children under the age of 5 years

Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People ?

2019-11-11:  Kensington and Chelsea’s wilful disdain for the Health, Safety and Welfare of ALL the residents within its functional area … and knowing neglect of its legal and ethical Duty of Care towards ALL … resulted in a significant number of people with activity limitations living high up in Grenfell Tower prior to June 2017 … in spite of the now incontrovertible fact that, in the event of a fire emergency, many would be left behind … to die.

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’

Article 1, 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Colour photograph showing a Firefighter watching the horrific fatal fire scene at Grenfell Tower in London, on 14 June 2017, from a nearby balcony.  Click to enlarge.

London Fire Brigade was an easy target for the Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report, made all the more so following some careless, insensitive and ignorant public comments by its Commissioner, Dany Cotton.  However, we must clearly distinguish between the behaviour of LFB’s Frontline Firefighters, who were brave and dedicated despite inadequate training, and lack of proper equipment, back-up resources and personnel strength … and LFB’s Senior Commanders … which is another matter.

Colour photograph showing the London Fire Brigade (LFB) Commissioner, Dany Cotton.  In order to ensure that transformation of the LFB actually takes place in the short term, and is fully effective, Dany Cotton and all of her Senior Commanders must resign now, or be fired !  Click to enlarge.

In England … there is widespread indifference, and some rabid resistance, to answering the desperate needs, and mitigating the agonizing plight, of Vulnerable Building Users during fire emergencies … which includes people with activity limitations, children under 5 years of age, frail older people (not All older people !), women in late stage pregnancy, people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, the poor, and people who do not understand the local culture or cannot speak the local language.  British National Standard B.S.9999 (not solely those sections previously contained in B.S.5588:Part 8) and England’s National Building Regulations – Approved Document B: ‘Fire Safety’ – offer only token, i.e. inadequate, protection for vulnerable people in fire emergencies.  When a senior representative of BSI, the British Standards Institution, was directly approached by me, and requested to open up B.S.9999 for meaningful updating … the answer was a firm “NO” !  The same attitude is deep-seated among fire research organizations in the country, and among people who develop computer fire evacuation models.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, showing the ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix, which outlines the scope of its application in the Human Environment and the different social groups to be targeted.  Balanced consideration must be given to people who use wheelchairs (physical function impairment) … and to people with visual, hearing, psychological, and mental/cognitive impairments … and to other vulnerable building users, e.g. people with health conditions.  Click to enlarge.  Matrix developed by CJ Walsh.

Presentation Overhead showing the definition of ‘people with activity limitations’, with its equivalent French translation … also showing from where this term is derived … and who this term includes.  During a fire emergency, confused and/or confusing disability-related language costs lives !  Click to enlarge.


Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations – Chapter #33

After hearing the first media reports about the tough Recommendations aimed at London Fire Brigade, I had naturally expected that the other Phase 1 Recommendations would be equally as tough.  But NO … they are far from comprehensive … they are fragmentary, lack depth and any sort of coherence.  Specifically with regard to Vulnerable Building Users, the Recommendations are pathetically and disgracefully inadequate !

And in case there is any doubt, the status quo in England – and to be fair, in many other countries as well – is entirely unacceptable !!

Few people realize that the fire safety objectives in current fire regulations/codes are limited and constrained.  To implement changes to the flawed regulations in England, it will take many years … and, based on recent past history, implementation will be incomplete and unsatisfactory.  Residents in high-rise buildings, whether public or private, must no longer wait in vain for this to happen.  Instead, the time has arrived to become proactive, and to immediately initiate their own comprehensive programmes of Self-Protection In Case Of Fire … which go far and beyond the pathetic Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report.

Fires Similar To Grenfell Tower Are Frequent

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  … although not unprecedented, fires of the kind that occurred at Grenfell Tower are rare.

[ Response ]  Not true … misleading, and a complete fallacy !

Just since 2010, fires similar to Grenfell Tower have occurred in South Korea, many in the United Arab Emirates, France, Chechnya, Australia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and most recently in Turkey.  Each one of these fires has been recorded and illustrated on our Twitter Account: @sfe2016dublin.  Seeing, and understanding, this striking pattern of unusual fire behaviour … a competent person would react and plan accordingly.

Effective Fire Compartmentation Is A Delusion … A Fantasy !

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  Effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings.

[ Response ]  Not true … demonstrates a fundamental flaw in European fire safety strategizing !

In an environment of lax or non-existent compliance monitoring … the quality of architectural/fire engineering design and the reliability of related-construction will both, inevitably, be poor and unacceptable.  Fire loads in today’s residential buildings are also far higher than a generation ago, for example, because of more electrical/electronic equipment and synthetic furnishings.  And whatever about first-built, i.e. whether it’s good, bad or ugly, later alterations and other construction work will typically compromise the original performance of fire resisting doorsets and service penetration fire sealing.  Modern ‘green’ building materials and construction methods are further aggravating these problems.  A competent person would be aware of fire research at the UL Laboratories, in the U.S.A., which confirmed the above developments.

