"There is a serious danger that fire policy will be developed on the basis of work carried out in the context of the market place rather than being underpinned by research which has been subjected to full process of academic rigour and peer review" Professor D Drysdale (European Vice-Chair, International Association of Fire Safety Sciences) and D T Davis (Chair of the Executive Committee, Institution of Fire Engineers). Fire Engineers Journal 61, 10, 6-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Azarang Mirkhah, P.E. (1998) Preparing For The Performance Based Fire & Life Safety Codes, http://www.fitting-in.com/ozzie1.htm.

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ABSTRACT

 

      By the year 2000, the International Code Council (ICC) will not only combine all of the different regional prescriptive codes into a single nationwide document, but more importantly, it will publish this country’s first performance based fire and building codes.

Currently the codes in this country are primarily “specification-based”, or “prescriptive”.  The performance based codes are fundamentally different from the prescriptive codes.  With the prescriptive codes, the engineers design to comply with a set of predetermined requirements identified in the codes, based on generic occupancies, constructions, or hazard classifications.

In the performance based design approach, the engineers design to comply with the desired fire and life safety objectives, outlined as the design criteria, and agreed upon and approved by the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs), during the preliminary phases of the project.  The engineers have the design freedom, to accomplish the set goals, based on any/all available engineering solutions.  This will require a paradigm shift for the AHJs, which means an attitude and philosophy change, toward the plans review and code enforcement process.

      The purpose of this evaluative research paper was to outline some of the major technical obstacles, identify the AHJs’ current level of preparedness, and recommend  appropriate measures that the AHJs could take to better prepare them for the successful application of the performance based codes.  The following question was addressed:

1.                  How could the AHJs enhance their technical capabilities and better prepare themselves, to be able to successfully implement the performance based codes?

This paper analyzed the implementation impact of a future policy, that does not have a historic precedence.  Thus, lack of historical and statistical data, along with inherent ambiguities associated with long range forecasting, could be identified as the main limitations of this paper.

Since the performance based codes are heavily dependent on engineering solutions, lack of technical engineering expertise on the part of the AHJs to implement the performance based codes, could be identified as the major problem.  The most important recommendation that could technically prepare the AHJs, is to utilize the technical expertise of the fire protection engineers.  Basically the AHJs have two general alternatives available to them in addressing this issue.  They could either depend on the technical expertise of the fire protection consulting firms in the private sector and obtain their services as their technical consultant, or hire a staff fire protection engineer as their in house technical expert.

The AHJs will then have the technical expertise to be able to determine the design criteria for the performance based designs, analyze the fire modeling calculations, determine the integrity of the fire and life safety designs, and participate in the final acceptance and approval of the projects.


 

 

 

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INTRODUCTION

 

      This research paper has been developed as a natural and logical evolution of the author’s previous Applied Research Project (ARP) titled “Challenges Confronting the Application of Performance Based Fire & Life Safety Codes”, available at the National Emergency Training Center’s (NETC), Learning Resource Center (LRC).

As it should be quite clear from the title, the focus of the author’s previous ARP was on identifying the challenges and obstacles confronting successful implementation of the performance based codes.  Also this year’s title should point out that in this current paper the focus was on developing strategies and solutions to resolve the obstacles identified in the previous paper, and to prepare the AHJs for the successful implementation of the performance based codes.  Due to the fact that the global subject matter of both of these papers is the “performance based codes”, it is quite natural to find similarities, resemblance and continuity between the content of this paper and the last.

Logic dictates that in order to outline the solutions, one must first identify the subject matter and the problems first.  The subject matter and the problems were focused on in great detail in the last paper.  Brief reintroduction of the subject, and identification of the previously outlined problems, is a necessary regurgitation process that is essential in developing the solutions, which is the focus of this year’s research paper.

Prior to introducing the concept of the performance based codes, which seems to be the new trend for the upcoming millennium, it is most important to first identify the existing building and life safety codes in the United States.  Identifying some of the shortcomings associated with the existing codes, might then explain the reason for the development of this new approach.

Current building and fire codes in this country are primarily “specification-based,” or “prescriptive”.  Prescriptive, refers to providing detailed requirements in terms of specific measurements, materials, methods and so forth.  These requirements generally have been derived through the accumulated judgment of a group of experts, or by actual field experience, and represent the practical knowledge and experiences accumulated throughout the years.

Prescriptive codes and standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the other three model code developing agencies,  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), and Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA), are all similar in their approach toward system designs.  The prescriptive codes tend to provide only one methodology for design and construction.

Conversely, a performance based code system takes a proactive approach by clearly stating the intention of the code, and by providing references to the tools or methodologies needed to meet the intent.  A performance based code provides guidance on how the intent could be achieved.  This includes the application of prescriptive codes and standards currently in use, as well as analysis and design using engineering methods, or a combination of both methods.  A performance based code system does not mean the elimination of prescriptive codes, but instead will enhance them.

 

Problem Statement

 

All around the country, the majority of the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) responsible for the review and approval of the fire and life safety systems and designs, do not possess the extensive technical engineering and practical expertise necessary to evaluate the performance based designs.  The problem can be stated as AHJs’ lack of  technical engineering expertise and practical experience to implement the performance based codes is one of the most challenging obstacles confronting the successful implementation of the performance based codes.

 

Purpose Statement

 

The main purpose of this paper was to identify some of the major technical challenges facing the AHJs in applying of the performance based codes, and propose possible solutions, to better prepare them for their successful implementation.  The reason for selection of somewhat ambiguous words such as “ some of the major challenges”, or “possible solutions”, in the purpose statement , is that the performance based codes are not scheduled to be published before the year 2000, and even the first draft scheduled for publication on July 1998, has not been published yet.  Therefore, it was difficult to predict all possible problems and the recommended solutions.  Due to inherent ambiguity of long range forecasting, the purpose of this paper was limited only to depicting the outlines, rather than exploring the specific details.

      There is limited historical research conducted on this subject, since the subject of performance based codes is still in the infancy stages.

      In this evaluative research the following question was addressed:

1.                  How could the AHJs enhance their technical capabilities and better prepare themselves, to be able to successfully implement the performance based codes?

 

 

BACKGROUND & SIGNIFICANCE

 

      The performance based codes are the new evolutionary wave that will be sweeping the code enforcement community within the next couple of years.  To be able to embrace this evolutionary wave and successfully implement these codes, the AHJs need to change their paradigms.  A paradigm is an accepted way in which things have always been done, and is viewed as the way they must continue to be done; some sort of a model or an established mindset.  The AHJs should realize that the best solutions to the fire and life safety systems issues in any building, may not necessarily be addressed in the prescriptive codes.  Engineering solutions developed, focusing on addressing the desired level of safety outlined in the performance based codes could also meet or even exceed the fire and life safety minimums identified in the prescriptive codes.  Having an open mind and the technical expertise to be able to determine the best solutions for these complicated issues, is essential for the advancement of fire protection in the community.

      On December 9, 1994, the three model code development agencies, ICBO, SBCCI, and BOCA, formed the International Code Council (ICC), with the intent of developing single model prescriptive codes for the entire country.

As the twenty-first century approaches, what are the issues facing those of us in the code enforcement field?

Everyone involved in code enforcement, as well as in the design and construction industries, is concerned with this far-reaching question.  The computer age has brought us within seconds of reaching people anywhere in the world.  Technology has evolved to make us members of a world community; we can no longer afford to think strictly in terms of “our jurisdiction” or “our region.”  All of us need the tools and information to stay knowledgeable and competitive in this new world community, regardless of the model code organization with which we are affiliated (Codes Forum Editorial, 1996, p.1).

By the year 2000, the ICC will combine all of these regional prescriptive codes into a single nationwide document.  The convergence of all of the prescriptive codes into a single document for the entire country, is a monumental accomplishment.  The most significant development though, is the fact that for the first time in this country performance based codes are also being acknowledged and are being developed in parallel to the prescriptive codes.  ICC has established a two tier parallel process, and has assigned the Prescriptive Drafting Committee, and the Performance Drafting Committee, the task of developing the respective codes separately.  In June 97, the ICC Board of Directors authorized the creation of the ICC Code Scoping Coordination Committee, with the responsibility of coordinating the work of the two committees and ensure consistency.

The current plan is to compile performance based provisions in an independent document.  This document will contain general intent and scoping statements and a set of topic-specific intent statements.  These topic-specific statements will explain, in detail, the expected performance of various building-related aspects such as egress, structural stability and spread of fire.  As discussed previously, these expectations could be met by applying a prescriptive approach, a performance approach or a combination of the two.  The prescriptive International Building Code (IBC), will therefore exist independently as an acceptable means of complying with the performance based document.  In fact, the performance based code system will not be complete, and will not work properly, without the prescriptive code.  Additionally, keep in mind that a performance based code structure will no longer consider a performance based design as an alternate to the code, but instead will give equal weight to all types of designs, whether performance or prescriptive in nature.  As always, the authority to accept any design will remain in the hands of the enforcer (Armstrong, P., Bowman, D., & Tubbs, B., 1997, p.4).

