maximum credible fire scenario

Sustainable Fire Engineering Design – Targeting & MRV !

2014-04-20:  Traditional/Conventional Fire Engineering Practice is slowly, but inevitably, being transformed … in order to meet the regional and local challenges of rapid urbanization and climate change, the pressing need for a far more efficient and resilient building stock, and a growing social awareness that ‘sustainability’ demands much greater human creativity …

Design Target:  A Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All

Design Key Words:  Reality – Reliability – Redundancy – Resilience

Essential Construction & Occupancy Start-Up Processes:  Careful Monitoring & Reporting – Independent Verification of Performance (MRV)


Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions:

Are Reliability-Based …
The design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an understanding of ‘real’ building performance and resilience during Extreme Man-Made Events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 Attack & 2008 Mumbai Hive Attacks, and Hybrid Disasters, e.g. 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than theory alone.

Are Person-Centred …
‘Real’ people are placed at the centre of creative design endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … their health, safety, welfare and security … in the Human Environment, which includes the social, built, economic and virtual environments.

Are Adapted to Local Context & Heritage *
Geography, orientation, climate (including change, variability and severity swings), social need, culture, traditions, economy, building crafts and materials, etc., etc.
[* refer to the 2013 UNESCO Hangzhou Declaration]

In Sustainable Design … there are NO Universal Solutions !

Design Objectives:

To protect society, the best interests of the client/client organization and building user health and safety, and to maintain functionality under the dynamic, complex conditions of fire … Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives shall cover the following spectrum of issues …

  • Protection of the Health and Safety of All Building Users … including people with activity limitations (2001 WHO ICF), visitors to the building who will be unfamiliar with its layout, and contractors or product/service suppliers temporarily engaged in work or business transactions on site ;
  • Protection of Property from Loss or Damage … including the building, its contents, and adjoining or adjacent properties ;
  • Safety of Firefighters, Rescue Teams and Other Emergency Response Personnel ;
  • Ease and Reasonable Cost of ‘Effective’ Reconstruction, Refurbishment or Repair Works after a Fire ;
  • Sustainability of the Human Environment – including the fitness for intended use and life cycle costing of fire engineering related products, systems, etc … fixed, installed or otherwise incorporated in the building ;
  • Protection of the Natural Environment from Harm, i.e. adverse impacts.


More Specifically … with Regard to Resilient Building Performance during a Fire Incident and the ‘Cooling Phase’ after Fire Extinguishment:

1.   The Building shall be designed to comply with the Recommendations in the 2005 & 2008 NIST(USA) Final Reports on the World Trade Center(WTC) 1, 2 & 7 Building Collapses.

In one major respect, the 2005 NIST Report is flawed, i.e. its treatment of ‘disability and building users with activity limitations is entirely inadequate.  The Building shall, therefore, be designed to comply with International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, which was published in December 2011.

2.   The Building shall remain Serviceable, not just Structurally Stable(!) … until all buildings users (including those users with activity limitations waiting in ‘areas of rescue assistance’) have been evacuated/rescued to an accessible ‘place of safety’ which is remote from the building, and have been identified … and all firefighters, rescue teams and other emergency response personnel have been removed/rescued from the building and its vicinity.

The Building shall be designed to resist Fire-Induced Progressive Damage and Disproportionate Damage.  These requirements shall apply to all building types, of any height.

Under no reasonably foreseeable circumstances shall the Building be permitted to collapse !

3.   The Building shall be designed to comfortably accommodate and resist a Maximum Credible Fire Scenario and a Maximum Credible User Scenario.


Concerted International Research is Needed …

To creatively resolve the direct conflict which exists between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and Traditional/Conventional Fire Engineering.

An example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of uninterrupted air movement in that building. On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in authorities having jurisdiction, 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. The result is that the sustainability performance of the building is seriously compromised.

If, however, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a sustainable building … it is the fire safety and protection which will be seriously compromised !

To effectively deal with the fire safety problems (fatal, in the case of firefighters) which result from the installation of Innovative Building/Energy/EICT Systems and Products in Sustainable Buildings.


These are appropriate tasks for a new CIB W14 Research Working Group VI: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering Design & Construction’ !



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Conventional Structural Fire Engineering Design – How Flawed ?