‘ Rigorous enforcement of building codes and standards by state and local agencies, well trained and managed, is critical in order for standards and codes to ensure the expected level of safety.  Unless they are complied with, the best codes and standards cannot protect occupants, emergency responders, or buildings.’

U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers.  NIST NCSTAR 1.  2005.

‘Stay Put’ Policies Are Criminal

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  However, in the case of some high-rise buildings it will be necessary for building owners and fire and rescue services to provide a greater range of responses, including full or partial evacuation.  Appropriate steps must therefore be taken to enable alternative evacuation strategies to be implemented effectively.

[ Paragraph #33.15 ]  e. that policies be developed for managing a transition from ‘stay put’ to ‘get out’ ;

[ Response ]  Too little … and far too late !

[ Solution ]  Two fatal fires separated in time and space … the 2009 Lakanal House Fire, in London, and the 2017 Marco Polo High-Rise Apartment Building Fire, in Honolulu, continue to clearly demonstrate that effective fire compartmentation is a delusion.  Even if carried out by a competent person … it is not possible to establish with reasonable certainty, by means of a visual/surface building inspection alone, whether or not fire compartmentation is effective in an existing building.  The London and Honolulu buildings were not fitted with any active fire suppression system, e.g. fire sprinklers or a water mist system.

Buildings must remain structurally ‘serviceable’, not merely structurally ‘stable’, for a Required Period of Time.  See the Presentation Overhead below.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, explaining the concept of ‘Structural Reliability’ in fire conditions … and defining ‘Required Period of Time’, during which a building must remain serviceable.  Click to enlarge.

Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), firefighters, client organizations, design teams, and building owners/managers must not, therefore, direct, or even suggest, that any of its building users wait (‘stay put’) in that building during a fire emergency.  A competent person always connects building fire performance with its structural performance, and vice versa … and always learns from the evidence of ‘real’ fatal fires.

All Lifts/Elevators Must Be Used For Fire Evacuation

[ Paragraph #33.13 ]  When the firefighters attended the fire at Grenfell Tower they were unable to operate the mechanism that should have allowed them to take control of the lifts.  Why that was so is not yet known, but it meant that they were unable to make use of the lifts in carrying out firefighting and search and rescue operations.  It also meant that the occupants of the tower were able to make use of the lifts in trying to escape, in some cases with fatal consequences.

[ Response ]  There is a ridiculous assumption in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report that it is only firefighters who use lifts/elevators during a fire emergency, and that it is dangerous for anybody else to use them.

[ Solution ]  In order to adequately protect Vulnerable Building Users … ALL lifts/elevators in a building must be capable of being used for fire evacuation during a fire emergency.

Until such time as firefighters arrive at a building fire scene in sufficient strength and are properly prepared to carry out effective firefighting and rescue operations … Firefighter Lifts/Elevators must be used for the fire evacuation of building occupants/users.  Prior liaison and pre-planning with local fire services is always necessary with regard to the use of firefighting lifts/elevators for the evacuation of occupants/users.

Colour photograph showing a typical sign outside most lifts/elevators around the world … ‘In The Event of Fire, Do Not Use Lift’.  This is a pre-historic dinosaur of a policy which places Vulnerable Buildings Users in immediate and very serious danger during a fire emergency.  Click to enlarge.

A fundamental principle of fire safety design is that there must be alternative, safe and accessible evacuation routes away from the scene of a fire, which can occur in any part of a building during its life cycle ;  these evacuation routes must be capable of being used by all building users, including people with activity limitations.

This is why there must always be at least 2 Fire Evacuation Staircases in High-Rise Residential Buildings !

The location of lifts/elevators and lobbies, within peripheral building cores, must always be considered in relation to the position of adjacent fire protected evacuation staircases, which must be easily found by building occupants/users, and the areas of rescue assistance adjoining those staircases.

To be used for fire evacuation, a lift/elevator must be ‘fit for its intended use’, must operate reliably during a fire emergency, and must comprise a complete building assembly which meets specific performance criteria.

A Lift/Elevator Fire Evacuation Assembly is an essential aggregation of building components arranged together – comprising a lift/elevator, its operating machinery, a hard-construction vertical shaft enclosure, and on every floor served by the lift/elevator a sufficiently large, constantly monitored lobby for people to wait in safety and with confidence, all robustly and reliably protected from heat, smoke, flame and structural collapse during and after a fire – for the purpose of facilitating the safe evacuation of building occupants/users throughout the duration of a fire emergency.

If a building is located in a Seismic Zone, Lift/Elevator Fire Evacuation Assemblies which can safely operate during an earthquake must always be specified and installed.

Gravity Evacuation Chair Devices, which are not electrically-powered and operate by gravity, facilitate downward movement, only, on straight flights of stairs.  Having descended a staircase, with the user having left his/her wheelchair behind, these devices are not fully stable when travelling the long horizontal distances necessary to reach an external ‘place of safety’ remote from a building, perhaps over rough terrain.

Colour photograph showing a Gravity Evacuation Chair and how it is used during a fire emergency.  Click to enlarge.

If lifts/elevators in existing buildings undergo a major overhaul, or if they are replaced, they should then be made capable of use for fire evacuation.

