Imagine a design tool that automatically informs the
designer where panic hardware is needed along an egress path or when a
combination fire/smoke damper is needed in a ductwork penetration. Such a
tool would seem farfetched; however, this future may not be too far
Building Information Modeling – more commonly known as
"BIM" – is the current technology du jour in the building design and
construction community. SFPE recently published a "Position Statement"
that explored the current state of BIM implementation in the fire
protection engineering community and provided direction to the industry
for future needs for further implementation and increased efficacy.
This article summarizes the key points of the position
statement and the status of BIM in the fire protection engineering
community. As both the technology and its use are quickly evolving, it
is important to understand what BIM is, what its current capabilities
are and, maybe most importantly, what the future may bring.
What is BIM?
BIM is essentially an interactive electronic database
that allows the categorization of enormous amounts of information
applicable to particular building components. Individual building
components are assigned attributes in a database, resulting in a
population of data that can be referenced during the design phase until
long after building occupancy.
Most design professionals are familiar with the
three-dimensional (3D) design capabilities of BIM. The benefits of these
capabilities are twofold: an increased ability to demonstrate a visual
building representation to the client during the design process while
offering clash detection capabilities.
While 3D building representations are common as an
artistic conceptual design tool, BIM portrays the actual design in three
dimensions. This is beneficial in providing both the client and design
team actual building design visualization.
An offshoot of this representation affords BIM
unparalleled design phase conflict resolution. Where building utilities
overlay one another in a 2D plan, a 3D model demonstrates the actual
spatial location for increased coordination and clash detection. With 2D
designs, this coordination occurs more often than not during
construction based upon as-built installations, resulting in project
delays and cost increases. With 3D modeling, design teams are able to
identify conflicts in advance of construction.
As beneficial as BIM’s 3D output is, its database
capabilities are even more powerful. The ability to assign component
characteristics allows both designers and building users the ability to
access more facility information from a single source. For instance, if
one were to click on a backflow preventer, one could see its model
number, date of installation, and recent flow test results, amongst
As the common saying goes, "information is king”. As the
accumulation of information increases within the model, the model
becomes a more beneficial resource. It is this information that presents
the greatest potential for both current and future BIM use.
What its Current Capabilities are?
Although BIM is an incredibly powerful tool, there has
been minimal development of fire protection engineering-specific
information relative to larger disciplines. Currently, readily available
information is limited to basic sprinkler and fire alarm system
components whereas the coordination capabilities are practically
limitless. This is being driven by industry demand and the consideration
that fire protection is seen as ancillary to more primary building
systems (i.e. structural, mechanical, electrical).
Take the example of common fire safety drawings. In a
standard representation, life safety drawings indicate such information
as occupant loads, means of egress routing, fire-resistance rated
separations, and measurements associated with means of egress, such as
common path of travel and exit access travel distance. In BIM,
additional pertinent information not normally represented on life safety
drawings can be provided, such as door hardware – builder’s or panic.
This capability is available with current technology, but industry has
yet to embrace it.
What’s in Store for the Future?
The next great frontier of BIM capabilities lies not
only in the population of fire protection-related information, but also
in the integration of performance-based design packages, allowing for
the integration of smoke control analysis software and fire and egress
From a fire protection standpoint, a variety of
information sources are capable of being input. These can include, but
are not limited to, the following:
Sprinkler response time index (RTI), temperature rating, and orifice size
Detector temperature rating
Notification appliance candela ratings and speaker wattage
Fire pump flow and pressure characteristics
Fire door, window and barrier fire-resistance ratings
Additionally, further detailed information is capable of
being collected by associating the components with other documents. In
this manner, complex information - such as maintenance records, fire
pump curves and manufacturer’s operation manuals -can also be
referenced. The benefits to the end user are tremendous as all pertinent
building information is contained within a single model for easy access
and use – hence the name building information modeling.
BIM is capable of identifying where fire, smoke, and
combination fire/smoke dampers are required. Damper installation
requirements are driven not only by the fire-resistance rating of the
penetrated barrier, but also the barrier type. Where fire-resistance
rated barriers are identified in a BIM model, the type of damper
required for the ductwork penetration could be automatically identified.
In a similar manner, life safety models could not only identify where
panic hardware is installed but also when it’s required.
Sprinkler system hydraulic calculations could be
integrated into the base BIM model, so that when piping network
modifications occur, the calculations themselves are automatically
updated; however these capabilities are still being refined. This
refinement is currently ongoing only in fire sprinkler design specific
BIM-compatible software such as AutoSPRINK or sprinkCAD and not the most
common BIM software. Likewise, fire alarm system designs could
automatically perform battery and power calculations, alerting a
designer when system performance capabilities are being strained.
The development of BIM data has an economic impact,
thereby resulting in the slowed development. Similar to the availability
of electronic specifications and details in the past, as the use of BIM
increases and manufacturers begin to provide relevant data, designers
will be gravitate to those with the necessary information. As the
adoption of fire protection engineering within the BIM community
progresses, the possibilities are practically unlimited.
Position Statement P-05-11, "Building Information Modeling and Fire Protection Engineering," Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, MD, 20814.
4th Quarter 2011 - Building Information Modeling for Fire Protection – Steven A. Jones
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is rapidly changing the ways
companies work together to design, build, and operate projects. About
half of the owners, design professionals and construction companies in
North America are involved to some degree with BIM, and that number
could pass three-quarters by 2015. Increasingly, fire protection
engineers and trades are being asked to work in a BIM environment. This
article covers getting started in BIM; the current level of BIM usage
for fire protection; how BIM is used for fire protection; and the future
of BIM in fire protection. READ MORE
Spring 2008 - Use of Fire Test Data in Computer Modeling -- Arthur J. Parker, P.E.
When modeling a fire with a well-characterized fuel source and a known
heat release rate, such as alcohol, the modeling effort is relatively
easy. The modeling effort becomes more difficult when the goal is to
predict the heat release rate for a particular fire scenario in advance
of conducting a test, and the fuel chemistry values are unknown or not
well-characterized. This article describes how these parameters are
measured and developed, and how they are input into fire models to solve
real-world problems. READ MORE
Spring 2008 - Use of Fire Models in the Design of Fire Alarm Systems – NEMA
How models can be used to predict thermal and smoke detector response —
and why smoke detector operation/response is more complicated to
predict. READ MORE
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The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is a professional society for fire protection engineering established in 1950 and incorporated as an independent organization in 1971. It is the professional society representing those practicing the field of fire protection engineering. The Society has over 5,000 members and 100+ chapters, including many student chapters worldwide.