2012-05-18:  Déjà-vu …

” In the early hours of the morning of Saturday, 14th February 1981, a disastrous fire swept through a building called the Stardust in the North Dublin suburb of Artane during the course of a St. Valentine’s Night ‘disco’ dance.  Forty eight people were killed and one hundred and twenty eight seriously injured.  The overwhelming majority of the victims were young people. “

‘Introduction’, Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin, on the 14th February 1981.  Report dated 30 June 1982.

As a young architect in private practice … I witnessed, at first hand, the Dublin Fire ‘Establishment’ disappear from public view, without trace, after the Stardust Fire Tragedy.  It was almost impossible, for at least a year afterwards, to have a meeting with any Fire Prevention Officer in the Dublin Fire Authority.  This was a very valuable lesson.

Later, following the publication of the Stardust Tribunal Report … were its Recommendations implemented … with urgency … and conscientiously ?   No way.  For example, it was more than ten years after the Stardust Fire before an inadequate system of legal National Building Regulations was introduced in Ireland.  And to this day, the system of AHJ monitoring of construction quality, throughout the country, is weak and ineffective … lacking both competent personnel and resources !

The proof of the pudding is in the eating … and one of the results, also in Dublin, has been last year’s debacle at the Priory Hall Apartment Complex … where all of the residents had to leave their expensive apartments for fire safety (and many other) reasons.  The tip of a very large iceberg.  See my post, dated 18 October 2011 .

And this is where the problems usually begin …

” There has been a tendency among students of architecture and engineering to regard fire safety as simply a question of knowing what is required in terms of compliance with the regulations.  The recommendation of the Tribunal of Enquiry into the Summerland Disaster that those responsible for the design of buildings should treat fire safety as an integral part of the design concept itself, has not yet been reflected in the approach to the subject at university level.  There is still clearly a need for a new approach to the structuring of such courses which will in time bring to an end the attitude of mind, too prevalent at the moment, that compliance with fire safety requirements is something that can be dealt with outside the context of the overall design of the building. “

‘Chapter 9 – Conclusions & Recommendations’, Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin, on the 14th February 1981.  Report dated 30 June 1982.

This Recommendation has still not been implemented … and note the reference to the earlier fire at the Summerland Leisure Centre in 1973, on the Isle of Man, when 50 people were killed and 80 seriously injured.

Today … the same attitude of mind, described so well above, stubbornly persists in all sectors, and in all disciplines, of the International Construction Industry … even within ISO Technical Committee 92: ‘Fire Safety’ !


Which brings me, neatly, to the recent question posed by Mr. Glenn Horton on the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE-USA) Page of LinkedIn ( ).   As usual, the shortest questions can prove to be the most difficult to answer …

” Can you expand on, or point to where anyone has discussed, the ‘very flawed design approach’ please ? “



     1.  Foundation Documents

I am assuming that ‘people-who-need-to know’, at international level, are familiar with the Recommendations contained in these 2 Reports …

  • NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).  September 2005.  Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster: Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers.  NIST NCSTAR 1   Gaithersburg, MD, USA ;


  • NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).  August 2008.  Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster: Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7.  NIST NCSTAR 1A   Gaithersburg, MD, USA ;

… and the contents of the CIB W14 Research WG IV Reflection Document … which, together with its 2 Appendices, can be downloaded from this webpage … … under the section headed: ‘April 2012’.

However … I am utterly dismayed by the number of ‘people-who-need-to know’ … who do not know … and have never even bothered to dip into the 2 NIST Reports … or the many long-term Post 9-11 Health Studies on Survivors which have already revealed much priceless ‘real’ information about the short and medium term adverse impacts on human health caused by fire !

CIB W14 Research Working Group IV would again strongly caution that Fire-Induced Progressive Damage and Disproportionate Damage are fundamental concepts to be applied in the structural design of all building types.


     2.  Technical Terminology

While attending the ISO TC92 Meetings in Thessaloniki, during the last week of April 2012, I noticed not just one reference to ‘fire doors’ in a Draft ISO Fire Standard … but many.  It surprised me, since I thought this issue had been successfully resolved, at ISO level, many years ago.  There is no such thing as a ‘fire door’ … and the careless referencing of such an object, which has no meaning, in building codes and standards has caused countless problems on real construction sites during the last 20-30 years.

Please follow this line of thought …

Fire Resistance:  The inherent capability of a building assembly, or an element of construction, to resist the passage of heat, smoke and flame for a specified time during a fire.

Doorset:  A building component consisting of a fixed part (the door frame), one or more movable parts (the door leaves), and their hardware, the function of which is to allow, or to prevent, access and egress.