Lifts/elevators used for fire evacuation must always have a fire protected electrical supply which is separate from the main building electrical supply, in order to ensure that they can continue to operate without interruption during a fire emergency.

In addition to conventional passive fire protection measures, Lift/Elevator Lobbies must also be protected by an active fire suppression system.  Water mist is the preferred fire suppression medium, because it is user-friendly, will not greatly interfere with user visibility, uses far less water compared to water sprinklers, and is also climate-friendly.  Furthermore, because people with activity limitations will be waiting for evacuation in lift/elevator lobbies, building designers and managers must ensure that these lobbies are properly fitted out with appropriate fire safety equipment, facilitation aids, smoke hoods, signage and communications, etc., etc.

Proper Use of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP’s)

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  f. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEP’s in the premises information box ;

[ Response ]  There is No Recommendation or explanation in Moore-Bick’s Inquiry Phase 1 Report concerning the ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘how’ of PEEP’s.

[ Solution ]  A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan is a person-specific and location-specific document, and is an integral part of the overall Fire Emergency Management Plan for a building.  It is intended for regular occupants/users who may be vulnerable in an emergency situation, i.e. those with limited abilities in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from the building, and active participation in the building’s fire emergency procedures.

In new buildings, which are effectively accessible (including fire safe) for all, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans are not necessary.

In existing buildings, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans must not be used to limit or restrict access by an individual to any part of a building and its facilities.  To ensure this, sufficient accessibility works must be carried out and appropriate management procedures put in place.

In buildings of historical, architectural and cultural importance, where the historical, architectural or cultural integrity of the building must be protected, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans may limit or restrict access to parts of a building and some of its facilities.  Refer to the ICOMOS 1964 International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites.

High-Rise & Tall Buildings: Floors Of Temporary Refuge & Minimum Staircase Widths

There are No Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Inquiry Phase 1 Report concerning these critical issues.

[ Solution ]  There are many fire safety problems associated with high-rise and tall buildings.  Evacuation by staircases alone can take many hours ;  the physical exertion involved in descending even 10 floors/storeys by staircase is too much for many able-bodied people and is impossible for most vulnerable building occupants/users, particularly people with activity limitations.  Passive fire protection of staircases, alone and/or supplemented by pressurization to prevent smoke ingress, is far too unreliable.  And heavily equipped firefighters cannot be expected to ascend more than 10 floors/storeys by staircase before carrying out arduous firefighting and search/rescue operations.  Furthermore, uninterrupted lift/elevator shafts, extending throughout the full height of a tall building, pose a significant risk of uncontrolled fire spread.

Colour photograph showing the very narrow, single staircase in the Grenfell Tower, London.  How anybody – ANYBODY – could ever imagine that this staircase would be adequate to serve the fire evacuation needs of a diverse occupant population in a high-rise residential building is beyond belief !  A Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms which occur together and can be taken as indicative of a particular design abnormality.  Click to enlarge.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, illustrating a sufficiently wide fire evacuation staircase … minimum width 1.5m between handrails … which will accommodate Contraflow and the Assisted Evacuation of people in wheelchairs … with a sufficiently large, directly adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance … which will accommodate people unable to independently evacuate during a fire emergency.  The space provided in an Area of Rescue Assistance, on each floor/storey, is calculated in relation to the design occupant/user population of a building.  Even if a building is fully sprinklered, an Area of Rescue Assistance must adjoin every fire evacuation staircase.  Click to enlarge.  Staircase design by CJ Walsh.

A Floor of Temporary Refuge is an open, structurally robust floor/storey in a tall building – having an exceptionally low level of fire hazard and risk, ‘intelligently’ fitted with a suitable user-friendly and climate-friendly fire suppression system, e.g. water mist, and serviced by sufficient accessible, fire protected lifts/elevators capable of being used for evacuation during a fire emergency ;  it is designed and constructed to halt the spread of heat, smoke and flame beyond that floor/storey, and is intended as a place of temporary respite, rest and relative safety for building users before continuing with evacuation, and as a forward command and control base for firefighters.

In a high-rise, tall, super-tall or mega-tall building, every 20th floor must be a Floor of Temporary Refuge, even if the building is co-joined with another building, or there are sky bridges linking the building with one or more other buildings.

Special provision must be made, on these floors, for accommodating large numbers of building occupants/users with activity limitations … and because people will be waiting on Floors of Temporary Refuge, perhaps for extended periods of time, building designers and managers must ensure that these floors/storeys are properly fitted out with appropriate fire safety equipment, facilitation aids, smoke hoods, signage and communications, etc., etc.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, illustrating and explaining the design concept of Floors of Temporary Refuge.  Click to enlarge.


Conclusion: Fire Engineering Capacity in England is Lacking

In England … the very important 2005 and 2008 U.S. NIST Recommendations following the 9-11 (2001) Attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York City, were completely ignored.  Following the 2009 Lakanal House Fire, in London, the 2013 Coroner’s Recommendations were only partially implemented.

With regard to Vulnerable Building Users … there is NO capacity within the English Fire Establishment, including the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), English Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), and its Building Design and Fire Engineering Communities … to properly respond to … never mind understand … the Fire Safety, Protection and Evacuation for ALL in Buildings.