The concept of performance based design, and the future designs based on the performance based codes, will be heavily dependent on technical expertise and engineering judgments.  The engineers have many years of academic and technical training, preparing them for the task.  But how do the AHJs and the code enforcement communities perceive these changes?  The following quotation from an article in the NFPA Journal, the bi-monthly magazine for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), explains some of the difficulties:

It takes a qualified engineer to develop a performance based design, and right now there’s no standardized approach to use.  So how does a code official ask critical questions about a performance based design, or decide if it really is equivalent to a building that meets prescriptive codes?  How can prescriptive codes evolve to include performance based options?  These are the questions with which the building and fire protection industries are dealing right now (Seaton, M., 1997, p. 75).

The majority of the AHJs responsible for review and approval of the fire and life safety systems and designs, do not possess the technical expertise necessary to evaluate the performance based designs.  This is one of the most important obstacles that must be addressed before the performance based codes are implemented.  The following quotation from an article co-authored by Brian Meacham, P.E., the Technical Director for the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), also confirms this concern.

There are, however, a number of perceived disadvantages to performance based design.  Especially in the early stages of performance based fire safety engineering, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) may be reluctant to approve designs because of a lack of understanding or experience with the approach.  This is due in part to the lack of a generally accepted framework for performance based design and the uncertainty in the applicability of tools used within the process (Custer, R.., & Meacham, B., 1995, p38).

Armin Wolski, P.E. a fire protection consultant and one of the speakers at the Second International Conference on Performance Based Codes and Fire Safety Design Methods, held in Maui, Hawaii, on May 1998, identifies a similar concern.

A practical approach to manage a technological risk problem is one that is ready to address reality.  It is comprehensible and succinct, it can be executed by qualified people and sufficient human resources are available for implementation.  In the prescriptive approach to building fire safety, many in the building industry have sufficient competence to adequately apply prescriptive code requirements to the overwhelming majority of buildings.  In performance based building fire safety design, computer fire models are fast becoming the primary analysis and design tools.  Are there sufficient trained human resources available to apply these tools (Wolski, A.., Dembsey, N., & Meacham, B,. 1998, p.274)?

Clearly AHJs lack of technical expertise present a major obstacle in the successful implementation of the performance based codes.  This is a nation wide problem and is not a local issue limited to a certain code enforcement organizations, such as the Las Vegas Fire or Building Departments.  Ready or not, by the year 2000, every single jurisdiction in this country will have to confront this issue.  What is a challenge now will be a difficult problem at the turn of the century, if solutions are not sought.

The use of performance based design in the fire safety and fire protection engineering field is still something only vaguely familiar to the code enforcement community in general.  It is something that “they” use in Las Vegas [italics added],  and occasionally in other communities (Bowman,D. & Larcomb, B. 1998, p.28).

      Serving as the Fire protection Engineer for the Las Vegas Fire Department, the author acknowledges that Las Vegas indeed, has always been on the leading edge of building and construction technology.  Magnificent structures with complex fire and life safety issues, are constantly erected on a grand scale in Las Vegas.  These unique designs present complicated fire and life safety challenges, requiring innovative solutions, that could only be developed utilizing all available technological resources, in addition to the codes and standards.  Enforcement of the prescriptive codes and evaluation of the performance based design for equivalencies, has always been the crux of the plans approval process in Las Vegas.  Based on the complexity of the design, both the prescriptive codes and the performance based design, could be implemented to enhance the fire and life safety designs.

In Las Vegas there are one (1) Fire Protection Engineer (FPE), and two (2) Assistant Fire Protection Engineers (AFPE) on board, who are familiar with the performance based designs and fire modeling.  Therefore, the impact of the new performance based codes in Las Vegas will be relatively minor, compared to the majority of the jurisdictions, who do not have any previous exposure to this approach.  In Las Vegas, the anticipated impact, would only be the increase in the quantity of the designs utilizing the performance based design concepts.

The preparedness in Las Vegas, to respond to the technical challenges of the next century, is not coincidental.  The author has already practiced in his own jurisdiction, what he has preached in this paper.  In preparation, the author has established a highly qualified technical team, to enable their jurisdiction to successfully address the technical demands associated with the performance based codes.

As the Fire Protection Engineer for the City of Las Vegas, the author’s responsibility is to analyze, review, evaluate and approve the submitted fire and life safety design packages.  The author’s experiences and the long history of exposure to the performance based design concept, could provide some insights in identifying the challenges confronting the application of the performance based codes.

Also in his previous positions as a design professional, designing fire and life systems in many of the major metropolitan areas, the author had the opportunity to work with many AHJs in various jurisdictions all across the west coast.  Having the unique opportunity of being on both sides of the fence, previously as a design professional for thirteen (13) years in the private sector, and now for the past four (4) years, as an AHJ in the public side, the author has experienced the challenges and concerns confronting both camps in dealing with the performance based design issues.

      Self-glorification was not the author’s intent in the paragraphs above.  The author’s purpose for the above paragraphs was merely to underline and emphasize that the focus of this paper was to remain unbiased, and to impartially evaluate the challenges confronting the implementation of the performance based codes.  The perspective of this article was neither of an AHJ’s, responsible for the approval of the designs, nor of a fire protection engineer on the other side, responsible for the development of the design.  Any deficiencies identified, and solutions proposed, was for the betterment of the field of fire protection in general, and was not intended to be overly critical or offensive to/of either side.

The concepts of “paradigm shifts”, “planning”, “managing change”, “problem- solving”, and “creativity and innovation”, which are the essence of the entire Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), especially the Executive Planning course, were depicted in this paper.

The Change Management Module (CMM) identifies analyzing, planning, implementation, and evaluation and institutionalization, as the four major steps in the strategic management of change.  In this case, however, the implementation decisions have already been established externally.  The deadline has been set, and the performance based codes will be published by the year 2000.  The intent of this research paper then, was to identify some of the major technical challenges that will be facing the code enforcement communities during the implementation process, and propose solutions to prepare the AHJs for successful implementation of the performance based codes.

 

 

LITERATURE REVIEW

 

The concept of the performance based code is not such a new idea.  The earliest code of law, the famous Code of Hammurabi, can be traced back to Babylon , 1790 BC.  This code was purely performance based, consisting of five basic provisions intended to protect life and property.  In the following centuries, urbanization, and the associated problems such as fire, health, sanitary etc., underlined the importance of the building codes.

In time, concerns for fire protection of adjacent and individual property emerged and eventually grew into a voluminous body of regulations…There are two important issues to note in this long evolution of building regulations.  First, the regulations were always reactionary - a problem was observed and the reaction was to mandate a supposed solution.  Second, the regulations were always provincial - the supposed solution was based on the local level of understanding, the local techniques and materials, and the local ability to incorporate and fund the solutions (Dillon, M., 1996, p.11).

The “evolution of building regulations” that Dillon refers to, could also be considered by others as an amalgamation of bureaucratic regulations and processes.  It is quite important to remember that on this issue, just like any other issues, peoples’ position is strongly dependent of their roles, what side of the fence they are on, and how are they impacted by it.  John McCormick, P.E., a fire protection consultant and one of the speakers at the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) annual conference, held in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 1998, states:

Our building codes are based on a combination of experience and opinion of the building community that do not, for the most part, incorporate fire protection engineering technology and methods.  The building codes of today are largely patchwork combinations of solutions to problems and responses to tragedies.  When a major fire occurs, having significant life loss, a “patch” is put on a code to prevent the event from happening again.  Throughout the years, the building code (in the mind’s eye) is a “quilt” of fixes for specific solutions.  While there are examples to the contrary, usually we add requirements but do not take away corresponding, no longer justified features (McCormick, J. 1998, p.24).

Also of interest is the point of view of the researchers and scientists in the fire protection engineering technology field, who are greeting the performance based codes with open arms.  The performance based codes have generated a tremendous excitement in this field, since they are the ones responsible for the development of the technology and the required tools.

Although, prescriptive codes have the advantage that designers can do a design by just following prescriptions and that code officials can easily determine whether a design follows code requirements, they have many problems.  In general, prescriptive regulations are considered to be an impediment to innovation, for limiting the application of novel construction technologies, and not having clear statements of the safety objectives which a design is supposed to achieve.  This may result in redundant fire safety measures, more costly buildings, and an inflexible mandatory system that does not meet the needs of the design and construction communities.  Another problem with prescriptive codes is that they are based on traditional concepts and often offer no rational scientific bases for some of their requirements(Hadjisophocleous, G., Benichou, N. & Tamim, A., 1998, pp. 34-35).