[Commentary: A doorset may also include a door saddle / sill / threshold.]

Fire Resisting Doorset / Shutter Assembly:  A doorset / shutter assembly, properly installed or mounted on site, the function of which is to resist the passage of heat, smoke and flame for a specified time during a fire.

… and so we arrive at the correct term … Fire Resisting Doorset … which, as an added bonus, also alerts building designers, construction organizations, and even AHJ inspectors, to the fact that there is more involved here than merely a door leaf.

Now then, I wonder … how, in any sane and rational world, can the term Fire Resistance be used in relation to structural performance during a fire, and the cooling-phase afterwards ?   Yet, this is exactly what I read in the building codes of many different jurisdictions.  Do people understand what is actually going on ?   Or, is the language of Conventional Fire Engineering so illogical and opaque that it is nearly impossible to understand ?

And … if this problem exists within the International Fire Science & Engineering Community … how is it possible to communicate effectively with other design disciplines at any stage during real construction projects.  The artificial environments found in academia are not my immediate concern.


     3.  Fire Research & Development outside CIB W14 & ISO TC92

In 2012 … there is something very wrong when you have to struggle to persuade a group of people who are developing an ISO Standard on Design Fire Scenarios … that they must consider Environmental Impact as one of the major consequences of a fire to be minimized … along with ‘property losses’ and ‘occupant impact’.  This is no longer an option.

Environmental Impact:  Any effect caused by a given activity on the environment, including human health, safety and welfare, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical structures, or the interactions among these factors; it also includes effects on accessibility, cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alterations to those factors.

So … how timely, and relevant to practitioners, are ISO Fire Standards ?   Perhaps … obsolete at publication … and not very ??

And … there is lot more to the Built Environment than buildings …

Built Environment:  Anywhere there is, or has been, a man-made or wrought (worked) intervention in the natural environment, e.g. cities, towns, villages, rural settlements, service utilities, transport systems, roads, bridges, tunnels, and cultivated lands, lakes, rivers, coasts, and seas, etc … including the virtual environment.


We should be very conscious that valuable fire-related research takes place outside, and unrelated to, the established fire engineering groupings of CIB W14 & ISO TC92.  But I am curious as to why this research is not properly acknowledged by, or encouraged and fostered within, the ‘system’ ?

Example A:  Responding to Recommendation 18 in the 2005 NIST WTC Report … a Multi-Disciplinary Design Team published an article in the magazine Bâtiment et Sécurité (October 2005) on The PolyCentric Tower.  I very much enjoy giving practitioners a small flavour of this work, whenever I make presentations at conferences and workshops …

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing The PolyCentric Tower (2005), developed by a French Multi-Disciplinary Design Team in response to Recommendation 18 in the 2005 NIST WTC Report. Click to enlarge.

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing The PolyCentric Tower (2005), developed by a French Multi-Disciplinary Design Team in response to Recommendation 18 in the 2005 NIST WTC Report. Click to enlarge.


Example B:  In spite of a less than helpful submission (to put it mildly) from ISO TC92 Sub-Committee 4 … ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’ was finally published in December 2011 … but it was developed by a Sub-Committee of ISO TC59: ‘Buildings & Civil Engineering Works’

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing the design of a notional Fire Evacuation Staircase, with an adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance, which responds directly to the 2005 NIST WTC Recommendations. See Figure 62 in ISO 21542:2011. Click to enlarge.

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing the design of a notional Fire Evacuation Staircase, with an adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance, which responds directly to the 2005 NIST WTC Recommendations. See Figure 62 in ISO 21542:2011. Click to enlarge.


With the involvement and support of ISO Technical Committee 178: ‘Lifts, Elevators & Moving Walks’ during its long gestation … ISO 21542 is now able to indicate that all lifts/elevators in a building should be capable of being used for evacuation in the event of a fire.  This is already a design feature in a small number of completed Tall Building Projects.  Once more, this is no longer an option.

In addition … if a Fire Evacuation Staircase has a minimum unobstructed width of 1.5 m (from edge of handrail on one side of the staircase to edge of handrail on the opposite side) … this will be sufficient to facilitate the following tasks …

  • Assisted Evacuation by others, or Rescue by Firefighters, for those building users who cannot independently evacuate the building, e.g. people with activity limitations … shown above, on the right, is assistance being given by three people (one at each side, with one behind) to a person occupying a manual wheelchair ;
  • Contraflow Circulation … emergency access by firefighters entering a building and moving towards a fire, while people are still evacuating from the building to a ‘place of safety’ remote from the building … shown above, bottom left, is how not to design an evacuation staircase (!) ;
  • Stretcher Lifting … lifting a mobility-impaired person, who may be conscious or unconscious, on a stretcher ;
  • Firefighter Removal & Contraflow … shown above, top left, is removal of a firefighter from a building by colleagues in the event of injury, impairment, or a fire event induced health condition … while other firefighters may still be moving towards the fire.