Avoiding responsibility and pointing fingers at other Organizations appear to be the initial reactions to Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Recommendations so far.  Refer, for example, to the NFCC Statement, dated 30 October 2019 …




#GrenfellTowerFire #FireSafety4ALL #NobodyLeftBehind #VulnerableBuildingUsers #PwAL #PwD #NeverStayPut #Firefighters #FFsafety #2019GrenfellRecommendations #SFE #GrenfellTowerFireInquiry #LondonFireBrigade #DanyCotton #FireResistingDoorsets #FireCompartmentation #FireEvacuation #MooreBick #FireEngineering #England #Design #Management #HighRiseResidentialBuilding #UDHR #HumanRights


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Global Event: ‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings – Reboot & Reload !

2014-12-09:  FireOx International, the Fire Engineering Division of Sustainable Design International Ltd., is very pleased and proud to present the following Global CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Event

Fire Safety for All !9 & 10 April 2015 – Dublin Castle, Ireland

‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings – Reboot & Reload !
[ ]

Co-Sponsored by CIB & RI-ICTA
Kindly supported by Fáilte Ireland

This will not be a polite gathering intended just for an Irish audience, or even for Europeans … this is a Global Event – a catalyst for Substantive Social Transformation everywhere !

Within the professional discipline of Fire Engineering … either a building is Fire Safe or it is not ;  the design philosophy of the fire engineer is irrelevant.  Similarly, now, we must begin to think and act in the simple terms of a building either being Accessible for All, or not.  And if the building is accessible for all, does it tick all of the right accessibility boxes well, i.e. effectively ?

While building fire safety codes and standards exist in almost every country … guidelines relating to the Fire Safety of People with Activity Limitations – IF those guidelines exist at all – are technically inadequate, entirely tokenistic, blatantly discriminatory, and rarely implemented.

This is a very significant obstacle to Effective Building Accessibility everywhere !!

Accessibility is now understood to mean the full cycle of independent building use, in an equitable and dignified manner … and this term includes the approach, entry to and use of a building, egress during normal conditions and removal from the vicinity of the building … and, most importantly, evacuation during a fire incident to a ‘place of safety’ which is remote from the building.  (ISO 21542 : 2011)

Cogently mandated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) … the CRPD’s principal aim is to ensure that the Built, Social, Economic and Virtual Environments are sufficiently ‘accessible’ to permit a vulnerable and major(!) population group in all of our societies to enjoy the fundamental freedoms and human rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Refer to Preamble Paragraph (g) in the UN Convention …

‘ Emphasizing the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development,’

and to … Article 3 (General Principles), Article 9 (Accessibility), Article 11 (Situations of Risk & Humanitarian Emergencies), Article 19 (Living Independently & Being Included in the Community), Article 20 (Personal Mobility), Article 24 (Education), Article 27 (Work & Employment), Article 31 (Statistics & Data Collection), Article 32 (International Co-Operation), and Article 33 (National Implementation & Monitoring).

The focus of this event, therefore, is Real Accessibility.  In other words, Effective Accessibility for People with Activity Limitations (which includes people with disabilities, and children under the age of 5 years, frail older people, women in the later stages of pregnancy, and people with health conditions, etc.) … an accessibility which actually works well for all potential building users.  And it is appropriate also, now, to introduce the concept of Monitoring and Targeting this ‘real’ accessibility … independently, i.e. by 3rd Parties !

It is time to Reboot this ridiculous, professionally negligent and obsolete old system … Reload with innovative and practical building design, construction, management and personal self-protection solutions … and Implement !




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NIST Recommendations 16-20 > Improved People Evacuation

Previous Posts in This Series …

2011-10-25:  NIST’s Recommendations on the 9-11 WTC Building CollapsesGROUP 1. Increased Structural Integrity – Recommendations 1, 2 & 3 (out of 30)

2011-11-18:  NIST WTC Recommendations 4-7 > Structural Fire EnduranceGROUP 2.  Enhanced Fire Endurance of Structures – Recommendations 4, 5, 6 & 7

2011-11-24:  NIST WTC Recommendations 8-11 > New Design of StructuresGROUP 3.  New Methods for Fire Resisting Design of Structures – Recommendations 8, 9, 10 & 11

2011-11-25:  NIST WTC Recommendations 12-15 > Improved Active ProtectionGROUP 4.  Improved Active Fire Protection – Recommendations 12, 13, 14 & 15



  1.     In the First Post of this Series, I wrote …

” As such a high level of performance is expected … indeed demanded … of a Sustainable BuildingSustainable Fire Engineering must be ‘reliability-based’ … in other words, it must have a rational, empirical and scientifically robust basis … “

Sustainable Fire Engineering must also be ‘person-centred’ … i.e. a design process (in whatever architectural or engineering discipline) which places ‘real’ people at the centre of creative endeavours and gives due consideration to their responsible needs, and their health, safety, welfare and security in the Human Environment.