      But the existing prescriptive codes are not as inflexible, and the AHJs are not as dogmatic as some portray them to be.  The results of Charles Van Rickleys’s survey, titled “A Survey of Code Officials on Performance Based Codes and Risk-based Assessment”, is outlined in Appendix - A, at the back of this report.  This survey indicates that even though 77% of the AHJs surveyed  believed that the existing codes provide an adequate level of fire protection and life safety, 45% of them are also aware of the limitations of applying the existing codes to all buildings and occupancies.  Reducing these “limitations” require flexibility in the codes.

To accomplish this flexibility, for many years, all of the prescriptive codes in our country, have contained sections addressing alternative materials and methods of construction.  The “alternate materials and methods”, or the “equivalency” sections in all of the prescriptive codes, have allowed the AHJs to approve an equivalency, if it complied with the intent of the code, and sufficient evidence or proof to substantiate it was provided.

To identify alternate designs to be considered acceptable, the expected risk-to-life value shall be equal to or less than the risk-to-life value of a building confirming with the regulations, and the fire-cost expectations for the alternative design shall be less than or equal to the value for the conforming building.  The calculated expected risk-to-life values for designs confirming with current regulatory requirements provide an estimate of current risk-to-life safety.  These risk levels are assumed to be acceptable to the community (Yung, D. & Beck, V., 1996, Section 5, Chapter 11,pp, 5-95 & 96).

The approval process and mechanisms for granting the “variance” have been identified in all of the existing prescriptive codes.  However, the most challenging task for the design professional is to persuade the AHJs that the “variance”, the “equivalency”, or the “alternative design” approach, does provide the desired level of safety outlined in the prescriptive codes.

The process of achieving code compliance with an alternative “equivalent” design is not new.  However, it can be complicated by the lack of agreement among all of the parties on a desired level of fire safety (Reiss, M. 1998, p.263).

At times, the “complications” stemming from the “lack of agreement” between the AHJs and the design professionals could be quite costly and time consuming.  This could make the “equivalent” alternative approach less feasible and therefore less desirable for the design professionals.

The result of pursuing a variance is added exposure to litigation plus the extra cost and time to obtain the exception from the AHJs.  The economics of the process makes professionals unwilling to stray from the safety of prescriptive codes (Moore, J. & Wilson, D., 1998, p.2).

In a majority of the jurisdictions, the AHJs’ process all of the “variances” to the codes based, on the “alternate materials and methods”, or the “equivalency” sections, through the Board of Appeals.

Today’s variance process is typically a formal procedure requiring presentations to Review/Variance Boards or similar official entities which agree or disagree with a proposed variance plan.  Largely, they are putting an official endorsement on an engineered plan.  This allows the Building Official to support such methods, while establishing that the official decisions are made by the Board...  The decision process is mostly legal, and not technical.  The members of such boards are not any better equipped, and perhaps less so, than the Building Official community.  Such a formal proceeding does not add value and may even discourage change because of the opportunity to insert political bias into the process.  The onus for evaluation of performance based approaches will be placed on the Building Official [italics added] (McCormick, J. 1998, p.26).

However, in today’s litigious society, where the AHJs are deeply concerned not only with their jurisdiction’s liabilities, but also with their own personal liabilities, why would they want to assume this “onus”?

The “relief from personal responsibility”, or the “liability” sections in all of the prescriptive codes, protect the AHJs from personal liability, if “malicious intent” was not involved, and “the provisions of such codes or other pertinent laws or ordinances were implemented”.  To most AHJs, approving the “equivalency” section allowed by the prescriptive codes, means trusting the design engineers, which they may view as “leaving the fox in charge of the hen house”.  For some of the AHJs, the code is a cocoon providing the sense of security.  Stepping out of this secure surrounding into an arena which they may not be technically prepared for is a giant leap of faith, which most of them are neither prepared, nor willing to take.

The similarities in the language and content of the “alternate materials and methods”, or the “equivalency”; and the “relief from personal responsibility”, or the “liability” sections, from all of the prescriptive codes and standards from around the country, point out to the nation wide uniformity in the AHJs’ position, on the performance based design issue.

But what is a performance based code?

A performance based code is defined as one that gives the engineering design specifications for meeting stated performance objectives and identifies acceptable calculation methods…  Developing performance-based design standards will require a change in attitude and philosophy.  We will need to stop focusing on whether a specific fire protection feature should be required.  Rather, we should work toward developing the various design standards to indicate the performance expected of a feature such as smoke detection and its impact on performance objectives (Koffel, W., 1995, p.24).

Under a performance based code design environment, it is expected that not only the use of engineering calculations in design will increase but also more innovation in building designs and products will emerge.  This will increase the need for standardizing performance criteria and the need for developing society-acceptable risk levels...  The establishment of criteria and the development of risk assessment models that use both deterministic and probabilistic methods to assess the life risks in buildings from fires will lead to cost-effective and safe fire protection designs.  In addition, the use of computer based tools to evaluate the compliance with code requirements will succeed if they continue to be validated using full-scale test data and if training programs are designed to educate users on the application of these tools.  Finally, one thing is certain, the introduction of performance based codes will require a higher level of expertise and knowledge [italics added] (Hadjisophocleous, G., Benichou, N. & Tamim, A., 1998, pp. 34-35).

The quotations above, explained the overall concept of the performance based codes, but the design criteria, parameters and the tools need to be further defined.  The following quotation identifies in detail the four major factors in the performance based fire safety engineering designs, and compares them to the current prescriptive codes.

Performance based fire safety engineering is defined as an engineering approach to fire protection design based on (1) agreed upon fire safety goals, loss objectives and performance objectives, (2) deterministic and probabilistic evaluation of fire initiation, growth and development, (3) the physical and chemical properties of fire and fire effluents, and (4) quantitative assessment of design alternatives against loss and performance objectives...  This is quite different from the way most fire protection measures are designed today.  Current fire protection engineering practice is largely based on the application of perspective requirements whereby the engineer designs to predetermined requirements based on generic occupancies or class of hazard or risk.

Prescriptive codes set forth minimum requirements for protection and are generic by occupancy…  By contrast, performance based fire safety engineering considers the entire fire-building system interaction, as a result, often results in designs that exceed individual code requirements…  Finally, performance based engineering designs are based on an agreed upon loss potential for the individual structure, process, or component being protected [italics added](Custer, R.., & Meacham, B., 1995, p.39).

Van Rickley’s survey (see Appendix - A), indicates that only 22% of the AHJs surveyed were comfortable with identifying the acceptable life loss, and therefore the “acceptable risk level”.  Van Rickley’s survey also indicates that 79% of the AHJs surveyed agreed that “Occupant Safety” should be the design criteria for the performance based designs.  59% of the AHJs agreed that “First Responder” safety is the criteria, and 75% agreed that reducing the potential risk to the “Adjacent Properties” should be the design criteria.  Based on the results of this survey, it is not possible to prioritize and categorize the AHJs’ design criteria, since it is not clear which of these criteria have the highest priority to the AHJs surveyed.

Four years later, it seems that there are still no clear answers for these same exact questions, and the AHJs are still struggling with prioritizing their design criteria.  Reviewing the very limited current literature available from the ICC’s performance based committees, reveals that there is still no clear definition for the “objective” of the performance based codes.  Is it the “Occupant’s Safety”?  Is it the “First Responder’s Safety”? Or is it the “property protection and community safety”?

Clearly, a different level of fire and life safety protection is required for each of theses “objectives”.  It should be obvious that the AHJs can not ignore the firefighters’ safety.  Additionally the social, political and economical impacts of a major catastrophe on the community is also a valid concern and could be an important factor.

Now that the major objectives have at least been identified, even though not prioritized, it is important to identify some of the tools for the performance based designs.

The tools for the two approaches to fire protection are also quite different.  Tools for prescriptive design include the National Fire Codes of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); model building codes promulgated by the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI); state and local requirements; the requirements of insurance carriers; and engineering judgment.

Tools of performance based fire safety design include deterministic hazard analysis and probabilistic risk assessment techniques, fire dynamics, and fire modeling, as well as fire and building codes, state and local requirements, the requirements of insurance carriers, and engineering judgment.  Although some may argue that risk assessment, fire dynamics, etc. are “built-in” to the code development process, the built-in component remains relatively small and difficult to identify or quantify when necessary.  Furthermore, the current codes and standards making processes establish only minimum requirements (Custer, R.., & Meacham, B., 1995, p.39).

But how would the AHJs evaluate and approve the performance based designs, if they are not familiar with “deterministic hazard analysis”, “probabilistic risk assessment techniques”, “fire dynamics”, and “fire modeling”?  How would they apply the “engineering judgment” in assessing the validity of the assumptions and design criteria, if they don’t have the technical expertise and the engineering qualification necessary for such an evaluation?