Note that in a Fire Evacuation Staircase … all Handrails are continuous … each Stair Riser is a consistent 150 mm high … each Stair Tread/Going is a consistent 300 mm deep … and there are No Projecting Stair Nosings.

Most importantly … in order to assign sufficient building user space in the design of an Area of Rescue Assistance … ISO 21542 also provides the following Key Performance Indicator … just one aspect of a ‘maximum credible user scenario’ …

10% of people using a building (including visitors) have an impairment, which may be visual or hearing, mental, cognitive or psychological, or may be related to physical function, with some impairments not being identifiable.

Is There Any Connection Between Examples A & B ?   There is, and it is a connection which is critical for public safety.  The following Performance Indicator illustrates the point …

Innovative Structural Design – Perimeter Core Location – Design for Fire Evacuation – Evacuation for All

” A Building must not only remain Structurally Stable during a fire event, it must remain Serviceable for a period of time which facilitates:

  • Rescue by Firefighters of people with activity limitations waiting in areas of rescue assistance ;
  • Movement of the firefighters and those people with activity limitations, via safe and accessible routes, to Places of Safety remote from the building ;
  • With an assurance of Health, Safety & Welfare during the course of this process of Assisted Evacuation. “

[Refer also to the Basic Requirements for Construction Works in Annex I of the European Union’s Construction Product Regulation 305/2011 – included as Appendix II of the CIB W14 WG IV Reflection Document.  Are the Basic Requirements being interpreted properly … or even adequately ??]



The Greek Paper is included as Appendix I of CIB W14 WG IV Reflection Document … in order to show that Fire-Induced Progressive Damage is also an issue in buildings with a reinforced concrete frame structure.  It is more straightforward, here, to concentrate on buildings with a steel frame structure.

a)  Use of ‘Fire Resistance'(?) Tables for Structural Elements

We should all be familiar with these sorts of Tables.  The information they contain is generated from this type of standard test configuration in a fire test laboratory …

… and this sort of criterion for ‘loadbearing horizontal elements’ in a fire test standard …

A single isolated loaded steel beam, simply supported, is being tested.  As deflection is the only type of deformation being observed and measured … the critical temperature of the steel, i.e. the point when material strength begins to fail rapidly and the rate of beam deflection increases dramatically … is the sole focus for all stakeholders.

Using these Tables, it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that we are merely interior decorators … applying flimsy thermal insulation products to some steel structural elements (not all !) … according to an old, too narrowly focused, almost static (‘cold form’) recipe, which has little to do with how today’s real buildings react to real fires !

This ‘non-design’ approach is entirely inadequate.


With regard to the use of these Tables in Ireland’s Building Regulations (Technical Guidance Document B), I recently submitted the comments below to the relevant Irish AHJ.  These same comments could just as easily apply to the use of similar Tables in the Building Regulations for England & Wales (Approved Document B) …

” You should be aware that Table A1 and Table A2 are only appropriate for use by designers in the case of single, isolated steel structural elements.

In steel structural frame systems, no consideration is given in the Tables to adequate fire protection of connections … or limiting the thermal expansion (and other types of deformation) in fire of steel structural elements … in order to reduce the adverse effects of one element’s behaviour on the rest of the frame and/or adjoining non-loadbearing fire resisting elements of construction.

In the case of steel structural frame systems, therefore, the minimum fire protection to be afforded to ALL steel structural elements, including connections, should be 2 Hours.  Connections should also be designed and constructed to be sufficiently robust during the course of a fire incident.  This one small revision will contribute greatly towards preventing Fire-Induced Progressive Damage in buildings … a related, but different, structural concept to Disproportionate Damage

Disproportionate Damage

The failure of a building’s structural system  (i) remote from the scene of an isolated overloading action;  and (ii) to an extent which is not in reasonable proportion to that action.