In order to prolong, and if at all possible, significantly extend the Life Cycle of a Sustainable Building beyond 100 years … Fire Engineers must begin to feel at ease … and be comfortable … with the following mainstream Sustainable Design Concepts

Flexibility:  The extent to which a building interior is designed, when new, to be capable of being easily modified at any later stage during the life cycle of that building – with minimal cost and user inconvenience – because of a person’s changing living or working needs.

Adaptability:  The extent to which a building, or a building component, is designed when new, or capable of being easily modified at any later stage, to meet the changing life and living needs of the broad range of potential users, who may or may not have activity limitations, or may develop a health condition during the life cycle of that building or component.

Accessibility of a Building:  Ease of independent approach, entry, egress (during normal ambient conditions), evacuation (in the event of an emergency) and/or use of a building and its services and facilities, by all of the building’s potential users with an assurance of individual health, safety and welfare during the course of those activities.

  2.     Group 5 of the 2005 NIST WTC Recommendations is, by far, the most important … introducing some innovative concepts of ‘real’ evacuation … with nothing too startling.  Contrary to the impression given by NIST … these Recommendations are equally valid for complex building types and, in reality, for all but the most simple of low-rise buildings.  It is interesting to note, however, that when discussing fire behaviour or structural performance in fire, for example … the NIST texts are confident and direct.  Here, when dealing with ‘people’ issues … not so confident, prone to some rambling … and lacking clarity.

Shortly after the 2005 NIST Report (NCSTAR 1) was published, I stated the following on the SDI Corporate WebSite … at this FireOx International Page

” In its treatment of ‘disability’ and ‘people with activity limitations’, the Report does not go far enough, and is seriously flawed.”

Let me explain why …

As you go scan down through NIST’s Recommendations 16-20, you will encounter 1 reference to ‘mobility impaired occupants’ and  2 references to the impersonal ‘mobility impaired’.  IF (and that is still a very big ‘if’, because there is still so much rabid resistance to this topic !) … a New Post-9/11 Evacuation Model, or Construct, Dealing with ‘Disability’ is being developed … all of the major impairment groupings (i.e. visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical function impairment, mental/cognitive impairment, and psychological impairment) must be added to the mix from the beginning.  In other words, our proper focus of attention must be ‘people with activity limitations’ … not just people with disabilities, but also frail older people (not all older people !), children under the age of 5 years, women in the later stages of pregnancy, people with a health condition, etc.

And … because of the social stigma still firmly attaching to ‘disability’ … many building occupants/users will not self-identify … not even if their lives depend on it !

Concentrating on one group only, i.e. people with mobility impairments, is simplistic and entirely inadequate … and we will all end up, in a few years time, having to graft on a consideration of the other impairment groups.

This is exactly what has already gone wrong with the development of Accessibility Design Guidance during the last 30 years … where ‘people with visual or hearing impairments’ received merely token attention … and ‘people with cognitive or psychological impairments’ received no attention at all !   And … we are now grappling with the challenge of having to graft on additional texts to try to re-balance International Design Guidance on Accessibility of the Built Environment.  Been there – done that – I have all of the t-shirts !!

People with Activity Limitations (English) / Personnes à Performances Réduites (French):  Those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without aid, basic human activities or tasks – because of a health condition or physical/mental/cognitive/psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature.

The above Terms (in English and French) include …

  • wheelchair users ;
  • people who experience difficulty in walking, with or without a facilitation aid, e.g. stick, crutch, calliper or walking frame ;
  • frail, older people ;
  • the very young (people under the age of 5 years) ;
  • people who suffer from arthritis, asthma, or a heart condition ;
  • the visually and/or hearing impaired ;
  • people who have a cognitive impairment disorder, including dementia, amnesia, brain injury, or delirium ;
  • women in the later stages of pregnancy ;
  • people impaired following the use of alcohol, other ‘social’ drugs e.g. cocaine and heroin, and some medicines ;
  • people who suffer any partial or complete loss of language related abilities, i.e. aphasia ;
  • people impaired following exposure to environmental pollution and/or other irresponsible human activities, e.g. war and terrorism ;

and …

  • people who experience a panic attack in a fire situation or other emergency ;
  • people, including firefighters, who suffer incapacitation as a result of exposure, during a fire, to poisonous or toxic substances, and/or elevated  temperatures.

  3.     So … what provision should be made for ‘people with activity limitations’ in typical Fire Engineering Design Projects ?

Equivalent to the concept of Maximum Credible Fire Scenario, which has already been discussed in this Series … at FireOx International, some years ago, we developed the concept of …

Maximum Credible User Scenario

Representing building user conditions which are also severe but reasonable to anticipate …

a)   10% of People Using the Building (occupants, visitors and other users) have an Impairment (visual or hearing, physical function, mental or cognitive, psychological, with some impairments not being identifiable) ;

[ This performance indicator appears in ISO FDIS 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, which will soon be published.]

b)   The Number of People Using a Building increases, on occasions which cannot be specified, to 120% of designed/calculated maximum building capacity.

[ Generally … the fire safety related texts contained in ISO 21542 are based on the 2005 & 2008 NIST WTC Recommendations.]

