The Challenge of Making Safer Structures

By Michael A. Gips

ICC is not the only standard setter in this arena, as noted earlier. Another significant player is the National Fire Protection Association, which writes both the Life Safety Code (LSC) and the Building Construction and Safety Code (BCSC).

Like the IBC, the NFPA's codes serve as models for local authorities. The LSC has been adopted by far more jurisdictions than the BCSC has, however.

Both the LSC and the BCSC will likely reflect the recommendations of the NIST investigators, says Robert Solomon, the NFPA's assistant vice president of building and life-safety codes. "We want to see what the NIST report says before we change," says Solomon. "We don't want to change for the sake of change."

Similar to the ICC, the NFPA has established a dedicated group to focus on these issues, in its case the High Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee. According to the committee's charter, collapse, evacuation procedures, and fire resistance are among the topics being addressed.

The committee is also expected to address specific issues such as redundant water supplies, fireproofing materials, and the routing of lines between storage tanks and generators, says Solomon. In addition, it might look at related issues, such as how to prevent metal-detection equipment from interfering with emergency egress.

Some suggested changes designed to improve evacuation are already working their way into the code. For stairways handling more than 2,000 occupants, Solomon says that it is likely that the minimum required width of stairwells will increase for both the life-safety and building codes. Width is measured in this case between the handrails.

The NFPA has also been exploring alternative escape devices. They range from parachutes to platforms that traverse the side of a building like a window-washer's unit to zip-cord systems for high-wire escape to neighboring buildings.

Solomon emphasizes that the NFPA doesn't endorse these devices, "but we're acknowledging they exist.... We have some obligation to at least mention them in the code."

Not only won't the code require use of the systems in any building or structure, but the equipment also won't receive credit in the code as an "alternative to the fundamental and basic requirements for the means of egress," he says.

"It introduces the concept of the devices and lists a series of considerations that need to be accounted for." For example, the code might state that a system should not pose a safety hazard to anyone in the vicinity.

The NFPA may revisit the topic in more detail in the future. It is waiting to see whether the standards developer ASTM International, which is currently working on technical criteria for these devices, comes up with viable standards.

Some possible options are considered too risky to make it into the latest version of the NFPA codes. For example, the high-rise community has long studied the use of elevators that can be used during fires, but the technology isn't quite there yet, says Solomon. Any conclusions that might lead to inclusion in the code are still two or three years away, according to Solomon. NIST is spearheading this research as well.

Michael A. Gips is a senior editor at Security Management.



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