Van Rickley’s survey (see Appendix - A), indicates that only 19% of the AHJs surveyed are comfortable using the computer generated fire prediction models, and only 15% believed that the current available models are adequate.  Interestingly, 47% of the AHJs were neutral on the question of comfort level with the models, and 56% were neutral on the adequacy of the models.

The neutrality of the AHJs in answering these questions, points out the roots of the problem.  Their neutrality stems from their lack of familiarity with these computer generated models.  74% of the AHJs surveyed indicated that they have never called upon relying on the computer fire models in making their decisions, and only 2% indicated that they utilize them daily.  If the majority of the AHJs do not know if these computer fire models are adequate, and they do not have the expertise to use them, how could they evaluate them?  How would they know if they are correct?

What separates good fire safety from bad ones are good choices and assumptions.  What separates good choices and assumptions from bad ones are the skill, knowledge, experience, and integrity of the people who set the design, and the authority having jurisdiction, who reviews and approves both the design and the analysis that says it achieves safety.  What bothers fire officials such as Fleming is that there’s no consensus on what constitutes an appropriate, reasonable, conservative assumption.  “For most of these assumptions, such as egress speed and flow time, there’s a whole range of values in the literature”, says Fleming.  “There are no guidelines or rules to prevent someone from picking any number they want.”

Doug Beller, NFPA fire modeling specialist, agrees.  “Anyone can take one of these models, put some data in, push the buttons, and get an answer…  In performance-based design, if you play with the model enough, you can get almost any answer you want…  That’s the big stumbling block - that so few people are really qualified to do the modeling” says Beller.

That, according to Beller, is why fire officials still prefer the prescriptive approach.  They can just look at the recipe, and if there’s an ingredient missing, they don’t approve it.  With the performance-based codes, they have to go through and question each assumption made by the designer.  That’s something few fire marshals feel qualified to do, especially when the design contain 20 pages of computer printouts on timed egress and smoke buildup.  How are they supposed to know what kinds of critical questions to ask?  How will they know if these 20-page printouts are really equivalent to prescriptive methods?

“Fire officials look at these printouts and say, ’You want me to trust this stuff?’” says Casey Grant, technical director of Codes and Standards at NFPA (Seaton, M., 1997, pp. 73-77).

      So, how could the AHJs enhance their technical capabilities?  The following quotation identifies one alternative, which is to follow what others have done in the other countries around the globe.  The AHJs in our country could use a similar approach that the AHJs in New Zealand took in evaluating the fire and life safety systems.

For example, New Zealanders have found a great way to help fire officials evaluate computer models.  They have a system of peer review in which the building owner pays the government a review fee at the same time he or she submits performance-based designs.  The government then sends these designs to a competitor for a peer review…  How will a fire marshal who barely has time to inspect new buildings make sure that these innovative fire protection systems are being maintained?  In New Zealand, the fire protection engineers who design the building system also create an owner’s manual that tells the owners how the fire protection systems in their buildings work and how to maintain them.  Once a year, the owner delivers a report to his or her inspector saying that everything is in good working order, and the government issues a certificate for public displays.  Then the liability falls on the building owner (Seaton, M., 1997, p. 77).

 

 

PROCEDURES

 

The main intent of this evaluative research was to identify some of the major technical challenges to the application of the performance based fire and life safety codes, and more importantly, to develop strategies and solutions to better prepare the AHJs for resolving these obstacles.

Since the performance based fire and life safety codes have not been published and implemented yet, lack of first hand historical data presented some limitations for this paper.  However, secondary sources of information from other professional and technical fields that have successfully implemented similar policies, were utilized to compensate this limitation.  Analogies drawn from the experiences and literature from these other professional fields provided valuable insights not only in identifying the challenges and the obstacles, but also in developing alternatives to overcome difficulties in the field of fire protection.

The structural engineers’ experiences in successfully implementing the performance based designs in their professional field, provided a good analogy for identifying the technical challenges that the AHJs would be experiencing in implementing the future performance based fire and life safety codes.  It also outlined the level of technical expertise required to be able to successfully address those challenges.

The NFPA Journal, and the Journal of Fire Protection Engineering published by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), also served as the main resource for identifying the major technical issues and engineering requirements associated with implementation of the performance based fire and life safety codes.

The strictly structured, condensed training program developed for the paramedics also provided a good model for proposing a technical training program for the AHJs.  The Las Vegas Fire Department’s paramedics training program was reviewed and served as a model for outlining a condensed technical training program for the AHJs not possessing the technical engineering degrees.

The author’s experiences in implementing the “equivalency” and “alternative methods” sections of the current prescriptive codes, in their own jurisdiction was also instrumental in shaping the views presented in this paper.  These sections of the existing prescriptive codes allow for a limited application of the performance based design, when the proposed design is in compliance with the intent of the prescriptive codes.  The technical engineering expertise that is required to implement these existing code sections points out the level of technical expertise required for the future performance based fire and life safety codes.

The author’s own experiences in implementing the recommendations outlined in this very same paper, has enhanced the Las Vegas Fire Department’s capabilities for the future technical  challenges of the performance based codes era, and has been instrumental to the development of this paper.

Basically, the current literature from the various organizations involved in the code development and implementation process, are mainly focused on their own issues, and merely address the particular concerns of their own organizations, without having an overall global vision.   But, the author is one of the firsts, if not the first, not only to have evaluated the impact of the implementation of the performance based codes on the fire services and the AHJs, but also to have proposed practical solutions to address their challenges in overcoming those obstacles.

Many years of both formal and informal contacts with the other AHJs in various local and national jurisdictions, has formed the basis of the author’s assessment of their present level of technical readiness for the upcoming performance based fire and life safety codes.  Also, the author’s fire protection engineering back ground, his extensive national involvement in the development of the performance based codes, and his experiences as an AHJ with the performance based designs in his own jurisdiction, have all contributed to the contents of this paper.

 

Limitations

 

Since we are still at the preliminary stages of the development of the performance based codes, and even the first draft that was scheduled for publication on July 1998, has not been published yet, it is not possible to accurately predict all possible difficulties associated with the implementation of the performance based codes.  Lack of historical data and inherent ambiguities associated with long range forecasting, could be noted as the limitations of this paper.

 

Definitions

 

The intent of this list is to provide the reader with a more detailed definition of the technical and uncommon terms utilized throughout this report.

Accepted Methods:  Any method, such as an engineering standard or engineering practice, or engineering tool, such as a computer fire model, that has been widely challenged in a peer review process (literature, conference proceedings, etc.), or has been developed in or received positive evaluations in a consensus process among qualified engineers, educators and researchers, and has been validated in its ability to generate outcomes consistent with those claimed by the developer when used in accordance with the appropriate documentation.  Safety and reliability factors that are included, or are required to be added, should be explicitly stated and based on accepted engineering theory, engineering practice or statistics.

 

Acceptable Solution:            A solution that has been determined to comply with the societal goals, functional objectives and performance requirements of a performance-based code.  These may be specific prescribed/specified solutions, provided in or referenced by the code, or performance-based solutions derived using accepted methods provided in or referenced by the code.  (For example, current code provisions, if determined to comply, may constitute acceptable solutions.)

 

Approved:      Approved as to materials and types of construction refers to approval by the Building Official or the Fire Chief as the result of investigation and tests conducted by the Building Official or the Fire Chief, or by reason of accepted principles or tests by recognized authorities, technical or scientific organizations.  Acceptable to the “Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)”.

 

Authority Having Jurisdiction:          The “Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)” is the organization, office or individual responsible for “approving” equipment, an installation or a procedure.

 

Building Official:        Building Official is the officer or other designated authority charged with the administration and enforcement of the building codes, or the Building Official’s duly authorized representative.

 

Computer Fire Model:          A fire model that has been adapted for use on a computer.

 

Engineering Judgment:        The process exercised by a professional who is qualified because of training, experience and recognized skills to complement, supplement, accept or reject elements of a quantitative analysis.

 

Engineering Tools:    Calculation techniques, models and related resources that can be applied to an engineering analysis or design.

 

Fire Protection Engineer:     A fire protection engineer, by education, training and experience: (1) is familiar with the nature and characteristics of fire and the associated products of combustion; (2) understands how fires originate, spread within and outside of buildings/structure, and can be detected, controlled, and/or extinguished; and (3) is able to anticipate the behavior of materials, structures, machines, apparatus and processes as related to the protection of life and property from fire; (4) is able to use appropriate quantitative fire protection engineering tools and methodologies with an understanding of the techniques utilized with respect to assumptions, limitations and uncertainties; and (5) is aware of fire safety management requirements, including the role of fire prevention and the risks to building fire safety associated with construction, installation, operation and maintenance.