  4.     With regard to Recommendation 17 below, and NIST’s reference to the widths of evacuation staircases and door openings, etc … fire codes and regulations, fire authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ’s), and even the fire services themselves … still have a crazy mixed-up approach to defining the width of these building features … an approach which I am not even going to attempt to repeat !   Forget it !!

Without Exception … all understandings of Evacuation Route Width, Evacuation Staircase Width and Evacuation Door Opening Width … must be harmonized with the following definitions of Unobstructed Width

Unobstructed Width – General

Free, unobstructed space – clear of all obstacles below a height of 2.1 metres above finished floor level – necessary for passage along a circulation route, or other route component, e.g. a staircase.

[ For example … the Unobstructed Width of a Staircase is the clear dimension from the edge of one handrail to the edge of the opposite handrail … and there is always a continuous handrail on each side of an evacuation staircase ! ]

Unobstructed Width – Door Opening

Free, unobstructed space – clear of all obstacles below a height of 2.0 metres above finished floor level – necessary for passage through a door opening, measured when the door leaf is opened to an angle of 90°, or when a sliding or folding door leaf is opened to its fullest extent.

[ For example … the Unobstructed Width of a Door Opening is the dimension from the edge of the door leaf (when open at an angle of 90°) to the nearest edge of the door frame.]

This FireOx International Page on the SDI Corporate WebSite provides more guidance …

  5.     With regard to Recommendation 20 below, and NIST’s reference to allowing “all occupants an equal opportunity for evacuation” … this is not just a ‘nice idea’, or an ‘idealistic notion’ … this is now a Human and Social Right which is backed up and supported by International Law !   And … it is no longer acceptable for the Fire Science and Engineering Community to continue its stubborn resistance in the face of this fact !!

For the benefit of my fire engineering colleagues … I will, once again here, reproduce the most relevant extracts from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities …

UN CRPD  Preamble Paragraph (g)

Emphasizing the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development, …

UN CRPD  Article 9 – Accessibility

1.  To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.  These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

(a)  Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces ;

(b)  Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

2.  States Parties shall also take appropriate measures:

(a)  To develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public ;

(b)  To ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities ;

(c)  To provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities ;

(d)  To provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms ;

(e)  To provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public ;

(f)  To promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information ;

(g)  To promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet ;

(h)  To promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.

UN CRPD  Article 11 – Situations of Risk & Humanitarian Emergencies

States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.

[ Note:  An outbreak of fire in a building is a situation of serious risk for all vulnerable building occupants/users.]


At the time of writing, 153 Countries had signed the UN CRPD … while 106 Countries have ratified the Convention and are, therefore, the ‘State Parties’ referred to above.

These are just a few of the State Parties to the UN CRPD …

  • Argentina  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2008-09-02)
  • Australia  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2008-07-17)
  • Brazil  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2008-08-01)
  • Canada  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2010-03-11)
  • China  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2008-08-01)
  • Cuba  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2007-09-06)
  • European Union  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2010-12-23)
  • India  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2007-10-01)
  • Malaysia  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2010-07-19)
  • Mexico  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2007-12-17)
  • Philippines  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2008-04-15)
  • South Africa  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2007-11-30)
  • Turkey  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2009-09-28)
  • United Arab Emirates  (ratified the UN CRPD, 2010-03-19)

I wonder how implementation is proceeding in these countries !?!



GROUP 5.  Improved Building Evacuation

Building evacuation should be improved to include system designs that facilitate safe and rapid egress, methods for ensuring clear and timely emergency communications to occupants, better occupant preparedness regarding their roles and duties for evacuation during emergencies, and incorporation of appropriate egress technologies.*

[ * F-36  This effort should include standards and guidelines for the development and evaluation of emergency evacuation plans, including best practices for both partial and full evacuation, and the development of contingency plans that account for expected conditions that may require adaptation, including the compromise of all or part of an egress path before or during evacuation, or conditions such as widespread power failure, earthquake, or security threat that restrict egress from the building.  Evacuation planning should include the process from initial notification of the need to evacuate up to the point when occupants arrive at a place where their safety is ensured.  These standards and guidelines should be suitable for assessing the adequacy of evacuation plans submitted for approval, and should require occupant training through the conduct of regular drills.]

NIST WTC Recommendation 16.

NIST recommends that public agencies, non-profit organizations concerned with building and fire safety, and building owners and managers develop and carry out public education and training campaigns, jointly and on a nationwide scale, to improve building occupants’ preparedness for evacuation in case of building emergencies.  This effort should include better training and self-preparation of occupants, an effectively implemented system of floor wardens and building safety personnel, and needed improvements to standards.  Occupant preparedness should include:

a.     Improved training and drills for building occupants to ensure that they know evacuation procedures for a variety of emergency scenarios (e.g. including evacuation and shelter in place), are familiar with the egress route, and are sufficiently aware of what is necessary if evacuation is required with minimal notice (e.g. footwear consistent with the distance to be travelled, a flashlight/glow stick for pathway illumination, and dust masks).

b.     Building owners and managers should educate tenants on the life safety systems present in their building(s), provide training materials explaining egress routes and stairwell and elevator information, and develop educational programmes explaining the most appropriate responses in emergency situations.  It is further recommended that the owners and managers of office buildings implement the necessary systems for collecting and storing the training history of each building occupant.

c.     Improved training and drills that routinely inform building occupants that roof rescue is not (or is) presently feasible as a standard evacuation option, that they should evacuate down the stairs in any full-building evacuation unless explicitly instructed otherwise by on-site incident commanders, and that elevators can be used if they are still in service and haven’t been recalled or stopped.

d.     Improved codes, laws, and regulations that do not restrict or impede building occupants during evacuation drills from familiarizing themselves with the detailed layout of alternative egress routes for a full building evacuation.*

[ * F-37  New York City Local Law 5 prohibits requiring occupants to practice stairwell evacuation during drills.]

Affected Standard:  ICC/ANSI A117-1.  Model Building and Fire Codes:  The standard should be adopted in model building and fire codes by mandatory reference to, or incorporation of, the latest edition of the standard.  Affected Organizations:  NFPA, NIBS, NCSBCS, BOMA, and CTBUH.

NIST WTC Recommendation 17.

NIST recommends that tall buildings be designed to accommodate timely full building evacuation of occupants when required in building-specific or large-scale emergencies such as widespread power outages, major earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes without sufficient advance warning, fires, explosions, and terrorist attack.  Building size, population, function, and iconic status should be taken into account in designing the egress system.  Stairwell capacity and stair discharge door opening width* should be adequate to accommodate contraflow due to emergency access by responders.

[ * F-38  Egress capacity should be based on an all-hazards approach that considers the number and width of stairs (and door openings) as well as the possible use of scissor stairs credited as a single stair.]

a.     Improved egress analysis models, design methodology, and supporting data should be developed to achieve a target evacuation performance (e.g. time for full building evacuation*) for the design building population by considering the building and egress system designs, and human factors such as occupant size, mobility status, stairwell tenability conditions, visibility, and congestion.

[ * F-39  Use of egress models is required to estimate the egress capacity for a range of different evacuation strategies, including full building evacuation.  NIST found that the average surviving occupant in the WTC towers descended stairwells at about half the slowest speed previously measured for non-emergency evacuations.]

b.     To the degree possible, mobility impaired occupants should be provided a means for self-evacuation in the event of a building emergency.  Current strategies (and law) generally require the mobility impaired to shelter in place.  New procedures, which provide redundancy in the event that the floor warden system or co-worker assistance (i.e. a buddy system) fails, should consider full building evacuation, and may include use of fire-protected and structurally hardened elevators,* motorized evacuation technology (e.g. a battery-operated evacuation chair), and/or dedicated communication technologies for the mobility impaired.

[ * F-40  Elevators should be explicitly designed to provide protection against large, but conventional, building fires.  Fire-protected elevators also should be structurally hardened to withstand the range of foreseeable building-specific or large-scale emergencies.  While progress has been made in developing the requirements and technologies for fire-protected elevators, similar criteria and designs for structurally hardened elevators remain to be developed.]

c.     If protected/hardened elevators are provided for emergency responders but become unusable during an emergency, due to a malfunction or a conventional threat whose magnitude exceeds the magnitude considered in design, sufficient stairwell capacity should be provided to ensure timely emergency responder access to buildings that are undergoing full evacuation.  Such capacity could be provided either via dedicated stairways for fire service use or by building sufficient stairway capacity (i.e. number and width of stairways and/or use of scissor stairs credited as a single stair) to accommodate the evacuation of building occupants while allowing access to emergency responders with minimal hindrance from occupant contraflow.

d.     The egress allowance in assembly use spaces should be limited in state and local laws and regulations to no more than a doubling of the stairway capacity for the provision of a horizontal exit on a floor, as is the case now in the national model codes.*  The use of a horizontal exit creates an area of refuge with a 2 hour fire rated separation, at least one stair on each side, and sufficient space for the expected occupant load.

[ * F-41  The New York City Building Code permits a doubling of allowed stair capacity when one area of refuge is provided on a floor, and a tripling of stair capacity for two or more areas of refuge on a floor.  In the world after 11 September 2001, it is difficult to predict: (1) if, and for how long, occupants will be willing to wait in a refuge area before entering an egress stairway; and (2) what the impact would be of such a large group of people moving down the stairs on the orderly evacuation of lower floors.]

Affected Standards:  NFPA 101, ASME A 17.  Model Building and Fire Codes:  The standards should be adopted in model building and fire codes by mandatory reference to, or incorporation of, the latest edition of the standard.

NIST WTC Recommendation 18.

