energy saving light bulbs were initially only used in some circumstances, mainly guest room tables and floor lamps. We are currently reviewing this as part of the room refurbishment.

“Many front of house areas were either tungsten halogen lamps and these are being replaced with similar output lamps from the LED or CLF (compact fluorescent light) range, we are 50% of the way through,” Bushell added.

Similarly, via the BMS, it is making sure any unoccupied spaces are put on a stand-by mode to reduce both cooling and ventilation power and lighting levels are reduced in back of house areas.

It is also improving its door seals to reduce leakage of cool building air.

“We try to involve all the staff at some level to ensure they are using the lights and thermostats effectively or leaving them in their neutral positions to limit unnecessary wastage,” said Bushell.

“In parallel to this, we have ongoing metal, glass and plastic recycling along with cooking oil separation and reuse. We are also looking to reuse waste water and solid waste onsite.

“There is obviously a balance between running a business and ensuring corporate responsibility. We also have to bear in mind the guest experience as we want the hotel to be the best experience our visitors have ever had.

“We are not an office building therefore we do not have total choice over what we do. Within that, I still have to try and drag the utility bill down by being efficient and effective. Finding the right balance between the two can be quite challenging.

“The hotel is one of the best offices in the world. Just the ambience of the place and the people who come here as well as the variety of the sort of work that you get to do is satisfying.”

For more information visit www.atlantisthepalm.com

Atlantis by numbers

  • 10 metre high sculpture with 3,000 pieces of glass in the entrance lobby
  • 19 metre high arched ceilings in the lobby featuring eight hand painted murals
  • 1,538 guest rooms and suites
  • 5,600m² of meeting and function space
  • 2,500 people maximum can fit inside the grand Atlantis Ballroom
  • 18 million litres of water at Aquaventure
  • 17 restaurants, bars and lounges
  • 39 retail shops
  • 2,136 m² nightclub
  • 1.4km beach

The Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah

  • Atlantis was the first resort to open its doors on The Palm Jumeirah on September 24, 2008.
  • It was created by Kerzner International Holdings Limited, an international developer and operator of destination resorts.  The US$1.5 billion joint venture project was developed with Dubai Government owned, Istithmar.
  • Executive chairman Sol Kerzner wanted a theme to transport guests into an imaginative world.
  • It comprises Aquaventure waterpark, an open-air marine habitat, Nasimi beach, luxury boutiques and numerous dining choices including four celebrity chef restaurants, nightclub, spa and fitness club.
  • Kerzner’s other hotel is the Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas.


  • 65,000 Marine animals on display
  • 1,537 Mini-bars
  • 42 Million litres of salt water


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