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage

The sequential growth and intensification of structural deformation and displacement, beyond fire engineering design parameters, and the eventual failure of elements of construction in a building – during a fire and the ‘cooling phase’ afterwards – which, if unchecked, will result in disproportionate damage, and may lead to total building collapse.

Coming from this background and heritage … it is very difficult to communicate with mainstream, ambient structural engineers who are speaking the language of structural reliability, limit state design and serviceability limit states.


b)  NIST Report: ‘Best Practice Guidelines for Structural Fire Resistance Design of Concrete and Steel Buildings’ (NISTIR 7563 – February 2009)

At the end of Page 18 in NISTIR 7563 …

2.7.2 Multi-Storey Frame Buildings

In recent years, the fire performance of large-frame structures has been shown in some instances to be better than the fire resistance of the individual structural elements (Moore and Lennon 1997).  These observations have been supported by extensive computer analyses, including Franssen, Schleich, and Cajot (1995) who showed that, when axial restraint from thermal expansion of the members is included in the analysis of a frame building, the behaviour is different from that of the column and beam analyzed separately.

A large series of full-scale fire tests was carried out between 1994 and 1996 in the Cardington Laboratory of the Building Research Establishment in England.  A full-size eight-storey steel building was constructed with composite reinforced concrete slabs on exposed metal decking, supported on steel beams with no applied fire protection other than a suspended ceiling in some tests.  The steel columns were fire-protected.  A number of fire tests were carried out on parts of one floor of the building, resulting in steel beam temperatures up to 1000 °C, leading to deflections up to 600 mm but no collapse and generally no integrity failures (Martin and Moore 1997). “

Those were Experimental Fire Tests at Cardington, not Real Fires … on ‘Engineered’ Test Constructions, not Real Buildings !!   And … incredibly, for a 2009 document … there is no mention at all of World Trade Center Buildings 1, 2 or 7 !?!   Where did they disappear to, I wonder ?   Too hot to handle ???

Computer Model Verification and Validation (V&V) are very problematic issues within the International Fire Science and Engineering Community.  The expected outcome of a Model V&V Process, however, is a quantified level of agreement between experimental data (and, if available, real data) and model prediction … as well as the predictive accuracy of the model.

Now … please meditate carefully on the following …

” NCSTAR 1A (2008)  Recommendation D   [See also NCSTAR 1 (2005)  Recommendation 5)

NIST recommends that the technical basis for the century-old standard for fire resistance testing of components, assemblies and systems be improved through a national effort.  Necessary guidance also should be developed for extrapolating the results of tested assemblies to prototypical building systems.  A key step in fulfilling this Recommendation is to establish a capability for studying and testing components, assemblies, and systems under realistic fire and load conditions.

Of particular concern is that the Standard Fire Resistance Test does not adequately capture important thermally-induced interactions between structural sub-systems, elements, and connections that are critical to structural integrity.  System-level interactions, especially due to thermal expansion, are not considered in the standard test method since columns, girders, and floor sub-assemblies are tested separately.  Also, the performance of connections under both gravity and thermal effects is not considered.  The United States currently does not have the capability for studying and testing these important fire-induced phenomena critical to structural safety.

Relevance to WTC 7:  The floor systems failed in WTC 7 at shorter fire exposure times than the specified fire rating (two hours) and at lower temperatures because thermal effects within the structural system, especially thermal expansion, were not considered in setting the endpoint criteria when using the ASTM E 110 or equivalent testing standard.  The structural breakdowns that led to the initiating event, and the eventual collapse of WTC 7, occurred at temperatures that were hundreds of degrees below the criteria that determine structural fire resistance ratings. “

The design approach outlined in NISTIR 7563 is not only very flawed … it lacks any validity … because very relevant and important real fire data has been totally ignored.  The Cardington Experimental Fires were not all that they seemed.


c)  Current ISO TC92 International Case Study Comparison

Structural Fire Engineering Design of an Airport Terminal Building serving the Capital City of a large country (which shall remain nameless) … constructed using Portal Steel Frames …

My first concern is that the Structural Fire Engineering Design has been undertaken in isolation from other aspects of the Building’s Fire Engineering Design.

On Page 3 of the Case Study Report …

4.2 Objectives & Functional Requirements for Fire Safety of Structures

The fire safety objectives of the airport terminal emphasize the safety of life, conservation of property, continuity of operations and protection of the environment. “

Should these not be the Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives ?   Since when, for example, is ‘continuity of operations’ a concern in building codes ??

