Issue 77: Stadium and Arena Design
By Kevin Morin, P.E.
As the architectural and engineering designs of stadiums and arenas
have evolved, so too have the challenges for the fire protection
engineer. Stadiums and arenas are no longer used only for participant
sporting events and concerts. These facilities have become destination
locations and now cater to year-round use, with restaurant facilities,
banquet halls and conference capabilities. The new hazards associated
with these uses must be addressed by the design team and the fire
protection engineer, in addition to the traditional hazards associated
with large assembly uses in a building with non-traditional fuel
The popular multi-use sports facility of the 1960s and 1970s,
intended to accommodate multiple sporting events such as baseball and
football, have largely been replaced by sport-specific facilities.
These sport-specific facilities have modern amenities that are designed
to attract non-sports uses. The amenity spaces include outdoor terrace
areas, luxury club and suite spaces, lecture halls and "sponsor” rooms.
Events range from private events, such as weddings, to job fairs, guest
lectures and corporate events. Most, if not all, of these events are
on non-game days when building staff is limited.
Stadium and arena designs must comply with the applicable fire
protection and life safety requirements when the building is
fully-occupied and fully-staffed for major sporting and concert events.
However, it is important that the designs also comply during "non-game
day” events when the facility is not fully-staffed, and some portions of
the facility may be unavailable to the public.
It is necessary for the fire protection engineer to understand the
intended uses and the flexibility required for non-game day events.
Following are some of the elements that should be considered.
Club and suite levels are desirable locations for non-game day
events. These spaces are often designed with means of egress through
the seating bowl or the public concourses. For security reasons, on
non-game days, access to portions of the seating bowl and the concourses
may be restricted. The required number of exits, exit capacity and
egress travel distance limitations must continue to be satisfied with
the available exits. In addition, the exit discharge to the exterior
and the public way must have unrestricted access.
Smoke-Protected Assembly Seating
The smoke-protected assembly seating provisions of the model codes
are typically used in the design of stadiums and arenas. The
smoke-protected assembly seating provisions are a design option that
permits reduced exit capacity factors and increased exit travel
distances provided that the means of egress are protected accordingly.
The smoke control systems must be designed to maintain the smoke level
at least 6 feet (1.8 m) above the means of egress.
When using the smoke-protected assembly seating provisions, a life
safety evaluation must be completed. This includes a written assessment
of, among other things, the nature of the events and the participants
and attendees, fire hazards, and the relationships among facility
management, event participants, and emergency response agencies.
Complex smoke control systems are often critical components of
achieving compliance with the smoke-protected assembly seating
provisions. The smoke control systems rely on strategic locations for
smoke exhaust and make-up air. Temporary partitions, restricted doors
or changes to fuel loads can alter the performance of the smoke control
system and result in a space that no longer complies with the provisions
for smoke-protected assembly seating.
All potential events, fuel loads and security restrictions should be
considered when designing the smoke control systems for spaces that may
be used for non-game events. Communication between the stadium
operators and the design team is necessary to identify the non-game
events are must be accommodated in the design.
Structural Fire Protection
In many buildings, structural fire protection is provided as
required by building codes without further analysis. Due to the size
and nature of stadiums, structural fire protection is often designed
based on engineering analyses of the anticipated fire exposures. The
fuel load present during sporting events is typically considered, since
that is the primary use of the building. However, the fuel load brought
into the building for other events may pose a more severe exposure to
the structure. Thus, the fire protection engineer should work closely
with the building operator to understand the fuel loads that may be
introduced into the building and to communicate any limitations on the
uses within the building.
When selecting the hazard classification for the design of the
sprinkler systems, all potential non-game day events must be
considered. A game day event with limited combustible materials on the
concourses may be different than a corporate event, wedding, or
convention with a more significant fuel load. In addition, sprinkler
protection is sometimes omitted from outdoor stadium concourses due to
the limited fuel load and the opportunities for the natural ventilation
of smoke and heat. This may not be the case for special events which
introduce combustible materials or temporary enclosures.
Due to the large volume of stadiums and arenas, public address
systems are often used as the audible portion of occupant notification
in select areas of the facility. This may include concourse areas and
amenity spaces, such as club and suite areas. On non-game day events,
the public address system may not be staffed or even energized, which
compromises the ability to notify the occupants of the building of an
In addition, to avoid an unnecessary full building evacuation, a
positive alarm sequence is often used in stadiums and arenas. Positive
alarm sequence permits acknowledgement of an alarm and an investigation
period of up to 180 seconds before an alarm signal is initiated.
Although this may be appropriate during a game day event, this may not
be appropriate for a non-game day event. Sufficient staff may not be
available to adequately investigate the alarm, causing an unnecessary
delay in occupant notification.
Facility staff are critical for the fire protection and life safety
of building occupants during game day events. The facility staff have
operational protocols for crowd control, security, way-finding, systems
monitoring, and often times they have the only access to manual pull
stations and fire extinguishers. A stadium or arena is not likely to be
fully-staffed for non-game events, which requires modifications to the
emergency operations procedures that are developed for game-day events.
As with all multi-use buildings, the fire protection engineer must
contemplate all reasonable uses of the spaces within the building when
considering the fire protection and life safety systems. This has
become increasingly important with stadium and arena facilities as new
amenities are introduced and facilities look to capitalize on year-round
use. Care must be taken to adequately address how the facility
functions during a non-game event for system performance and from a
Kevin Morin is with Code Consultants Professional Engineers, PC
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