Operating a facility such as Alcatraz has always been, and continues to be, a significant undertaking. Alcatraz has all the same basic systems and items that have to be dealt with from a maintenance perspective, but what sets it apart is that it has no “hard” connections to the mainland. As such, everything that is needed to run Alcatraz has to be brought to the island, or otherwise collected or generated there. Therefore, the cost of running Alcatraz compared to other facilities is higher due to the cost of shipping everything that is needed to Alcatraz itself. The three main facilities concerns that were addressed in the tour were:
- The structures themselves
One of the biggest maintenance issues facing Alcatraz has always been the condition of the buildings. A majority of the buildings are steel reinforced concrete, which are especially susceptible to the harsh marine conditions of Alcatraz.
Spalling concrete is a real issue with which many of the structures on Alcatraz are faced. Currently the National Park Service is working to stabilize the Cell House. This includes repairs that will address the rust that is expanding within the walls, floors, and ceiling, and the repairing or replacement of areas where concrete has completely been lost due to spalling.
Power generation is another challenge area for Alcatraz. Until very recently Alcatraz has had to generate its own power. This has been accomplished by a few different methods over the years. Recently the National Park Service completed a project that installed solar panels in an effort to offset power that has been, thus far, generated by diesel-powered generators. The hope is that this new system will provide approximately 60% of the island’s power needs.
Lastly, the tour focused on water. One of the ironies that Alcatraz contends with is that, while Alcatraz is surrounded by water, it has no fresh water source of its own. Therefore, all fresh water has to be brought to Alcatraz. When the Gardens Conservancy got involved in the historic rehabilitation and preservation of the gardens on the island, a significant increase in water consumption was experienced. In an effort to help offset water usage for the gardens, a water catchment system was installed. The system collects water from the roofs of two separate buildings and runs it through a sand filter, then storing it in large holding tanks. This system collects, filters, and stores enough water to provide water for the gardens during the drier parts of the year with little to no extra water needed. Combined with waterless urinals and saltwater flushing toilets, this has reduced the amount of fresh water that has to be transported to Alcatraz for operational needs.
For more photos of the the tour, click here.
To learn more about Alcatraz and some of the topics covered in the IFMA San Francisco tour click on the the links below.
Director, Alcatraz Operations
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy