‘fit for their intended use’

Fire Safety for All – Regional Implementation Model (Asia Pacific)

2019-10-21:  Following the very successful Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific (AP) Conference in Macau, at the end of June 2019 … https://www.rimacau2019.org/ … I was invited by the United Nations Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP – https://www.unescap.org/) to submit an Article on ‘Fire Safety for All’ to one of their upcoming publications.

Fire Safety for All … for vulnerable building users, including people with disabilities, young children, frail older people, people with health conditions, and women in late-stage pregnancy … is a critical component of Accessibility & Usability for All … the key factor in facilitating full social participation and inclusion.

Consistent with the philosophy and principles of Sustainable Human & Social Development, a concept which continues to evolve with robust resilience (despite many challenges) … and the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Framework Agenda … implementation is most effective if carried out at Regional Level … adapted to a Local Context.

Full and effective implementation, in each separate jurisdiction, then requires:

  • a robust legal base ;
  • determined political will to implement ‘fire safety for all’ ;
  • sufficient public financial resources for implementation – ‘fire safety for all’ is a social*, as distinct from a human, right ;
  • a compassionate and understanding bureaucracy, at all institutional levels ;
  • competent spatial planners, architects, structural engineers, fire engineers, quantity surveyors, technical controllers, industrial designers, building/facility managers, and crafts/trades people at all levels in construction organizations ;
  • independent monitoring of ‘fire safety for all’ performance – self-regulation is NO regulation ;
  • innovative, well-designed fire safety related products, systems and fittings which can be shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’.

[ *Social Rights:  Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education [Art.26(1), UDHR], but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a nation state.

Commentary:  In contrast to human rights, it is not protection from the state which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the state’s help.]

If Policy and Decision Makers are serious, therefore, about meeting the Safety Needs of Vulnerable People in Fire Emergencies … This Is An Absolutely Minimum Threshold Of Practical Action To Bring About Urgent Change …

Article for UNESCAP

Fire Safety for AllNobody Left Behind !

The rising 21st Century Cities of the Asia-Pacific Region each encompass:

  1. a) an interwoven, densely constructed core ;
  2. b) a very large and widely diverse resident population ;
  3. c) a supporting hinterland of lands, waters and other natural resources ;

together functioning, under the freedoms and protection of law, as …

  • a complex living system ; and
  • a synergetic community capable of providing a high level of social wellbeing* for all of its inhabitants.

[ *Social Wellbeing for All:  A general condition – for every person in a community, society or culture – of health, happiness, creativity, responsible fulfilment, and sustainable development. ]

Colour photograph showing one of the oldest districts in Hong Kong … Sheung Wan … very high-rise development, with mixed commercial and residential activity.  Click to enlarge.  Photograph taken by CJ Walsh.  2019-06-24.

In all areas of life and living in this City Community, every person is equal before the law and is entitled, without any discrimination, to equal protection of the law*.  When they are in a building, for example, all of its occupants and users have an equal right to feel ‘fire safe’ as required by law.  This must also include vulnerable building users, particularly people with disabilities.

[ *Refer to Article 12 in the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world, including the European Union … and Article 7 in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.]

Current national building codes – where they exist – do not protect vulnerable people in fire emergencies: many countries have no legal provisions answering this crucial need, while a small group of countries offer only token, i.e. inadequate, protection.  An ethical*, technical response is urgently required, therefore, at regional level in Asia-Pacific.  The social, political and institutional challenges blocking effective implementation are immense.

[ *Refer to the 2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All.  Download from: www.sfe-fire.eu ]

Note:  A Regional Implementation Strategy is already in the course of being developed for Asia-Pacific (AP).

Colour image illustrating the two concepts of social ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ … and, most importantly, the difference between the two.  Mainstream society must fully accept these concepts … and understand how, in order to achieve equality, the process of implementation must be equitable.  Click to enlarge.

Fire Safety for All … for vulnerable building users, including people with disabilities, young children, frail older people, people with health conditions, and women in late-stage pregnancy … is a critical component of Accessibility & Usability for All … the key factor in facilitating full social participation and inclusion.  This design objective is achieved by equitable fire prevention and fire protection measures, essential occupant/user practices, independent fire evacuation procedures, proactive management and, as a last but necessary resort, reliable assisted evacuation and/or firefighter rescue.

In the Smart City, nobody must be left behind !

During the first critical 10-15 minutes in a fire emergency – the time between when a fire is first accurately detected, warnings are transmitted, and firefighters arrive at the building – many people with disabilities are more than capable of independent evacuation using reliably functioning lift/elevator fire evacuation assemblies.  Independent use of lifts/elevators by people with disabilities is essential during a fire emergency … and must be facilitated.

The enormous benefit for those vulnerable individuals who are capable of negotiating horizontal and vertical circulation routes by themselves is being able to evacuate a building and reach a ‘place of safety’ in the company of other building occupants/users.  They remain independent, in control of their own evacuation, and able to leave without waiting for someone else to rescue them or render assistance.

Buildings must remain structurally ‘serviceable’ until all building occupants/users and firefighters have reached a remote ‘place of safety’.

Management systems and fire protection measures in buildings are never 100% reliable.  People with disabilities must, therefore, be trained to be self-aware in situations of risk, particularly in fire emergencies, and actively encouraged to develop the skills of self-protection and adaptive self-evacuation.

Essential Features At Building Design Stage

Fire Safety for All must be carefully considered at the initial stages of building design.  To be effective, however, the following essential passive and active fire protection measures must be incorporated in buildings …

A.  A smart ‘whole building’ fire emergency detection and multi-format warning system is an essential fire safety feature in all building types, new and existing. Vulnerable building occupants/users need much more time to react, and evacuate, than other users during a fire incident.

B.  All building occupants/users must be provided with alternative, intuitive and obvious evacuation routes away from a fire outbreak in a building. A significant number of building users will never pass through the smoke generated by fire.

C.  All fire evacuation routes in a building must be accessible for building occupants/users, and be sufficiently wide to accommodate contraflow, i.e. building users evacuating while firefighters enter the building at the same time. Under no circumstances must ‘stay put’ policies be normalized, or practiced.

D.  Phased horizontal evacuation must be facilitated, in design, by providing ‘buffer zones’ around fire compartments, and adjacent ‘places of relative safety’.

E.  All lifts/elevators in a building must be capable of being used during a fire emergency. This is already the case, in most countries, with firefighter lifts.

F.  Fire protected evacuation staircases must be sufficiently wide (1.5m between leading handrail edges) to facilitate contraflow and the assisted evacuation of manual wheelchair users; they must open into fire protected lift/elevator lobbies at every floor/storey level, and open directly to the exterior at ground level.

Black and white photograph showing the correct and best assisted evacuation technique for carrying a person in a manual wheelchair down a fire protected staircase, with handrails on both sides … 1 person behind the wheelchair and 2 other people at each side.  This illustration is from the Orientation Manual for First Responders on the Evacuation of People with Disabilities.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (USA).  Document Reference FA-235.  August 2002.  Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the ‘contraflow’ circulation which must be facilitated during a fire emergency … as building occupants/users evacuate away from the fire towards a place of safety located a remote distance from the building … while heavily equipped firefighters are able to enter the building, unhindered, at the same time.  This ensures that firefighters can quickly locate people waiting in areas of rescue assistance and lift/elevator lobbies.  Click to enlarge.

G.  Sufficiently large, fire protected ‘areas of rescue assistance’, where people can safely wait during a fire emergency, must adjoin each evacuation staircase on every floor/storey above ground level. When calculating space provision for evacuation and waiting areas in buildings, the minimum reasonable provision for people with disabilities must be 10% of the design building occupant/user population; for people with activity limitations, minimum space provision must rise to 15% of the design occupant/user population.

Colour illustration of a sufficiently wide fire evacuation staircase, 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.

Image of text showing the definition for ‘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.

H.  Such is the universal level of fire compartment unreliability, that lift/elevator lobbies and ‘areas of rescue assistance’ must be fitted with an active fire suppression system, i.e. water mist … an environmentally clean suppression medium which is person-friendly, and will not greatly interfere with visibility.

I.  In tall, super-tall and mega-tall buildings, every 20th floor/storey must be an accessible ‘floor of temporary refuge’ … and the roofs of those buildings must be capable of being used for aerial evacuation.

J.  In health care facilities, e.g. hospitals, the fire safety strategy must always be to ‘protect in place’. Patient evacuation is highly hazardous, and unacceptable.

K.  Fire defence plans* must demonstrate a proper consideration for the fire safety, protection and evacuation of all building users/occupants, with a particular and integrated focus on people with activity limitations.

[ *Fire Defence Plan:  A pre-determined and co-ordinated use of available human and material means in order to maintain an adequate level of fire safety and protection within a building and, in the event of an outbreak of fire, to ensure that it is brought speedily under control and extinguished … with the aim of minimizing any adverse or harmful environmental impacts caused by the fire.