On Page 7 of the Case Study Report …

5.3  Identify Objectives, Functional Requirements & Performance Criteria for Fire Safety of Structure

The Fire Safety Objective of the Steel Structure:  There should be no serious damage to the structure or successive collapse in case of fire.

The Functional Requirements are defined as the followings:

(1)  Prevent or limit the structural failure in case of fire so as to prevent the fire from spreading within the compartment or to the adjacent fire compartment or the adjacent buildings (to prevent fire spread) ;

(2)  Prevent or limit the partial structural failure in case of fire so as to protect the life safety of the occupants and firefighters (to protect life safety) ;

(3)  Prevent or limit the structural deformation or collapse so as not to increase the cost or difficulties of the after-fire restoration (to reduce reconstruction cost).

One of the following Performance Requirements shall be met:

(1)  The load-bearing capacity of the structure (Rd) shall not be less than the combined effect (Sm) within the required time, that is Rd ≥ Sm.  (The maximum permitted deflection for the steel beam shall not be larger than L/400, and the maximum stress of the structure under fire conditions shall not be larger than fyT) ;   or

(2)  The fire resistance rating of the steel structure (td) shall not be less than the required fire resistance rating (tm), that is, td ≥ tm ;   or

(3)  Td – the critical internal temperature of the steel structure at its ultimate state shall not be less than Tm (the maximum temperature of the structure within required fire resistance time duration), that is Td ≥ Tm.  (300 ℃) “

Once again … we see an emphasis on critical temperature, beam deflection (only), and material strength.  L/400 is an impressive Fire Serviceability Limit State … a different world from L/20 or L/30 … but what about other important types of steel structural member deformation, e.g. thermal expansion and distortion ??

Furthermore … if there is a major fire in the area under the lower roof (see Section above) … because of structural continuity, any serious impact on the small frame will also have an impact on the large frame.  For Structural Fire Engineering reasons … would it not be wiser to break the structural continuity … and have the small and large portal frames act independently ?

It is proposed that the Portal Frames will NOT be fully fire protected … just the columns, up to a height of 8 metres only.  If ‘conservation of property’ and ‘continuity of operations’ are important fire engineering design objectives in this project … why isn’t all of the steel being fully protected ???   What would be the additional cost, as a percentage of the total project cost ?

What exactly is infallible about current Design Fires and Design Fire Scenarios ???   Not much.  And in the case of this particular building, should a ‘maximum credible fire scenario’ be at least considered ?

And … what is the fire protection material, product or system being used to protect the Portal Frames ?   Will it be applied, fixed or installed correctly ?   What is its durability ?   Will it be able to resist mechanical damage during the construction process … and afterwards, during the fire event ?   What is the reliability of this form of fire protection measure ??

So many questions …




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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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CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’ – Recent Important Meeting in Zurich

2010-10-07:  Established in 1953 … CIB (International Council for Research & Innovation in Building & Construction) is an Organization whose objectives are to stimulate and facilitate international co-operation and information exchange between research institutes and research-oriented individuals in the Global Construction Sector.

In 2010CIB is now a worldwide network of over 5000 experts … from about 500 member organisations active in the research community, in industry or in education … who co-operate and exchange information in over 50 CIB Working Commissions and Task Groups, covering all fields in building and construction related research and innovation.

CIB Working Commissions initiate projects for the purposes of R&D and information exchange … organise meetings and issue publications.  These meetings can be Commission meetings for members only, or international symposia and congresses open to everyone.  Publications can be proceedings, scientific or technical analyses and international state-of-the-art reports.


CIB Working Commission 14 (W14) recently held an important meeting at EMPA Headquarters (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science & Technology) in Zurich, Switzerland … on Monday and Tuesday, 30th and 31st August 2010.  The meeting was very well attended … and the discussions, throughout, were lively, interesting and challenging !

The Co-Ordinator for W14 … Prof. Dr. George Hadjisophocleous, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada … is Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Holder of the Industrial Research Chair in Fire Safety Engineering.

This Meeting was Important for Two Reasons …

1.  Working Commission 14 Title & Description Revised

Early on the Monday morning, 30th August 2010 … under the Agenda Item: ‘Overview of CIB W14 Mission Statement’, I had proposed that the Commission should review the current, rather outdated Mission Statement.  A draft text, which I had submitted many months before the Zurich meeting, was used as the basis for our discussion.