NIST recommends that egress systems be designed:  (1) to maximize remoteness of egress components (i.e. stairs, elevators, exits) without negatively impacting on average travel distances;  (2) to maintain their functional integrity and survivability under foreseeable building-specific or large-scale emergencies;  and (3) with consistent layouts, standard signage, and guidance so that systems become intuitive and obvious to building occupants during evacuations.

a.     Within a safety-based design hierarchy that should be developed, highest priority should be assigned to maintain the functional integrity, survivability, and remoteness of egress components and active fire protection systems (sprinklers, standpipes, associated water supply, fire alarms, and smoke management systems).  The design hierarchy should consider the many systems (e.g. stairs, elevators, active fire protection, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural) and system components, as well as functional integrity, tenant access, emergency responder access, building configuration, security, and structural design.

b.     The design, functional integrity, and survivability of the egress and other life safety systems (e.g. stairwell and elevator shafts, and active fire protection systems) should be enhanced by considering accidental structural loads such as those induced by overpressures (e.g. gas explosions), impacts, or major hurricanes and earthquakes, in addition to fire separation requirements.  In selected buildings, structural loads due to other risks such as those due to terrorism may need to be considered.  While NIST does not believe that buildings should be designed for aircraft impact, as the last line of defence for life safety, the stairwells and elevator shafts individually, or the core if these egress components are contained within the core, should have adequate structural integrity to withstand accidental structural loads and anticipated risks.

c.     Stairwell remoteness requirements should be met by a physical separation of the stairwells that provide a barrier to both fire and accidental structural loads.  Maximizing stairwell remoteness, without negatively impacting on average travel distances, would allow a stairwell to maintain its structural integrity independent of any other stairwell that is subject to accidental loads, even if the stairwells are located within the same structural barrier such as the core.  The current ‘walking path’ measurement allows stairwells to be physically next to each other, separated only by a fire barrier.  Reducing the clustering of stairways that also contain standpipe water systems provides the fire service with increased options for formulating firefighting strategies.  This should not preclude the use of scissor stairs* as a means of increasing stair capacity – provided the scissor stair is only credited as a single stair.

[ * F-42  Two separate stairways within the same enclosure and separated by a fire rated partition.]

d.     Egress systems should have consistent layouts with standard signage and guidance so that the systems become intuitive and obvious to all building occupants, including visitors, during evacuations.  Particular consideration should be given to unexpected deviations in the stairwells (e.g. floors with transfer hallways).

Affected Standard:  NFPA 101.  Model Building and Fire Codes:  The standard should be adopted in model building and fire codes by mandatory reference to, or incorporation of, the latest edition of the standard.

NIST WTC Recommendation 19.

NIST recommends that building owners, managers, and emergency responders develop a joint plan and take steps to ensure that accurate emergency information is communicated in a timely manner to enhance the situational awareness of building occupants and emergency responders affected by an event.  This should be accomplished through better co-ordination of information among different emergency responder groups, efficient sharing of that information among building occupants and emergency responders, more robust design of emergency public address systems, improved emergency responder communication systems, and use of the Emergency Broadcast System (now known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) and Community Emergency Alert Networks.

a.     Situational awareness of building occupants and emergency responders in the form of information and event knowledge should be improved through better co-ordination of such information among emergency responder groups (9-1-1 dispatch, fire department or police department dispatch, emergency management dispatch, site security, and appropriate federal agencies), efficient sharing and communication of information between building occupants and emergency responders, and improved emergency responder communication systems (i.e. including effective communication within steel and reinforced concrete buildings, capacity commensurate with the scale of operations, and interoperability among different communication systems.

b.     The emergency communications systems in buildings should be designed with sufficient robustness and redundancy to continue providing public address announcements or instructions in foreseeable building-specific or large-scale emergencies, including widespread power outage, major earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, and accidental explosions.  Consideration should be given to placement of building announcement speakers in stairways in addition to other standard locations.

c.     The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) should be activated and used, especially during large-scale emergencies, as a means to rapidly and widely communicate information to building occupants and emergency responders to enhance their situational awareness and assist with evacuation.

d.     Local jurisdictions (cities and counties or boroughs) should seriously consider establishing a Community Emergency Alert Network (CEAN), within the framework of IPAWS, and make it available to the citizens and emergency responders of their jurisdictions to enhance situational awareness in emergencies.*  The network should deliver important emergency alerts, information and real time updates to all electronic communication systems or devices registered with the CEAN.  These devices may include e-mail accounts, cell/mobile phones, text pagers, satellite phones, and wireless PDA’s.

[ * F-43  Types of emergency communications could include life safety information, severe weather warnings, disaster notifications (including information on terrorist attacks), directions for self-protection, locations of nearest available shelters, precautionary evacuation information, identification of available evacuation routes, and accidents or obstructions associated with roadways and utilities.]

Affected Standard:  NFPA 101, and/or a new standard.  Model Building and Fire Codes:  The standard should be adopted in model building and fire codes by mandatory reference to, or incorporation of, the latest edition of the standard to the extent it is within the scope of building and fire codes.

NIST WTC Recommendation 20.

NIST recommends that the full range of current and next generation evacuation technologies should be evaluated for future use, including protected/hardened elevators, exterior escape devices, and stairwell descent devices, which may allow all occupants an equal opportunity for evacuation and facilitate emergency response access.  Affected Standards:  NFPA 101, ASME A 17, ASTM E 06, ANSI A117.1.  Model Building and Fire Codes:  The standards should be adopted in model building and fire codes by mandatory reference to, or incorporation of, the latest edition of the standard.




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