The idea of
working on international projects can be very alluring. But there can be
many pitfalls and significant unknown factors that can affect whether a
project or client relationship is successful. It is important to be
aware of the potential challenges before engaging in these types of
EXPECTATIONS – CHALLENGES
fire protection engineers have had experiences working on different
project types and with different types of clients, whether owners,
developers, contractors, architects or engineers. Engineers and
consultants routinely have opinions and expectations on how things
should be handled based on their personal experiences on projects they
have completed in the past. The type of project and the country or
jurisdiction in which they work influences how they approach specific
issues. The manner in which one has always approached fire protection or
life safety may literally be foreign in some parts of the world.
dealing with a project that is outside of an engineer's home country,
it is very important that due diligence be exercised to identify and
become familiar with the rules and approaches applied in the location
where the project will be developed. There could be significant research
required before design advice can be given or design efforts can
Solutions to specific fire
safety design issues may be applied on a routine basis in some
jurisdictions, but they may not be understood or may be met with
skepticism in a foreign location. Gaining acceptance of unique design
solutions often requires extensive documentation of the solution and the
presentation of existing examples of similar designs.
can also be very challenging. The location of the project and the
individuals executing the project are often separated by time zone
differences. Email communication often becomes the default.
Communicating technical information by email presents unique challenges.
Individuals requesting information regarding specific design details
often do not provide enough information to adequately frame the
question, and responses may leave out factors that can impact the
application of solutions. When communicating by email, it is critical
that an appropriate level of detail be presented and that responses also
address factors that can impact implementation.
custom or language may also present a communication challenge. In some
parts of the world, disagreement in a public forum can be considered
inappropriate. Design team meetings can occur where all the
participating members seemingly agree to actions that don't get
implemented. This can lead to significant delays or rework. There can
also be miscommunications with authorities. In one instance, the design
team had thought they had an understanding that a project could be
designed in accordance with a model code promulgated in the United
States. The authorities had told the design team that it was acceptable
to comply with the model code. What the authorities did not say was that
they also expected the design to comply with the local code. This
misunderstanding led to significant disagreement between the authorities
and the design team. The project design was delayed and
performance-based solutions had to be developed and negotiated to allow
the design goals to be achieved.
There are locales that allow the application of codes and standards within their jurisdiction that are developed in the Unites States, United Kingdom, or Europe all at the same time and sometimes on the same project. These countries also incorporate local requirements. Examples can be found in the Middle East and Central and South America. There are also developing countries that do not have formalized code enforcement.
all of these cases, there can be options as to what code will be
applicable to the design of a building. One of the more critical issues
that can impact the overall success of a project is defining the codes
and standards that will be applicable to the project early in the design
process. It is even better when there is an understanding of the
approach before proposals for services are even prepared. Depending on
the locale of a project, it may be beneficial to join forces with a
local partner to assist with issues that are specific to the
jurisdiction. It may be a necessity depending on the regulatory climate
and requirements for licensure to perform various consulting or design
Another factor that needs
to be considered in selecting which codes or standards system to apply
is the level of familiarity that local contractors may have. The
availability of products approved under a specific standard's system may
also be a factor. While use of locally available products is usually
allowed, it may require a comparative analysis of the test standards and
documentation of equivalency to obtain approval. This can be time
consuming and have an impact on schedules if it is not anticipated.
GLOBAL APPROACH VERSUS LOCAL REGULATORY COMPLIANCE
multinational companies have loss prevention and fire safety standards
that they apply and enforce throughout their organizations regardless of
the location of the facility. The approach taken by an organization in
regard to fire protection and fire safety is usually based on the
approach taken within the country of origin. As an example, many
countries in Europe have strict compartmentation requirements to limit
fire areas. Many European countries don't recognize sprinklers as
mitigation for fire area size or compartmentation. When organizations
from those countries come to the United States, they may be surprised by
the large open areas that are allowed for sprinklered buildings.
based in the United States that either develop projects overseas or
design projects in foreign countries may be surprised by limits placed
on their projects even though they may have what could be considered
stringent corporate fire protection and fire safety standards. Standard
design approaches often have to be modified to achieve local approval,
or performance design options need to be negotiated.
may also be surprised to find out that there are no local requirements
and that local design or construction are done with no oversight. This
can also create an unexpected burden. It may necessitate that the
organization dedicate more resources or retain a third party to oversee
design and construction in order to assure that minimum corporate life
safety and fire protection criteria are met.
level of effort required during construction can be significant. After a
design is approved, site inspection is necessary to not only make sure
that the required building features are implemented, but also to verify
that approved products and materials are utilized. Substitution of
inferior products or combustible materials where noncombustible
materials are required is often discovered during site inspections.
A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
multinational clients globally can be very challenging and rewarding.
There are a number of things that should be considered in order to
maximize the potential for success when the opportunity presents itself.
First, it is important to know the client and understand their expectations and goals. Different clients have different goals that can impact how they approach a project and therefore impact how an engineer advises the client. For example, if the client plans to build and hold a project for a long time, they will be interested in first costs and also in ongoing costs and the life-cycle costs of systems. Long-term maintenance requirements will also be more of a concern. That can impact product or system selection and design.
on the same wavelength with the client is important particularly when
the client is unfamiliar with the region in which the project is to be
constructed. In order to be considered by a client for a foreign
project, one would typically need experience in that market. Providing
the client with an understanding of local issues that would affect their
project before the project has begun can help to establish a framework
for a mutually beneficial relationship.
and maintaining a primary and secondary contact within a consultant's
organization that has the ability to engage the client and bring in the
appropriate resources to fulfill various project needs is also helpful.
There is nothing more frustrating to a client than not getting responses
Understanding Local Issues
is critical to understand the requirements (or lack of requirements) of
the jurisdiction in which a project will be developed. This is most
efficiently done by having people in that country. There is no better
way to know the local customs than through individuals that live in
those locations. If an engineer does not have in-house resources within a
specific locale, it may be appropriate to team with a local consultant.
arrangements usually work best when the team members bring different
benefits and expertise to the team. The expertise should be
complementary and not competitive. Teaming arrangements can be
challenging, but if they are done in a manner that can produce mutual
benefits, it can lead to long-term relationships.
Having the Right Team
is equally important to make sure that the right resources and enough
resources will be available. In addition to having the proper technical
expertise for the design phases of a project, it may be necessary to
staff the site to perform design reviews as well as site inspections to
verify design implementation. Projects in regions that do not have
review and inspection programs would need oversight to assure a client's
requirements are implemented. Depending on the size of the project,
this could require full-time site staffing for extended periods of time.
on-site staff also needs to be experienced with a broad range of issues
in order to deal with design as well as construction challenges. It can
be very helpful to have off-site technical support arranged in advance
to provide assistance to on-site staff. The off-site staff can provide
necessary research and technical input based on information relayed from
Ray Grill is with Arup.