 

Fire Protection Engineering:           The application of science and engineering principles to protect people and their environment from destructive fire.  It includes analysis of fire hazards and risks; mitigation of fire damage by proper design, construction, arrangement, and use of buildings, materials, structures, industrial processes and transportation systems; the design, installation, and maintenance of active and passive fire and life safety systems; and post-fire investigation and analysis.

 

Jurisdiction:   Any state, county, city or town , or district or other political subdivision which adopts the building and fire codes for administrative regulations within its sphere of authority.

 

Occupancy:    The purpose for which a building, or part thereof, is used or intended to be used.

 

Performance-Based:            Being described in terms of the measurable performance of a material, product, component or system.

 

Performance-Based Code: A document that expresses requirements for a building or building system, in terms of societal goals, functional objectives and performance requirements, without specifying a single means for complying with the requirements.  Acceptable solutions and accepted methods for demonstrating compliance with code requirements shall be referenced by the code.  (This definition also applies to objective-based code.)

 

Performance-Based Fire Safety Design:  An engineering approach to fire protection design based on  (1) agreed upon fire safety goals and objectives, (2) deterministic and probabilistic evaluation of fire scenarios, and (3) a quantitative assessment of design alternatives against the fire safety goals and objectives using accepted engineering tools, methodologies and performance criteria.

 

Performance-Based System:          A regulatory framework for the built environment that consists of (1) performance- or objective-based codes, (2) performance-, objective- and prescriptive based engineering practices (standards), and (3) engineering tools and methodologies.  The use of the word performance implies that the performance of materials and systems can be verified under the expected conditions.  The use of the word objective implies that the expressed intent (objective) of materials and systems can be shown to be met under the expected conditions.  (See also performance requirements and functional objectives.)

 

Performance Criteria:           The metrics against which building materials, assemblies, systems, components, design factors and construction methods will be evaluated on their ability to meet specific performance requirements.  (These criteria may be provided in the code, engineering standards or practices, or other accepted methods and references, and may be stated in terms of absolute values (threshold values) or ranges of values (e.g., between x and y, within one standard deviation of the mean, in the 95th percentile, etc.)  Several performance criteria may be applied to any single design problem.  Performance criteria may be situation dependent.  A performance criterion should be a metric, but not the measurement tool.)

 

Prescriptive-(Specification) Based:           Being prescribed or specified in terms of dimensions, materials or operation.

 

Standard:       A consensus document that provides a set of rules, conditions, or requirements concerned with: definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures; specification of dimensions, materials, performance, design or operations; description of fit or measurement of size; or measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, products, systems, services or practices.  (These may be written in mandatory or non-mandatory language.)

 

 

RESULTS

 

On December 9, 1994, the three model code development agencies, ICBO, SBCCI, and BOCA, formed the International Code Council (ICC), with the intent of developing a single model prescriptive code for the entire country by the year 2000.  In conjunction with the convergence of all of the prescriptive codes into a single model code for the entire country, for the first time in this country, performance based codes are also being acknowledged, and are also scheduled to be published by the year 2000.

The performance based codes are fundamentally different from the prescriptive codes.  Basically, in the prescriptive codes design approach, the engineers design to a set of predetermined requirements, identified in the codes, based on generic occupancies, constructions, or hazard classifications.  The performance based design approach is quite different from the way the systems are designed based on the prescriptive codes.  In the performance based design approach, the engineers design to comply with the fire and life safety goals, as the preset criteria, identified, agreed upon, and approved by the AHJs, at the preliminary stages of the project development.

A hazard analysis as part of the performance based process predicts the expected magnitude of a fire loss based on a series of scenarios or failures, while a risk analysis deals with both probability and severity...  If the client and the local authorities accept these scenarios, then engineers must translate the selected design into the construction documents...  The engineer should identify the design solution, identify fire safety/client loss objectives, quantify loss objectives, define appropriate fire scenarios, compare performance criteria with the fire scenarios, evaluate fire protection design options via suitable calculation methods, select the final design and integrate this design into the construction documents.  The common elements center on setting quantitative objectives and measuring results against those objectives (O’Hara, M. 1998, p.50).

It should be quite clear that flexibility in the design is the main reason for the design professionals’ strong support of the performance based codes.  With the performance based codes, the engineers have the design freedom and flexibility to accomplish the set goals, based on any and all available engineering solutions.

      The articles reviewed and mentioned in this research paper have identified some of the technical challenges that will be facing the code enforcement communities during the implementation process.  Based on these articles, it could be concluded that the new performance based design codes will be focusing heavily on the engineering solutions, utilizing computer models and other engineering tools, which require extensive engineering and technical expertise.  The majority of the AHJs do not have the level of technical expertise and engineering education and experience, to be able to evaluate, analyze and approve the performance based designs.

      The fire modeling programs rely heavily on the assumed parameters that the design engineers make.  As with any computer calculation programs, anyone can take these models, input some data, and the computer will spit out several pages of results.  These programs could easily be manipulated, to reach a desired conclusion which might not even be the correct answer.  But how would the AHJs know if the answers are right or wrong?

Also, the very first and the most important design criteria for the development of the performance based design is determining the “acceptable risk level”.  The “acceptable risk level” must be evaluated, analyzed, agreed upon, and approved by the AHJs.  Clearly in the performance based codes era of the future, having the technical expertise and competence in clearly identifying the “acceptable risk level” is a mandatory qualification for the AHJs.

The question identified in the “Purpose Statement” of this paper is, how could the AHJs enhance their technical capabilities and better prepare themselves, to be able to successfully implement the performance based codes?  The AHJs can enhance their technical capabilities by utilizing the technical expertise of the fire protection engineers.  Basically, the AHJs have two general alternatives available to them.  They could either depend on the technical expertise of the fire protection consulting firms in the private sector and obtain their services as their technical consultants, or hire a staff fire protection engineer as their in house technical expert.

By having an experienced, qualified fire protection engineer on their team, the AHJs will have the technical expertise to be able to determine the “acceptable risk level” as the design criteria for the performance based design during the conception phase; evaluate and analyze the fire modeling calculations and determine the integrity of the fire and life safety designs during the plan review and approval phase; and participate in the field testing, final acceptance and approval of the project during the installation and completion phase.  Active participation of the staff fire protection engineer in the entire project cycle from the conception phase to the completion phase would provide the concise communication, quality control, continuity, and consistency necessary for the success of any complex project, whether it was designed based on the prescriptive codes or the performance based codes.

Also the AHJs in our country could apply the New Zealander’s approach in evaluating the fire and life safety systems designed based on the performance based codes.  The AHJs could implement a system of peer review, in which the building owner pays a review fee at the time the designs are submitted for approval.  The AHJs then submit the designs to a competitor fire protection engineering firm for a peer review.  With this approach, the liability falls on the fire protection engineer responsible for the peer review and approval of the design.

In the New Zealander’s approach though, the peer review process starts at the design submittal phase of the project and not at the preliminary phase when the design criteria is established.  Identification of  the “acceptable risk level” at the preliminary phase of the project could still pose difficulties to the AHJs, if they don’t have a staff fire protection engineer on board.  By having a staff fire protection engineer on board the AHJs could develop the design criteria at the preliminary stages of the project and then if desired, by utilizing the peer review process, reduce the jurisdiction’s liability exposure.

The Change Management Module (CMM) identifies analyzing, planning, implementation, and evaluation and institutionalization, as the four major steps in the strategic management of change.  The goals and the deadline have already been set, and the performance based codes will be published by the year 2000.  It is important to realize that external factors are the driving force behind this change being imposed on the AHJs.  The code development and the engineering communities, who are the initiators of this transformation, are welcoming the change.  The AHJs on the other hand, are faced with the implementation of the changes imposed upon them by the external forces, which could explain their lack of preparedness for such a monumental transformation.

 

 

DISCUSSION

 

The restrictive code requirements in all of the existing prescriptive codes, just like recipes from the cook book, not only identify the predetermined requirements based on generic occupancies, constructions, or class of hazard or risk, but also spell out the design approach.  The new performance based codes, will be fundamentally different from the prescriptive codes which historically have been developed and applied by the code enforcement communities in this country.  The concept of performance based design though, is not a new idea.  For many years, the “alternate materials and method”, or the “equivalency” sections in all of the prescriptive codes have allowed the AHJs to approve an “equivalency”, if it complies with the intent of the code and sufficient evidence or proof to substantiate it is provided.

The codes have determined that the burden of proof is the responsibility of the design engineers and the responsibility for review and approval rests with the AHJs.  But, if after all these years the performance based design is still in its infancy stages, it is not far fetched and unreasonable to point to the “liability” issue as one of the reasons for the slow pace of the development.

The “relief from personal responsibility”, or the “liability” sections in all of the prescriptive codes protect the AHJs from the personal liability, if “malicious intent” was not involved, and “the provisions of such codes or other pertinent laws or ordinances were implemented”.  Basically what this means is that, if the AHJs follow the exact code requirements spelled out in the prescriptive codes, they can’t go wrong and they are protected from personal liability exposure.

