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Of Interest

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Portrait

Ain't no problem small enough

Soft FM keeps the ITER site humming along.

Almost everyone in the ITER office buildings knows Mark, whose personal brand of logistics mastery and problem-solving enables operations to flow smoothly across the work site. (Click to view larger version...)
Almost everyone in the ITER office buildings knows Mark, whose personal brand of logistics mastery and problem-solving enables operations to flow smoothly across the work site.
Here's a riddle: what do a wonky door handle, seating in the ITER Council room, and a stray cat infiltrating the Tokamak Complex have in common?

The answer? They are all topics that the ITER's Site Management Section (SIM) takes care of so that day-to-day operations run smoothly and the quest for fusion energy can forge ahead.

"Our objective is to let everybody else concentrate on difficult scientific or engineering issues without having to worry about things like the vending machines or the parking lot," says Mark Henderson, who joined ITER as the Facility Management Technician eight years ago. "All those coming to the ITER site are our clients and we make sure they can work in the best possible conditions."

If it seems like Henderson is quite hospitable in his approach, this shouldn't be a surprise; he is a veteran of the hotel industry and was previously the Managing Director of a Hilton in England. But now, instead of handling corked bottles of fine wine or luxury linen suppliers, Mark is responsible for maintenance and services for the buildings, roads, and green spaces across the 180-hectare ITER site.

The work, which includes everything from canteen menus to electric service cars to office cleaning, is known as "Soft FM." This may sound like an easy-listening radio station but it is shorthand for "soft facilities management" and at ITER, this is the responsibility of the SIM team. With some regular tasks planned months in advance—such as clearing brush to reduce the risk of fire or scheduling an annual safety walk with Agence Iter France—others are more occasional, such as the purchase of chairs for the ITER Council room.

The SIM team recently undertook a complex reorganization of office layouts to optimize space. In this photo, Sylvain Bunevod (ONET), Axelle Lohez (VPIS), and Mark check that office furniture has been moved correctly. (Click to view larger version...)
The SIM team recently undertook a complex reorganization of office layouts to optimize space. In this photo, Sylvain Bunevod (ONET), Axelle Lohez (VPIS), and Mark check that office furniture has been moved correctly.
Meanwhile, the daily excitement comes from solving the myriad of unexpected issues that people report using a 24/7 online ticketing system. Every ticket issued sends an alert to Henderson, and with about 7,000 such alerts a year, his phone buzzes constantly. Each problem is evaluated and prioritized with ITER's Soft FM contractor VPIS, and numerous tickets get solved with the help of their subcontractor, ONET. As for the wonky door handle, it may seem minor but when that problem popped up on the ticketing system in October 2022, it was something of a milestone: it was the 28,000th alert since the system was inaugurated in 2018.

Soft FM's not the most glamorous job at ITER but this doesn't bother the team. "It may seem boring because it's somebody saying, 'My heating doesn't work,' but we're happy to play this role, and find reward in providing good service," says Wouter van Baaren, the Section Leader of SIM.

As for Henderson, after dealing with hotel customers, the work at ITER is quite fulfilling. "I think we get more thanks than the scientists! They'll eventually get much bigger praise, but we get more recognition than most people on site because what we do is very visible."

And a last word about the stray cats—Henderson is liaising with a local rescue association to make sure that the cat that managed to infiltrate the Tokamak Complex earlier this year, and any others, find good homes.



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