|New Guide on Fire Safety in Very Tall Buildings|
Issue 60: New Guide on Fire Safety in Very Tall Buildings
By James R. Quiter, P.E., FSFPE
The Society of Fire Protection Engineers is in the final stages of
developing a new engineering guide, entitled " Fire Safety for Very Tall
Buildings” The draft document was issued for public comment in
February, and over 150 comments were received. The Task Group that is
creating the document met in July and has responded to those comments.
The next step is for the Task Group to finalize the document and submit
to the Technical Steering Committee for approval, with a goal of being
published in early 2013.
The document is a joint effort of SFPE and the International Code
Council (ICC). Both organizations solicited members for the Task Group,
and the process began in 2010. Since that time, the Task Group has
prepared a document of about 150 pages which addresses the special fire
safety considerations of very tall buildings.
At the time the project was conceived, there were several properties
around the world that were being designed and constructed and that could
be considered to be "very tall.” While the global economy has slowed
that process somewhat, there will always be new projects being designed
that are higher, and different than the codes envisaged when high-rise
building requirements were written. Because each very tall building is
unique, SFPE and ICC concluded that writing a "code” for very tall
buildings was not the solution. Rather, writing a "Guide” for very tall
buildings can provide designers, owners, authorities having
jurisdiction, and the general public some information and advice on what
should be considered when designing such buildings.
So what is a "very tall building?” The guide is intentionally vague on this point. The scope uses the following language:
The task group had a significant amount of discussion over the above
language, and whether it provided enough guidance. The task group
considered whether to use the term "high-rise” as defined in the model
codes. Many codes begin to apply high-rise provisions at 3 to 7 stories,
or about 17 – 20 meters. The task group concluded that the intent of
the guide is for buildings much taller than these minimums, even though
some of the same thought processes and design solutions may apply.
The building code provisions for high-rise buildings were typically
written to address buildings with floors beyond the reach of external
fire apparatus. A series of code provisions, which differ by code and
country, have been written to respond to the need for internal rather
than external approaches to fighting fire (and to some extent to
rescuing people). Over the past few years, some additional thresholds
have been added to some of the codes, requiring special features for
taller buildings such as increased fire resistance, additional exit
stairs, and special treatment of elevators, refuge floors or areas.
These code provisions have often been added in a piecemeal basis without
looking at how they may impact the building system as a whole.
The new SFPE guide will take a different approach. It recognizes that
all of the features of the tall building must work together as a
system. It also recognizes that, while codes must establish thresholds
for requirements, they cannot be written to cover all eventualities, nor
how the interaction of these features will add to or detract from the
overall safety of the building. So, rather than establishing one set of
criteria, the SFPE guide lays out the thought process that should be
followed in determining the systems to be used and how they will
The guide should cause any user to stop and think about their process or their approach. It discusses design approaches from around the world. Primarily, though, it discusses the items that any designer or owner should think about as they consider a very tall building. Using means of egress as an example, some of the questions it will pose will include:
The guide has several sections, which can be used separately or together. All of them will contain information which will be of use to the user. As currently laid out, it is constituted as follows:
SFPE believes this guide will be a very useful reference document for
designers, owners, authorities and other stakeholders. The task group
expects it will be periodically updated to respond to changes in
technology or to new lessons learned. Watch for the publication of the
document early next year, and order it from SFPE or ICC.
James Quiter is with Arup
Summer 2006 -- High-Rise Buildings: What Should We Do About Them? – James R. Quiter, P.E., FSFPE
Summer 2006 – Emerging Issues in High-Rise Building Egress – David A. de Vries, P.E., CSP
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