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Steve Johnston’s iPod idea improves security, communication for employees

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In 2015, Johnston came up with the idea to distribute iPods to every housekeeper and grounds worker at the university so they can keep continuous contact in the event of an emergency.

Without the technology that has become an integral part of our culture, it can be hard to receive crucial information in a timely fashion.

Thanks to Steve Johnston of the Facilities Department, many Virginia Tech employees who generally had limited access to technology in the past no longer have to worry.  

In recognition of his outstanding innovation, Johnston is one of 21 Virginia Tech employees nominated to represent the university in the statewide Governor’s Award program. He was nominated in the innovation award category. The winners were announced in May. 

After campus emergency incidents in August 2006, April 2007, and December 2011, there was an immediate effort to account for the more than 100 housekeeping employees, who are widely dispersed in academic and administrative buildings across campus. At the time, many had to rely on the campus siren or word of mouth to notify them of emergencies.

As enterprise systems supervisor in the Facilities Department, Johnston came up with an idea to solve this issue by initiating the iPod project in January 2015. By this summer, every housekeeper and grounds worker at the university will have an iPod, which will allow them to have continuous contact in the event of an emergency. Employees can also check email, submit leave reports, access the Virginia Tech Daily news, and stay in touch with family members.

“Many precious minutes were spent after emergency incidents trying to locate our widely dispersed employees,” said John Beach, chief of staff of facilities operations. “The use of the iPods has made receipt of VT Alerts messages feasible for our housekeeping staff and offers a greatly expedited method to alert them to emergency situations.”

Each iPod is also has the Virginia Tech LifeSafe App, which allows students, employees, and community members to send tips and messages to the Virginia Tech Police, share their location with friends or family as they walk on campus, find buildings on campus, and access emergency preparedness information.

“Steve was the biggest advocate for this project and continually strove to ensure facilities had employment safety at the forefront,” said Elizabeth Hansen, director of facilities finance and administration. “His ingenuity and dedication are the reason the project was implemented.”

In addition to the iPod idea, Johnston helped the facilities human resources team figure out a way to utilize the enterprise system for its new onboarding program by developing an electronic checklist for the department. This innovation simplified the process and reduced paperwork.

Johnston also formed a partnership with the College of Architecture and Urban Studies to develop design standards for all asset information on new capital and renovation projects. Through that relationship, the Facilities Department now has a draft standard that influences their interactions with vendors and allows a more effective procedure for maintaining buildings and assets.

Johnston also took on additional responsibilities managing the enterprise systems group within the Facilities Department’s operations before he was officially named supervisor in July 2016. For two months during that time, Johnston was the only full-time employee of the group, which usually houses five employees.

“I wish all employees had the same commitment and focus as Steve,” said Heidi McCoy, deputy chief facilities officer. “He doesn’t just come in and do his job, he is constantly making process improvements in his area and within the Facilities Department as a whole.”

In 2014, Johnston was named the Facilities Employee of the Year by his peers for his excellence in his field.

“Steve is hardworking, responsible, and not afraid of a challenge,” said Hansen. “He impacts the lives of all facilities employees and provides a positive contribution by ensuring their work runs smoothly through the system.”

 Written by Mackenzie Nicely