Commentary 1:  A Fire Defence Plan is developed for a specific building at design stage.  It later becomes the basis for an occupied building’s Fire Emergency Management Plan.

Commentary 2:  A Fire Defence Plan is usually in electronic format and/or hard copy and comprises fire engineering drawings, descriptive text, fire safety related product/system information, with supporting calculations, and the fire test/approval data to demonstrate ‘fitness for intended use’.]

Colour illustration 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.

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Urgent ! … Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

2013-05-30:  Further to the recent post here, dated 2013-04-02 … and this Page on our Corporate WebSite …

Pausing … and stepping back … to consider conventional architectural practice, how architects are educated, and whether or not the professional institutes are helping, or handicapping, the forward progress of Architecture for a Better, More Sustainable World … I am deeply concerned about the future …

1.  Should it be ‘Multi-Disciplinary’ or ‘Trans-Disciplinary’ ?

The word ‘trans-disciplinary’ is confusing to a lot of people … surprisingly, to many at senior levels in construction-related industries, research sectors, and academia … not just in Ireland, but internationally.  The more senior the level, it seems the higher are the walls of that proverbial ‘box’.  But, let me reassure you, thinking outside the ‘box’ is not confined to people in their early 20’s !!

Looking over just the initial list of Consultant Specialists in a complex architectural project … it is the task of the Architect to transform a widely ‘multi-disciplinary’ input into a coherent ‘trans-disciplinary’ output.  These two concepts are very different.

Next Generation Architectural Processes and Procedures are urgently required …

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2.  EU Climate & Energy Policies – Key Driving Forces for Sustainability !

Recently, the European Commission issued this Green Paper … (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to say about Climate Change Adaptation !) …

European Commission - COM(2013) 169 final Cover

Click to enlarge.

European Commission COM(2013) 169 final – Brussels, 2013-03-27

EU Green Paper – A 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (104 Kb)

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Concerning this Green Paper … Two Important Points …

(i)    Current European Union (EU) Climate and Energy Policies are not just a passing fad … they are here to stay.  With certainty, we also know that they will become more and more stringent … and that higher levels of performance will be mandated … not just on paper or a computer printout … but in reality, for example, in buildings which are constructed and actually occupied by ‘real’ building users.  Refer also to recent findings, in Europe, about the large and growing discrepancy between car fuel efficiencies claimed after testing in a laboratory, and when later monitored under ‘real’ driving conditions.

(ii)   It has now become obvious that the European Commission has lost the plot … big time !   Policies and Actions in closely related fields have been permitted to become fragmented, disjointed, and even counter-productive.  Written into the EU treaties is the term ‘sustainable development’ … an intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving concept.  However, senior levels (both political and bureaucratic) in the different Directorates-General of the European Commission have long ago forgotten, mislaid and/or lost the proper meaning of ‘sustainability’ … and the essential interdependency of its many aspects.

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… which brings me to the urgent necessity for Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

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In Europe … the 1990’s and early 2000’s, taken together, was a period of construction experimentation and research.  We thought we could afford the resources and the lazy times … to try this, that and the other.  Little emphasis was placed on practical implementation in ‘real’ buildings.  However, the scale and immediacy of today’s Sustainable Development Challenges in the Built Environment have, within a few short years and much more quickly than expected, become unprecedented.

The Yanks (Gringos) are very strong on marketing … much stronger than Europe … so let’s examine a small model building … and see if its Architectural Design Concept is both coherent and comprehensive …

Mr. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute in the USA ( www.rmi.org ) … has produced a very snazzy Visitor’s Guide to the sprawling complex that is ‘his home, bioshelter and office’ in Snowmass, Colorado … a Guide intended for wide public circulation.

Concerning this Building … Three Points of Interest(?) …

(i)    For a fleeting moment … let us imagine that a percentage – not even all – of the vast populations living in Africa, India and China wanted the same sort of lifestyle, including the house, that Amory Lovins possesses.  What would be the resource implications for this planet ??

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Roof Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Click to enlarge.

(ii)   In a first construction ‘try’ … separate solar and/or photovoltaic panels fixed in place on a roof … attached to the building, almost as an afterthought … were the norm.  Now, however, these building systems are no longer innovative … they must be properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ (to comply with building regulations and codes) … and they should now be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for the building … which is not the case in the photograph above.  [ Car manufacturers face a similar design challenge today … how to successfully integrate new technologies, e.g. satellite navigation screens, smartphone docking stations, usb sockets, bluetooth, etc., etc., into the front dashboard.]

