By Jim Quiter, P.E., FSFPE | Fire Protection Engineering
Ten years ago, I was pleased and proud
to write, as SFPE President, the Viewpoint column in the first issue of
Fire Protection Engineering magazine. At the time, as with most
new ventures at SFPE, we knew we were taking a risk. We also knew that
our members wanted and needed an application-oriented magazine. We
wondered, however, if we could consistently fill it with meaningful
material. I think it is safe to say that, under the technical leadership
of Morgan Hurley, the magazine has flourished and the fire protection
community would be poorer without it.
So what have we seen change in our
profession during the 10 years of the magazine? At first, one might
think very little is different, but as I thought about life as a fire
protection engineer, and as I canvassed others within Arup who have been
around through those 10 years, I came to the realization that almost
everything we do is different. Since I only get one page to discuss the
changes, just look at the following teaser points and imagine the world
Virtually all business correspondence is
by e-mail with the expectation of immediate response. Ten years ago,
much was by fax, 20 years ago by express mail, and 30 years ago, it took
a week to turn around a document.
We now run computer models on our
desktop that were difficult to run on a mainframe. The zone models so
commonly used 10 years ago have given way to CFD models today, with run
times in the order of minutes or hours as opposed to days and weeks. Now
we need to make sure we evaluate and understand the results, rather
than letting our computers do the thinking.
We have realistic and credible means of
modeling people movement. Models that were developed for fire protection
are being used for transport planning and vice versa. The current
models have people (agents) who think and react, not just traipse along
on a predetermined route. This, of course, leads to validation issues.
SFPE has evolved into a driving force in
the industry. Besides technical journals, the society now publishes
technical guides, computer model evaluations and is involved in the
codes and standards process.
We are living in a 3-D world. Our designs
and our interaction with the rest of our profession are done on models
that could not have been imagined 10 years ago. In some cases, that has
led to buildings that could not have been built (the Beijing Water Cube
being an example).
We have developed into a global design community. U.S.
performance-based codes are being used in much of the world (neither
the International Building Code nor NFPA 5000 existed
10 years ago), and codes from other nations are also in use globally.
Many international architects and developers are working in all parts of
the globe, and the fire engineer is following suit.
Partially driven by globalization, the
concepts of performance-based design and risk have become much more
accepted. The laws of science do not change across the globe, even if
the laws of codes do change. Therefore, returning to first principles
allows the engineer to practice good fire protection first and deal with
code application second. With these first principles, the risk
associated must also be considered because the code crutch has
disappeared. Perhaps China has made the greatest step forward with many
major performance-based projects
The entire field of fire protection
engineering has grown in its influence. Ten years ago, fire consultants
on a design team were treated as technical advisors to solve code
issues. Today, fire protection consultants are major players in the
chain of decision-making, often working with fellow fire protection
engineers who are part of the approving authority, and often having
owners as clients who also employ fire protection engineers.
In the past few years, the concept of
fire and structures has developed greatly, particularly for steel
structures. Instead of passive fire protection being prescriptively
applied over the whole steel frame, significant areas of unprotected
steel are becoming commonplace where these methods are applied. This
helps us to evaluate robustness, to reduce materials where appropriate
or to use those materials in a way to make a better structure.
So what has changed since the first Fire Protection Engineering magazine was published 10 years ago? Virtually everything we do! I look forward to an equally exciting next 10 years.
SFPE is a global organization representing those practicing in the fields of fire protection engineering and fire safety engineering. SFPE’s mission is to define, develop, and advance the use of engineering best practices; expand the scientific and technical knowledge base; and educate the global fire safety community, in order to reduce fire risk. SFPE members include fire protection engineers, fire safety engineers, fire engineers, and allied professionals, all of whom are working towards the common goal of engineering a fire safe world.