To advance performance based fire protection in the U.S., technical, regulatory and legal inertia must be overcome.  Fire protection education and continued third party validation of performance and engineering based solutions are a must.  Reliability data are scarce and the legal ramifications are unknown (O’Hara, M. 1998, p.51).

To most AHJs approving designs based on the “equivalency” section currently allowed by the prescriptive codes, means trusting the design engineers, which some view as “leaving the fox in charge of the hen house”.  They just do not trust any “Joe Engineer” right out of college, “selling them a bill of goods”.  Generally, the AHJs have been exposed to the computer technology long enough to know the famous “garbage in, garbage out” concept.  They know well enough that just because a bunch of calculations are performed by computers, it does not necessarily make them right.

From the AHJs’ perspective, it is clear that they want to feel secure, and do not want to go out on a limb and be liable, just because the engineers claimed that their design would perform.  After all, why should the AHJs stick their neck out for some engineer and assume personal liability, when they can play it safe instead?  For the majority of AHJs the code is a cocoon providing the sense of security.  Stepping out of this secure surrounding into an arena which they may not be technically prepared for is a giant leap of faith, which most of them are neither prepared, nor willing to take.

While this might be true now since there are no performance based codes around, it will change by the year 2000, when the performance based codes are published.

The Conference Report for the First Conference on Fire Safety Design in the 21st Century indicates that the overall performance goals must be clearly articulated and at a level acceptable to society.  It should not be the role of the designer to determine these goals.  Defining these goals should involve public officials serving in a position of public trust [italics added] (Reiss, M. 1998, p.264).

Currently, the performance based design concept is only an “alternative approach”, or an “equivalency” that the AHJs have the luxury of either accepting or not, based on their courage or willingness to step out of the “cocoon”.  By the year 2000 when the performance based codes are adopted, the AHJs will be dragged out of their “cocoon”, willingly or not.  The AHJs will be legally obligated to entertain and evaluate any and all engineering designs developed utilizing the performance based codes, and treat them just as they would the prescriptive code designs.  If previously, the AHJs could dodge the issue, and had a way out of dealing with the “equivalency” and the performance based designs, with the adoption of the performance based codes there will be no way out, and ready or not, the AHJs must legally acknowledge the performance based designs.

Interestingly enough, Van Rickley’s survey (see Appendix - A), indicates that 75% of the AHJs surveyed agreed that the new performance based codes are necessary to provide reasonable levels of fire protection and life safety.  But if the AHJs already realize the benefits of the performance based codes, why would they be reluctant in implementing them?  An analogy could better explain the answer.  Medicine is good for curing the illness, but the bitter taste is rather repulsive, and at times, it is a struggle convincing a patient to bear the immediate displeasure for the sake of a healthier future.  The same is the case here.  Even though the AHJs realize the necessity of the performance based codes, since they are still not technically prepared for them, they are still not ready to swallow the bitter pill and implement them, just yet.

The performance based designs are being developed by the engineers, who are the strong proponents of the performance based codes.  Performance based design is heavily dependent on technical expertise and engineering judgments.  The engineers have many years of academic and technical training preparing them for the task.  On the other hand, the majority of the AHJs and the code enforcers responsible for review and approval of the fire and life safety designs do not possess the extensive technical engineering and practical expertise necessary to evaluate the performance based designs.  Across the country, a majority of the fire inspectors and plan checkers in the fire departments, are either retired firefighters from other fire departments, or are firefighters unable to perform the fire suppression tasks due to job related disabilities.  Similarly, the majority of plan checkers and inspectors in the building departments are recruited from the construction trades in the field.  Historically, the blue-collar nature of these jobs demanded more hands on experience rather than higher education.  High school level education might have sufficed for enforcing the “cook book” design approach outlined in the prescriptive codes, however, with the performance based codes, lack of academic education and technical experience will be detrimental.  This is one of the most important obstacles that must be addressed before the concept of performance based codes can fully flourish.

It is important to realize that the performance based designs have been at the crux of not only the highly technical fields such aviation or nuclear technology, but also in the field of structural engineering, which is directly related to the construction industry.  But if the construction industry has previously been exposed to the concept of performance based designs in the structural engineering field, why are they so dumbfounded, when it comes to the performance based building and fire codes?  Why is it that the AHJs do not have any problems with implementing the performance based structural designs, yet they are unprepared for the performance based building and fire codes?  What is the difference?

The difference is that for decades, the AHJs have had experienced, licensed, professional structural engineers on their staff, responsible for the review and approval of structural designs and calculations.  Basically, the designs submitted by the professional structural engineer for the design team, are reviewed by the AHJs’ staff structural engineer, who at least theoretically, has the same level of education, experience and knowledge as the design team engineer.  Simply stated, an expert reviewing the work of another expert.  This is the major difference in the AHJs’ review and approval process, that allows application of the performance based design in one field (structural) and opposes it in the other (fire and life safety).  Considering that the risks and the probabilities of potential catastrophe in the structural engineering field is considerably higher than just fire, it is clear that “fear of risk” alone, is not the deterrent factor for the AHJs.  If it was, they would have disallowed the practice of structural engineering.

It is important to mention that the structural engineering technology has a very long history and deep roots that dates back to many millenniums ago, when man first moved out of the caves and started to build their shelters.  This long history generates a certain amount of knowledge and comfort level for the AHJs.

Also, the developments in the computer technology in the past few decades, did not radically impact the science of structural engineering, other than simplifying and shortening the time consuming hand calculations process.  Computers however, even though quite useful, are not an absolute necessity for the structural engineering designs.  After all, computers were not around, when the Pyramids or the Acropolis were built.  And the Pyramids and the Acropolis have well survived the elements and passed the test of time for the past thousands of years.  This long history of proven technology is also quite comforting for the AHJs.

On the other hand the science of fire protection engineering is still in its infancy stages, and has not proven itself yet.  Fire protection engineering as a science and a field of study has only been developed in the past couple of decades.  Just only a few short years back, majority of the architects, design professionals, and the AHJs did not even know what a fire protection engineer was.  Even today, most of them still cannot identify what a fire protection engineer really does.  This lack of history and recognition by the AHJs, adversely impact the fire protection engineers when compared to the structural engineers.

Also the technology and the tools of the trade are very new in the fire protection engineering field.  Even the most powerful personal computers (PCs) today, have some limitations in conducting the fire modeling computations.  And most importantly, contrary to the Pyramids and the Acropolis that have passed the test of time, verification methods have not been fully developed to confirm validity of the fire modeling computations.

It is comforting to realize that even though the hardware (PCs) might not be available yet, the technology for accurate computer fire modeling computations have been around for a while.  Within a few short years, the declassification process of the military and space computer technology will eventually release this “jinni from the bottle”.  The same computers that calculate and plot the exact orbit patterns of the “Space Shuttle” or the “Voyager”, can perform precision fire modeling computations.  Comparing the software programs currently available in the market testifies to this claim.  For example the level of sophistication in a “flight simulator” program currently available in the market is remarkably improved from ten years ago, however, it is still not the same caliber as the “virtual reality” “flight simulator” currently used by the military.

It is not difficult to predict that in the near future, computers will enhance our capabilities in studying and modeling fires.  However, even then, these sophisticated and intelligent machines, would still require intelligent operators.

Based on the structural engineering example mentioned above, “fear of risk” is not the deterrent for the AHJs.  The major reason for AHJs’ reluctance on accepting the performance based designs is the lack of expertise on their side.  Just as they have done with the structural engineering field, if the AHJs could obtain the expertise to be able to review and approve the performance based fire and life safety designs, they will not have difficulties implementing the performance based codes.

The author believes that  by utilizing the engineering expertise of the fire protection engineers, the AHJs will enhance their technical capabilities.  The AHJs could either depend on the external resources in the private sector, just like the New Zealanders have done, or develop their own in-house technical expertise.

By hiring an experienced and qualified staff fire protection engineer, the AHJs will have the technical expertise to be able to determine the “acceptable risk level”, as the design criteria for the performance based designs, at the conception phase; evaluate and analyze the fire modeling calculations and determine the integrity of the fire and life safety designs, during the plan review and approval phase; and participate in the field testing, final acceptance and approval, during the installation and completion phase of the projects.  Active participation of the staff fire protection engineer in the entire project cycle, from the conception phase to the completion phase, would provide the concise communication, quality control, consistency, and continuity, necessary for the success of any complex project.  This approach is applicable to all complex projects, whether designed based on the prescriptive codes, or the performance based codes.

But, hiring a staff fire protection engineer might be a luxury that the majority of the AHJs across the country might not be able to afford.  In an effort to reduce the budgetary impacts to the jurisdictions, another option which could be more feasible for the smaller jurisdictions is to join resources and cooperatively share the technical expertise of the staff fire protection engineer.