It was a major step forward that the Revised Title & Description for Working Commission 14 received such enthusiastic support, and endorsement …

Revised CIB W14 Title: ‘Fire Safety’

This will make the work of Working Commission 14 more accessible to the many built environment design, construction and operation related disciplines outside the international fire science and engineering community … and to the rest of CIB, which will facilitate greater communication and co-operation with other CIB Working Commissions and Task Groups.

The revised title will also foster and promote better co-ordination with International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Committee 92: ‘Fire Safety’.

Revised CIB W14 Description:

A Working Commission of CIB (International Council for Research and Innovation in Building & Construction) … CIB W14 is an international, multi-stakeholder, trans-disciplinary, pre-normalization forum for discussion, and action, on research and innovation in Fire Science and Engineering for the design, construction and operation of a Safe and Sustainable Built Environment.

During the Meeting, it was made crystal clear that the Built Environment did not just mean ‘buildings’ … and that Sustainable referred to all Aspects of Sustainable Development, and not merely to its environmental aspects.

All Aspects of Sustainable Human & Social Development must be taken into account at the same time and with equal weight.

This is an important foundation for the International Fire Science and Engineering Community … as it begins to communicate and engage, meaningfully, with the Mainstream Construction Sector about discussions on Sustainable Design, Construction & Operation (including management and servicing, etc.).

2.  Tighter Scope for the New CIB W14 Fire Research Projects

During the remainder of the 2-day meeting … Overview Presentations were made, Progress was reported, and Lengthy Discussions followed on the following Fire Research & Innovation Projects listed below.

I will only make a few pertinent comments about some of the Projects …

a)  Design Fires

During the discussion about this Project, I firmly made the point that proper consideration must now be given to ‘Maximum Credible Fire Scenario’ … as recommended in the 2005 NIST(USA) Final Report on the 9-11 World Trade Center Towers 1 & 2 Collapses.  See Footnote 26, on Page 208 of the 2005 Report, for the definition of this concept.

b)  Fire Performance of Materials

I drew the meeting’s attention to the serious problem of Hazardous Plasterboard/Drywall manufactured in China.  See the Post on this Blog …

c)  Structural Performance in Fire – Connections

d)  Structural Reliability & Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse

I am the Leader for this International Project … and our progress can be followed on a separate Page of this Blog …

e)  Human Behaviour & Abilities in Fire Emergencies

For reasons which I cannot discuss here, it was considered to be absolutely essential that this Project proceed with all haste … and full speed !

Two Issues in Particular …

In relation to the problems People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) face in preparation for, during and after fire emergencies in buildings … Existing Standards at International and National Levels have been shown …

  • to lack any proper awareness or understanding about ‘disability’ ;
  • to present a Design, Construction and Management Response to the problems experienced by People with Activity Limitations in preparation for, during and after fire emergencies in buildings … which is far, far less than adequate … or, to put it in more direct language … a Response which is entirely unacceptable … on technical, social and legal grounds.

It must be clearly noted that the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008.  As a result of Article #11 … in future, to give just one simple example, fire evacuation routes in buildings must be designed to be ‘accessible-for-all’.  This is an entirely new concept for most fire engineers … in all countries !

On my proposal, therefore, the Project Title was amended to include Human Abilities.

Secondly … and further to its introduction during my presentation at an earlier CIB W14 Meeting in Lund University, Sweden, during April 2009 … this Project will also examine the concept of ‘Maximum Credible User Scenario’, i.e. user conditions which are also severe, but reasonable to anticipate … meaning …

  • the Number of people using a building increases, on occasions which cannot be specified, to 120% of calculated maximum building capacity ;


  • 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).

Leadership of this Project is held by Douglas Hillhouse, Organizer of the Fire Risk Engineering Programme in the School of the Built & Natural Environments, Glasgow Caledonian University.

f)  Fire Engineering Performance Criteria


Watch this space … more interesting, pre-normative fire engineering developments are in the pipeline !




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U.S. Disability Statistics – Practical Application in Europe ?

2009-02-25:  Back in 2003 … remember the European Year of People with Disabilities ? … or maybe you don’t, as there is a European Year for everything now ! … I belonged to a small group of people – the European Union Expert Group on Accessibility.  The Report issued at the end of our term included the usual statistic of 10% of people in Europe having a disability.  That figure, which always seemed a bit out of date and wide of the mark to me, continues to re-appear here, there and everywhere.  It is not reliable.  But … please read on.


As far as bureaucrats are concerned … if there are no statistics, a problem does not exist … and if there is no problem, there is no need to spend money.


