SFPE Completes First Engineering Standard
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From the Technical Director
SFPE Completes First Engineering Standard

By Morgan J. Hurley, P.E., FSFPE | Fire Protection Engineering

In December, 2010, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers completed its first engineering standard - the SFPE Engineering Standard on Calculating Fire Exposures to Structures. Publication of this standard is a major milestone in a process that began in June, 2001, when SFPE first considered whether to develop standards.

A number of factors influenced the SFPE board of directors' decision for SFPE to develop engineering standards.The board's decision that SFPE should proceed with standards development was primarily influenced by the positive recognition and visibility that has accompanied SFPE's development of engineering guides.


SFPE began developing engineering guides in 1995. Since then, 11 guides have been published. Each of these guides has advanced the fire protection engineering profession and further solidified SFPE's position as the worldwide leader of the fire protection engineering profession.


However, many aspects of fire protection engineering are governed by codes and standards, and guides are not suitable for reference in most codes and standards due to the permissive language in which guides are written. Standards, on the other hand, would be suitable for reference.


SFPE developed a set of standards development procedures that meet the criteria of the American National Standards Association. Fire exposures for performance-based design of structures were selected as the topic for SFPE's first standard due to increasing interest in the subject and the relative maturity of the underlying science.

Performance-based design of structural fire resistance entails three major steps: (1) determination of the fire exposures to which a structure could be subjected, (2) determination of the thermal response of the structure to the exposing fire, and (3) prediction of the structural response to elevated temperatures. SFPE's first standard covers the first of these steps.


SFPE envisions that the SFPE Engineering Standard on Calculating Fire Exposures to Structures will form part of a suite of codes and standards that govern the performance-based design of structural fire resistance. SFPE is also developing a standard that will define how to conduct an analysis of the thermal response of a building structure to the fire exposure. NFPA is developing a standard (NFPA 557) that will provide the fire loads that are to be used as input data into calculations of fire exposures. The fire load directly affects the duration of the fire exposure.


SFPE's new standard is also consistent with the optional, performance-based option in NFPA 5000. Requirements for the performance-based design of structural fire resistance were added in the 2009 edition of NFPA 5000 (section These requirements broadly define the fire exposures that should be used and the intended performance. The SFPE Engineering Standard on Calculating Fire Exposures to Structures provides details as to how these fire exposures should be calculated.


The missing piece is a standard that identifies how to predict the response of the structure at elevated temperatures. This is a task that generally requires the expertise of structural engineers, and SFPE hopes to work with the American Society of Civil Engineers on developing such a standard.


The publication of SFPE's first engineering standard is just one more step in SFPE's technical excellence goal to establish SFPE as the primary source of fire protection engineering information and advancements. However, more work remains. SFPE will continue to develop engineering guides and standards and seek formal reference in codes and standards where appropriate. For a complete listing of SFPE's technical activities, see www.sfpe.org.

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