The concept of resource sharing is not new and similar agreements have previously been developed in the other fields.  For example, in southern Nevada, to reduce the cost impact, the Fire Departments from the City of Las Vegas, Clark County, and the City of North Las Vegas, just like many others around the country, jointly operate a common emergency dispatch and communications center.  This approach could also serve as a model for sharing the common fire protection engineering staff.  Intergovernmental agreements would need to be drafted to iron out the difficulties, identify the liabilities, and spell out the exact budgeting details.

Yet, another similar economical approach could be for a jurisdiction to hire a staff fire protection engineer, and by marketing their technical services to the other jurisdictions, reduce their financial impact by charging the other jurisdictions for the technical services rendered.  Once again the intergovernmental agreements should be developed to identify the liability exposures and the contractual agreements.  

Having a staff fire protection engineer could also be extremely beneficial in providing the essential in-house on-the-job training (OJT) for the current workforce consisting of the plan examiners and the field inspectors.  Training the current workforce should be an organized, systematic and continual process.  The Human Resources (HR) department in each jurisdiction has the overall responsibility for the recruitment and training of the personnel.  HR can provide invaluable information and assistance in developing the game plan for the recruitment and training programs.

The three major phases of training are assessment, implementation, and evaluation.  Assessment includes determining the training needs, identifying the training objectives, development of the training criteria, and determining the best training methods.  Since HR will know absolutely nothing about the technical aspect of the subject of fire and life safety, it is quite important for the AHJs to get actively involved and assist the HR in the assessment phase of the training.  Realizing that the year 2000 is just around the corner, it is important for the AHJs to focus on immediate implementation of the training, in order to be adequately prepared.

The AHJs should realize that it is not realistic to expect the entire current workforce to be adequately trained to be capable of performing at the same level as a fire protection engineer.  However, basic training should be provided to enhance the plan examiners’ and the field inspectors’ technical expertise since they are intimately involved during the plan review and construction phases of the projects.  Van Ricley’s survey (see Appendix - A), indicates that the AHJs are well aware of the need for additional training and certification, and 79% of the AHJs surveyed agreed that the plan review and code enforcement personnel should be certified by a recognized agency.

The training and certification process of other technical fields that train the personnel without a college degree to be able to function as expert technicians, could serve as a valuable model.  Paramedics training for example, is an excellent model.  In the paramedic training program, individuals with mostly a high school educational level are selected and trained to be able to perform highly specialized and technical tasks.

As an example, currently in order to obtain the paramedics certification, the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)/firefighters in Las Vegas Fire Department are required to complete several training programs.  The first step for the firefighters is the EMT-Basic certification which requires 114 hours of training and successful completion of the tests.  The EMT-Intermediate certification requires an additional 68 hours of training and passing the certification test.  Since the tuition costs for the program is $2,000 per student, qualification for the paramedic program is also challenging.  To be accepted into the paramedics program, the candidates are required to take an entrance test, and only the individuals with the highest scores could qualify for the program.

The qualified students will then attend a six months paramedics training course, conducted by the professional staff at the University Medical Center (UMC).  The students are required to complete 972 hours of advanced training program, and are to required to pass the Health District’s Certification Examination, with a minimum grade of 75, and also obtain a grade of 80 on the Clark County EMSS Medical Advisory Board Protocols.

Upon successful completion of the paramedic training program, the students are  then required to complete 480 hours of on the job internship in the precept program.  Their performance are required to be formally evaluated by a paramedic preceptor on a Daily Performance Record.  Upon successful completion of this stage of the program, the students receive their official EMT-Paramedic Certification.  The EMT-Paramedics are required to complete 80 hours of continuing education and training and pass the re-certification tests biannually, in order to maintain their EMT-Paramedic Certification.

The UMC paramedics program subjects the EMTs/firefighters to intense scientific, medical and technical training, in order to provide them with adequate expertise to perform the first response emergency medical attention.  Majority of the time, in an emergency, the quality of the medical attention provided by the first responders, is what makes the difference between life and death.  The fact that these individuals with the limited academic education, could be trained to be able to make the split second life or death decisions, during the highly intense emergency conditions, proves that not only them, but almost anyone could also be trained to make certain technical and engineering decisions in the non-emergency conditions in an office environment.

Every single step in the entire paramedic training program is meticulously identified in great details.  The exact number of hours academic and field training has been outlined for every single subject.  The purpose, objective, scope, resources, process , goals and desired final outcomes have been clearly identified and is a testimony to a very professional training program.

The example of the paramedics training could serve as a model for the AHJs.  Just like the paramedics program, the AHJs also need to clearly outline the process, if they desire a similar successful outcome.  The AHJs should realize that the existing workforce could be trained to perform certain technical and engineering functions essential for the approval and acceptance of the performance based designs.  Of course, they will not be able to perform on the same level as a fire protection engineer, just like the tasks performed by the EMT-Paramedics are not on the same level as the doctors, however, they are just as important and essential in the overall process.

The AHJs could utilize the local institutions of higher education and the private sector fire protection engineering firms for the in-house or satellite classroom training.  However, since contrary to the medical sciences, fire protection engineering as a science is still in the infancy stage, there are scarce resources available for training.

The current system in the United States does not provide an adequate base of qualified “experts” and tools.  A different system of education, licensing and research is necessary to provide sufficient design experts, technicians, building authorities and practical tools to implement the code(Wolski, A.,Dembsey, N., & Meacham, B., 1998, p.281).

One of the major problems is the limited number of universities offering the fire protection engineering program.  There are only four universities in the United States with a Fire Protection Engineering program.  University of Maryland offers both the Bachelor and Master of Science in Fire Protection Engineering; Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has the Master of Science and the Doctorate degree in Fire Protection Engineering; Oklahoma State University (OSU) offers only a Bachelor of Science in Fire Protection Engineering Technology; and the University of California at Berkeley offers the Doctorate degree in Fire Protection Engineering.

Considering that annually less than 30 fire protection engineers graduate from these schools, and that there are approximately only 3,000 fire protection engineers worldwide, comparing to the hundreds of thousands of structural engineers or doctors worldwide, the scarcity of the resources should be very clear.  This being the case, most likely, local or in-house training would not be readily available for the majority of the AHJs, other than the ones in close proximity to these universities.  Distance Learning Programs from these universities should be expanded to provide the essential academic and technical training for the AHJs.

Satellite classroom training or utilizing the Fire Emergency Training Network (FETN) cable programs could also provide feasible training for the AHJs.  Currently, however, FETN does not provide technical training in this particular field, since technical videos on this subject have yet to be produced.

It should be noted that training the existing workforce will not have an immediate impact, however, it should be a long term commitment.  As stated previously, HR will play an important role in establishing the training programs.

HR also has a major role in the recruitment and selection process of the staff fire protection engineer.  In this process, HR will rely on the AHJs for the development of the job description and specifications.  It is important to realize that since technical expertise in the field of fire protection engineering is highly dependent on the length and type of experience, the AHJs should mainly focus on recruiting experienced registered professional engineers from the design and consulting engineering fields rather than fresh graduates from the academic arena.

The reason for it is, initially the new graduates do not posses the necessary technical experience to be able to have an immediate impact.  The AHJs should be able to rely on the technical expertise of their in-house engineer to resolve their immediate technical problems and provide technical training for the current staff, rather than them training the fresh engineer.

Also, being hired by an AHJ to serve as their sole source of technical expertise is not beneficial for the carrier development of the newly graduated engineers either.  In order to obtain their Professional Engineering (P.E.) registration, the new engineers must have four (4) years of work experience under the direct supervision of a registered professional engineer.  Without it, they will not be able to become registered professional engineers.  Therefore, investing in a newly graduated engineer as the only source of technical expertise will not benefit the jurisdictions in the long run either, since they will not be able to obtain their professional engineering registration.

For the AHJs, having an experienced registered professional engineer is the most prudent investment.  However, as stated before, due to the very limited number of graduating fire protection engineers from the universities, and the scarcity of qualified fire protection engineers worldwide, the law of supply and demand might leave the AHJs without much of a choice, other than hiring a rookie.  This by no means could be interpreted as a tragedy, however, the AHJs should be aware of the learning curves and the other limitations stated above.

As stated before, another alternative the AHJs could apply is the New Zealander’s approach.  The AHJs could implement a system of peer review in which the building owner pays a review fee at the time the designs are submitted for approval.  The AHJs then submit the designs to a private sector fire protection engineering firm for a peer review.  With this approach, the liability falls on the private sector fire protection engineer responsible for the peer review and approval of the design.  Removing the burden from the code enforcers and assigning the responsibility and the associated liability to the engineering community, and relaying on their extensive technical expertise for quality control and inspection, presents interesting prospects.  However, since New Zealand’s approach has not been in place for a long time, ranting about it’s success is premature.  The available literature on this subject, as it develops, will need to be further researched and analyzed before forming a conclusive judgment.