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Tracking Photovoltaic (PV) Panel

Anyway … how reproducible is this model building in urban and suburban contexts … in the USA … or elsewhere in the world ??   How many people would have access to sufficient land outside a building to ‘plant’ one, or a series of photovoltaic panels ?   Tracking photovoltaic panels, as shown above ??   And as seen in Italy, with those ridiculous photovoltaic fields (in a post, dated 2011-11-07 ) … good agricultural lands should not be used for this purpose … not now, not ever, never !

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Building Services

Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

(iii)  Sustainable Buildings are ‘high-tech’ … and a very large amount and variety of electronic and mechanical equipment is necessary in order to reliably monitor and tightly control their performance … in other words, to operate a building in accordance with its design specification.  Again … these services should be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for what is, no longer, just a simple dwelling.  Do similar houses without basements, for example, now need a central well-ventilated service room, complete with compact workstation ?

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Battery Array

Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

In my opinion … the Architectural Design Concept for this building is not coherent.  The overall architectural impression is one of a large sprawling house, on a very large plot of land … with many different ‘environmental/energy’-related appendages, or add-ons.  Can you see any coherence ?

It is the task of the Architect to consider all facets of building performance at the earliest stages of design … whether a small building, or a very large complex building … and to integrate those many diverse, but interdependent, facets into a coherent architectural statement … having a conceptual single crystalline shape … while also bearing in mind ‘person-centredness’‘flexibility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘accessibility for all’, and a ‘long and useful life cycle’.

[ An aside … closer to home … we are now witnessing the rise of the ‘Passive House Designer’.  This person, who is able to use a specific computer software package … no less, and no more … need not necessarily be an architect, or have any architectural education/training.  Is it possible to refer to the realized output from this software as ‘architecture’ … or are they merely drab, boring boxes ?? ]

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3.  Sustainable Buildings, Fire Safety & Fire Engineering ?

In the elaborate Amory Lovins Visitor’s Guide above … there is only one mention of fire hazard in the building … and that is in relation to a Passive Clothes Dryer (Page 40).  End of story with regard to the Fire Safety Issues for its Users … and the Fire Engineering Implications arising from a chosen architectural design and chosen construction materials and methods.

When I was referring to a centrally located service room in # 2(iii) above … that room should also be structurally hardened, and fire and smoke ‘separated’ from other spaces in the house.  Or … if the service equipment is located in a roof space, there are implications for roof structural reliability in a fire situation, and the fire resistance of the ceiling construction beneath.  Or … if the equipment is located in a basement, a simple intermediate timber floor construction overhead is inadequate.

Furthermore … an intelligent fire detection and warning system … and a suitable domestic fire suppression system … are no longer luxuries or optional extras, but essential requirements !   Who would want to lose such a valuable investment ??

And insofar as fire safety issues are not being considered … it seems, at all … in the case of most ‘high-tech’, sustainable buildings … and certainly not in the case of the Lovins House … the Architectural Design Concepts for these buildings ‘suffer’ from a gaping hole … an enormous void … they are incomplete and, therefore, entirely inadequate.

Fire Engineering involves much, much more than mere compliance with building regulations and codes … whose fire safety objectives are limited, and whose performance requirements are sometimes inadequate and always minimal.

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Unfortunately … there is a fundamental conflict between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the current state-of-the-art in Fire Engineering Design.  As an example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of air movement in that building.  On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.

In everyday practice, there is a vast chasm in understanding and communication between these two very different design disciplines.  As a result, serious compromises are being enforced on Sustainability Performance.  If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a Sustainable Building … it is the fire safety and protection which is being seriously compromised.

A range of critical fire safety issues (fatal, in the case of firefighters) are also arising from the Innovative Building Products and Systems being installed in Sustainable Buildings.

And because the emphasis is on pre-construction design ‘intent’ rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed and occupied building … all of these problems are being conveniently sidestepped or ignored … and they remain hidden from everybody’s view.

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Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, on the other hand, is the creative response to Sustainable Design … and the powerful drivers of Climate Change Adaptation, and Energy Conservation/Efficiency in Buildings.

Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions are …

  • Adapted to Local Conditions … Geography, Climate (change, variability and severity swings), Social Need, Culture, and Economy, etc., etc ;
  • ‘Reliability-Based’ … the design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an examination of ‘real’ extreme events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 & 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than on theory alone ;
  • ‘Person-Centred’ … ‘real’ people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … and their health, safety and welfare … and security … in the Human Environment.

Sustainability continues to fundamentally transform our Fire Engineering, Architectural and Consultancy Practice at Sustainable Design International Ltd (SDI) !

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