Fire & Life Safety Workshop, Shanghai 2014

Tuesday, 16 September 2014 | Shanghai

The Fire & Life Safety Working Group hosted a productive technical workshop at the 2014 Shanghai Conference. Below are some highlights from the meeting.

Ervin Cui, PhD, PE, is the leader of Aon Fire Protection Engineering for China-located projects. In his presentation, “Tall and Supertall Atria for Sustainable Buildings,”Dr. Cui focused on the design of supertall buildings that are accompanied by interior sky gardens interspersed throughout the heights of the buildings.  Increased urban density and verticality make these atria essential alternatives to using valuable ground area as places of relaxation for building occupants.

Dr. Cui noted, however, that many codes are still based on research that utilized significantly idealized atria, and on assumptions about smoke behavior.  Dr. Cui presented a case study examining the impact of tall, narrow atria proportions, which used commonly accepted smoke-layer calculations, very large exhaust rates, and make-up air rates for tall, narrow spaces. Such large air movement rates, however, may not be cost-effective, or may materially affect safety, as illustrated by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) fire simulation comparisons made by Dr. Cui, using exhaust rates that varied by a factor of four.

In his presentation, “Solutions for Fire & Life Safety at Extreme Heights,” Simon Lay, CTBUH Advisory Board member and AECOM’s Director of Fire Engineering, noted that the world currently only has two "megatall" buildings of 600 meters or greater. 

“As towers rise ever higher, and as construction technology considers such schemes, how can we ensure that they are safe?”  Lay asked.

Lay emphasized the need to invoke performance-based design approaches and consider the long term evolving occupancy and conditions for such tall buildings.  Simon pointed to both elevators and firefighting robots as potential solutions and measures for the next generation of tall buildings. Yet, today’s solutions of fire suppression and compartmentalization, which will continue to be used, are not yet providing the level of reliability that is necessary. This inadequacy will be compounded as new horizontally connected and vertically connected mega structures are formed to create “sky cities” in the future. Lay demonstrated that solutions to maintain safety could significantly influence, or even restrict future tall building design and construction, unless innovative solutions are applied and developed.

In the presentation “The Evolution of Building Evacuation Design in China,” James Antell, Executive Vice President of International Projects at RJA Group, reminded the audience that, as a result of the events of 11 September and other natural and man-made disasters, building owners, designers and fire officials have become increasingly aware of the need to consider a wide variety of scenarios when evacuating tall buildings. As building height and density have increased, so too has recognition that events other than fire could require full evacuation of a high-rise building and adjacent buildings. These events include acts of terrorism, natural disasters and loss of building power or heat.

Fang Li, Senior Vice President, China Operations, RJA Group, Antell’s co-presenter, focused on three case studies – the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and Shanghai Tower – to showcase current building evacuation challenges and practices evolving for tall buildings. Fang also discussed the sequencing of building occupant evacuations from areas of refuge by the fire service and the staging of the fire and rescue vehicles and command center locations. These three case studies helped attendees better understand how real-world buildings in China are being built and managed to satisfy fire and safety objectives.

Alfredo Ramirez is UL LLC’s Global Regulatory Services Manager. His presentation, “Balanced Fire Protection in Buildings,” focused on fire protection techniques used to establish a balanced fire protection scheme consisting of passive and active components. A history and overview of installation codes and product standard requirements used in Western construction were addressed.  Additionally, the dependence on product standards and third-party certification was explained. Ramirez detailed key passive fire protection testing requirements of spray-applied fire resistive coatings, fire doors and fire-rated assemblies – walls, floors, etc.

In “Managing the Risk of Fire in Future Tall Building Environments,” Russ Timpson, founder and organizer of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network and CEO of Horizonscan, explored the issues raised by recent tall building fires around the world and summarized potential emerging issues. Timpson noted that, as urban communities become more densely populated and emergency access potentially more problematic, there will be a growing need to address the risks associated with fire, evacuation and post-trauma disruption to residents. The future of elevators and evacuation strategies was an area of interest, given the goals for taller and taller buildings. Timpson questioned the efficacy of the “stay and protect” concept for residential buildings, given that some percentage of occupants are prone to evacuate.  Several emerging technologies--such as thermography, smartphone, and high-pressure water mist--were highlighted as potentially having a bigger fire safety role for tall buildings.

Among the top concerns raised by the audience discussion was the issue of fire safety for social housing environments.  Lay noted that, given the rate of tall buildings for social housing developments in some countries, it is worth questioning whether the proper levels of protection are being provided, as many appear to be being built without automatic sprinkler protection, or lack capabilities for reasonable fire department response, such as traffic and congestion issues. Timpson registered a strong opinion about the rules for residential buildings in the UK, which permit a single fire-rated staircase for evacuation in tall residential buildings, saying simply that he believed “it’s the wrong thing to do.” After the session ended, many positive comments of the presentations were communicated to the Chair and good discussion continued among participants into the break.

Scenes from the day