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The previous sections identified some of the technical challenges and obstacles confronting the application of the performance based codes.  Lack of AHJs’ engineering and technical expertise in evaluating, analyzing, and approval of designs based on the performance based codes was identified as the crux of the problem.  To obtain the necessary technical expertise to better prepare them for the successful implementation of the performance based codes, the AHJs could either depend on the external resources in the private sector, or develop their own in-house technical expertise.

The author believes that the most important recommendation that could prepare the AHJs to address the challenging obstacles of the performance based code era is having a staff fire protection engineer on board.  Depending on the size and the availability of financial resources in each jurisdiction, the AHJs might determine to apply either the resource sharing or the revenue generating alternatives to this approach.  However, having a staff fire protection engineer on board, is the most prudent solution to the AHJs’ technical inadequacies.

By having an experienced and qualified fire protection engineer on their team, the AHJs will have the technical expertise to be able to determine the “acceptable risk level”, as the design criteria for the performance based designs, at the conception phase; evaluate and analyze the fire modeling calculations and determine the integrity of the fire and life safety designs, during the plan review and approval phase; and participate in the field testing, final acceptance and approval, during the installation and completion phase of the projects.  Active participation of the staff fire protection engineer in the entire project cycle, from the conception phase to the completion phase, would provide the concise communication, quality control, consistency, and continuity, necessary for the success of any complex project.  This approach is applicable to all complex projects, whether designed based on the prescriptive codes, or the performance based codes.

The New Zealander’s approach of utilizing the technical expertise of the private sector as their consultants is also a viable alternative.  Since with this approach, the burdens and liabilities are removed from the AHJs and are placed entirely on the private sector consultant responsible for the peer review and approval of the design, the AHJs could view it rather positively.  However, since the consultants involvement with the review starts at the design submittal phase when the designs have been completed rather than the preliminary conception phase where the design criteria and the “acceptable risk level” are identified, the AHJs could still be faced with major difficulties in making these highly technical decisions.

Technical development of the exiting workforce should also be a high priority on the AHJs agenda.  With the assistance from the HR, a comprehensive training and certification plan should be developed for the plan examiners and field inspectors, since they are intimately involved during the construction phase of the projects.  The technical training for the existing workforce will not have an immediate impact, however, it should be emphasized on as a long-term commitment.

All of the approaches discussed above could still be implemented within the limited time remaining before the deadline.  For the AHJs developing their technical expertise and enhancing their capabilities is an important step toward preparing them for the successful implementation of the performance based codes by the year 2000.  It is of utmost importance for the AHJs to have an adequately trained workforce, rather than trying to meet an ill-prepared deadline.

 

 

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REFERENCES

 

Armstrong, P., Bowman, D., & Tubbs, B., (1997).  Performance based codes - What are they anyway? Building Standards, Vol. LXVI, No.3, Whittier, CA:  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO).

BOCA National Building Code, (1996). Country Club Hills, IL: Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCAI).

BOCA National Fire Prevention Code, (1996). Country Club Hills, IL: Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCAI).

Bowman, D., & Larcomb, B., (1998).  Will the AHJ “Buy” it?, SFPE May 1998 Conference Presentation, Birmingham, AL: Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCAI).

Codes Forum, Vol.1, No. 1 (1996). Whittier, CA; Country Club Hills, IL; Birmingham, AL: Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCAI),  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).

Custer, R., & Meacham, B., (1995). Performance based fire safety engineering: An introduction of basic concepts, Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, Vol. 7, No. 2. Boston, MA: Society of Fire Protection Engineer (SFPE).

Dillon, M., (1996).  Another point of view on the need for a single set of building codes in the United States, Codes Forum, Vol.1, No.1, Whittier, CA; Country Club Hills, IL; Birmingham, AL: Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCAI),  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).

Hadjisophocleous, G., Benichou, N., & Tamim, A., (1998).  Literature review of performance based fire codes and design environment.  Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, Vol. 9, No.1, Bethesda, MD:  Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE).

Koffel, W., (1995).  Recycling existing codes, NFPA Journal, Vol. 89, No.4, Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

McCormick, J., (1998).  Performance based codes provide an opportunity to incorporate relevant fire protection engineering technologies into the building process., SFPE May 1998 Conference Presentation, St. Louis, MO: Code Consultants Inc. (CCI).

Moore, J. & Wilson, D., (1998).  Performance based codes & designs: Caveats and Pitfalls, SFPE May 1998 Breakfast Presentation, Cincinnati, OH: HSB Industrial Risk Insurers (IRI).

NFPA 1, Fire Prevention Code, (1992). Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

O’Hara, M., (1998).  Future fire codes., Civil Engineering, Vol. 68, No.5, Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Reiss, M., (1998).  Global performance based design: Is it the solution?, 1998 Pacific Rim Conference and the Second International Conference on Performance-Based Codes and Fire Safety Design Methods, Whittier, CA:  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE).

 

Seaton, M., (1997).  Performance based fire codes - How we make them work? NFPA JOURNAL, Vol. 91, No.1, Quincy, MA:  National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering, 2nd edition (1996). Boston, MA: Society of  Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE).

Standard Building Code, (1994). Birmingham, AL: Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).

Standard Fire Prevention Code, (1994). Birmingham, AL: Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).

Supplement to the National Fire Codes, (1996).  Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Uniform Building Code, (1997). Whittier, CA:   International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO).

Uniform Fire Code (1997). Whittier, CA:  International Fire Code Institute (IFCI).

Van Rickley, C. (1996). A survey of Code Officials on performance based codes and risk-based assessment. Codes Forum. Whittier, CA; Country Club Hills, IL; Birmingham, AL: Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCAI),  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).

Wolski, A., (1998).  Application of acceptable risk principles to performance based building and fire safety code development, 1998 Pacific Rim Conference and the Second International Conference on Performance-Based Codes and Fire Safety Design Methods, Whittier, CA:  International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE).

Yung, D., & Beck, V., (1996). SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering, 2nd edition, Boston, MA: Society of Fire Protection Engineer (SFPE).

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX - A

 

 

 

 

 

 


Charles Van Rickley administered a survey at the 1995 annual conferences of Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).  The results were analyzed in an article titled “A Survey of Code Officials on Performance Based Codes and Risk-based Assessment”, published in the January-February 1996 issue of the Codes Forum, a joint publication of BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI.

The questionnaires were distributed at the final fire and life safety code development hearings for each organization.  Of 800 questionnaires, 346 were completed, resulting in a response rate of 43%. The respondents functions varied and included Building Official, Fire Official, industry representatives and design professionals.    However, for this analysis, only the responses of the two most represented groups, the Building Officials (236 responses) and the Fire Officials (36 responses) were used.

The survey used five scale points: strongly agree, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree (neutral), disagree somewhat, and strongly disagree.  The percentages responding to each of the five scale points were aggregated into two point distribution:

Agree (strongly agree + agree somewhat)

Disagree (neutral + somewhat disagree + strongly disagree)

Except for Questions 2 and 3, the neutral position for the other nine questions was quite low, ranging from 8 to 21 percent.  Bar charts were utilized to graphically depict the results.  The percentages identified in this appendix are approximate translations of the results from the author’s bar charts.
Question 1:            Prescriptive codes, as they are written, cannot be appropriately applied                to all buildings or occupancies.

45% Agree.

55% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 2:            Currently available computer fire-prediction models are adequate to support performance based fire and life safety codes.

15% Agree.

29% Disagree.

56% Neutral.

 

 

 

Question 3:            I am comfortable using currently available fire prediction models to evaluate performance based design specifications.

19% Agree.

34% Disagree.

47% Neutral.

 

Question 4:            Prescriptive building and fire codes, as they are currently written, are necessary to ensure reasonable levels of fire protection and life safety.

77% Agree.

23% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 5:            Performance based codes are necessary to provide reasonable levels of fire protection and life safety in our rapidly changing environment.

75% Agree.

25% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 6:            Performance based codes should require plan review and code enforcement personnel to be certified by a recognized agency.

79% Agree.

21% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 7:            I am comfortable specifying a number of acceptable life loss as a part of risk-based analysis for building construction.

22% Agree.

78% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 8:            The basis for building design decisions should be the potential risk to building occupants.

79% Agree.

21% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 9:            The basis for building design decisions should be the potential risk for fire-suppression personnel.

59% Agree.

41% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 10: The basis for building design decisions should be the potential risk for the adjacent occupancies.

75% Agree.

25% Disagree.

 

 

 

Question 11: How frequently are you called upon to rely on computer fire models in your decision process for equivalent alternatives to fire protection and life safety code requirements?

74% Never.

15% Yearly.

5% Monthly.

4% Weekly.

2% Daily.

 

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