But, that approach leaves policy makers who take their responsibilities seriously, NGO’s, people who design buildings and teachers, for example, in a vacuum.  No wonder awareness among the General Public is so low, and that there are so many participation restrictions and barriers in our Built Environment.


Questions relating to ‘disability’ in Irish Census Forms merely scratch the surface of this issue.



A recent Report, issued by the United States Census Bureau on 18th December 2008, may provide some useful information to guide front line policy and design implementation in Europe.  Please handle with caution, as these are NOT European statistics.


About one in five residents of the USA – 19% – reported some level of disability in 2005, according to the Report.  These 54.4 million people are roughly equal to the combined total populations of California and Florida.


Both the number and percentage of people with disabilities were higher than in 2002, the last time the Census Bureau collected such information.  At that time, 51.2 million, or 18%, reported a disability.


Among those with a disability, 35 million, or 12% of the population, were classified as having a severe disability.


Nearly half (46%) of people aged 21 to 64 with a disability were employed, compared with 84% of people in this age group without a disability.  Among those with disabilities, 31% with severe disabilities and 75% with non-severe disabilities were employed.  People with difficulty hearing were more likely to be employed than those with difficulty seeing (59% compared with 41%).


A portion of people with disabilities – 11 million aged 6 and older – needed personal assistance with everyday activities.  These activities included such tasks as getting around inside the home, taking a bath or shower, preparing meals and performing light housework.


Other Important U.S. Findings:


         Among people 15 years of age and older, 7.8 million (3%) had difficulty hearing a normal conversation, including 1 million being unable to hear at all.  Although not part of the definition of disability used in the Report, 4.3 million people reported using a hearing aid.


         Roughly 3.3 million people, or 1%, aged 15 and older used a wheelchair or similar device, with 10.2 million, or 4%, using a cane, crutches or walker.


         Nearly 7.8 million people aged 15 and older had difficulty seeing words or letters in ordinary newspaper print, including 1.8 million being completely unable to see.


         More than 16 million people had difficulty with cognitive, mental or emotional functioning.  This included 8.4 million with one or more problems that interfered with daily activities, such as frequently being depressed or anxious, trouble getting along with others, trouble concentrating and trouble coping with stress.


         The chances of having a disability increase with age: 18.1 million people 65 years of age and older, or 52%, had a disability.  Of this number, 12.9 million, or 37%, had a severe disability.  For people 80 years of age and older, the disability rate was 71%, with 56% having a severe disability.


         Among people 16 to 64 years of age, 13.3 million, or 7%, reported difficulty finding a job or remaining employed because of a health-related condition.


         Among people 25 to 64 years of age with a severe disability, 27% were in poverty, compared with 12% for people with a non-severe disability and 9% for those without a disability.


         Median monthly earnings were $1,458 for people with a severe disability, $2,250 for people with a non-severe disability and $2,539 for those with no disability.


         Parents reported that 228,000 children under age 3, or 2%, had a disability.  Specifically, they either had a developmental delay or difficulty moving their arms or legs.  In addition, there were 475,000 children 3 to 5 years of age, or 4%, with a disability, which meant they had either a developmental delay or difficulty walking, running or playing.


         There were 4.7 million children 6 to 14 years of age, or 13%, with a disability.  The most prevalent type was difficulty doing regular schoolwork (2.5 million, or 7 percent).



A Practical and Reasonable Application, therefore, of the above information in International & European Fire Engineering Practice is as follows:


Equivalent to the concept of ‘maximum credible fire scenario’, which was introduced by the Recommendations contained in the 2005 NIST Report on the WTC 9-11 Incident … the Fire Engineer (or other suitably qualified and experienced person) should develop his/her ‘real’ fire engineering strategy on the basis of a ‘maximum credible user scenario’, i.e. building user conditions which are also severe, but reasonable to anticipate …

         the number of people using a building may increase, on occasions which cannot be specified, to 120% of calculated maximum building capacity ;   and

         10% of people using the building (occupants, visitors and other users) may have an impairment (visual or hearing, physical function, mental, cognitive or psychological, with some impairments not being identifiable, e.g. in the case of anosognosia).


If more than token consideration is to be given to Fire Evacuation for All … these guidelines indicate, for example, how much space should be allocated to an ‘area of rescue assistance’ which adjoins – on every floor except ground level – a vertical fire evacuation staircase in a building.


Fire Evacuation Routes at ground level should be ‘accessible’ and lead directly to the exterior.







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