Burj Dubai: Innovations in Crisis Response Planning
NFPA Journal, March/April 2007
By James Antell, P.E., Jon Evenson, and Aaron F. Vanney
Burj Dubai, currently being constructed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is slated for completion in 2009, and it is on its way to becoming the world’s tallest tower. With the design calling for more than 150 floors, having a well-defined Crisis Response Plan and innovative designs that assist in evacuating people from the building are two proactive approaches the building management is taking to create a sound plan to respond to crises.
Burj Dubai is now 347.3 meters (1,139.4 feet) high, and in January the iconic tower, being built by Emaar Properties, joined the league of only six super-tall buildings in the world that are 100 or more stories high. Sears Tower in Chicago (110 floors), Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea (105), Empire State Building in New York (102), Taipei 101 (101), and John Hancock Center in Chicago (100) are the only other structures in the world that are currently at 100 stories or more.
In addition, Burj Dubai is one of only 38 structures in the world that are 300 meters or more high. It is now higher than three other super-tall structures in the region—the Burj Al Arab (321 meters/1,053 feet), Emirates Towers Hotel (309 meters/1,013 feet), and Kingdom Centre, Saudi Arabia (302 meters/990 feet). Currently, only Emirates Office Tower (355 meters/1,164 feet) is taller than Burj Dubai in the Middle East region.
Designed by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Burj Dubai is constructed by high-rise experts South Korea’s Samsung Corporation. Turner Construction International is the project and construction manager. The RJA Group is providing fire and security guidance.
To date, 242,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete and 46,000 tons of reinforcing steel have been used in the construction of Burj Dubai. The reinforced concrete needed to build Burj Dubai is estimated to be equivalent to a sidewalk 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) long.
The construction of 100 levels was completed in 1,093 days since excavation work started in January, 2004. Work is on schedule with one new level added every three days. More than 3,000 workers are currently employed at the Burj Dubai site. Ten cranes and the world’s fastest high-capacity construction hoists—with a speed of up to 2 meters/second (120 meters/minute)—are used to move men and material.
When completed, Burj Dubai will be the tallest building in the world, fulfilling all the criteria of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), which compiles and ranks the world’s tallest buildings. CTBUH ranks buildings based on spire height, the highest occupied floor, roof height, and pinnacle height.
Responding to a crisis in a super-tall structure such as the Burj Dubai can be a daunting challenge for building management. Crisis response plans address crises that could affect the building and/or endanger the safety of building occupants. These crises could range from a minor medical emergency affecting a minimal number of occupants to a random electrical system failure that could affect the entire building. Now add to this equation a structure that includes various occupancies, occupants who speak in many different languages, over 150 occupiable floors, and the world’s largest mall adjacent to the site. For a crisis response plan to be effective for this type of building, several innovations are needed to successfully manage crises.
The Crisis Response Plan for Burj Dubai was developed using the guidelines identified in NFPA 1600, Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs and NFPA 1620, Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning.
These guidelines provided the basic framework for the plan, while the consultants filled in the remainder of the plan through their knowledge and understanding of the process, procedures, and potential threats and crisis events that could adversely affect the building occupants and operations.
Crises can arise from numerous factors including man-made, weather-related, building system failure, and terrorist acts; but when the building has over 150 occupied floors, the severity of the crisis is greatly amplified. Thus the proper response efforts and management structure need to be defined in a manner in which crisis situations are managed effectively to reduce the probability of the crisis becoming a large-scale event. The Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan is being developed with a focus on building life safety features, a well-defined crisis response management team structure, interactive crisis procedural responses, and mutual aid support.
Building safety features
The building incorporates life safety features that are beyond the code-required minimum to assist the building staff in implementing the appropriate crisis response.
When an event is reported in a high-rise structure, it is critical to notify occupants who may be vulnerable. The base strategy for Burj Dubai is to automatically notify occupants in the fire compartment of alarm and adjacent compartments through the emergency voice/alarm communication system. Burj Dubai also features a “Home Automation System” consisting of LCD panels capable of displaying detailed emergency information to selectable groups of building occupants. These displays are located in key locations, ranging from individual dwelling units to areas of refuge.
Like many high-rise structures, the tower utilizes a defend-in-place strategy for localized events as recommended in the NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® and NFPA 5000TM , Building Construction and Safety CodeTM . Occupants remote from the fire are directed to maintain their position, and occupants in proximity to the fire are directed to proceed down the stair enclosures to the nearest area of refuge and await further instruction from trained staff or the “Home Automation System” displays. The areas of refuge are separated from the remainder of the building by 2-hour fire resistance rated construction and are pressurized to minimize the migration of smoke into the compartment.
While the tower design is based on a defend-in-place strategy, it is a possibility that an escalated event may require a full building evacuation. To assist in evacuating occupants, designated elevators feature a “lifeboat evacuation” mode, allowing fire brigade personnel or trained staff to transport occupants from upper portions of the tower to designated discharge levels. The designated elevators include full operating capability on primary and emergency power, water resistant equipment, means for visual inspection of elevator shaft construction before elevator-assisted evacuation, and raised elevator door thresholds at each floor opening to minimize the flow of sprinkler water into the shafts.
To develop a Crisis Response Management Team, it was important to identify aspects that could affect how the Crisis Response Team will respond to crises in the building. These aspects include identifying Crisis Levels, Crisis Response Teams, and Crisis Management Structures. Without understanding and defining these three aspects, the Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan could not effectively plan for managing crises.
Before determining the Crisis Response Management Team Structure, the type and severity of Crisis Situations has to be identified. For each of the crises, the crisis has been broken into four levels. Each Crisis Level provides criteria for the Crisis Response Team to use to activate the appropriate crisis response efforts.
This approach allows the Crisis Response Team and building staff to scale the response efforts to the severity of the crisis. By using a scalable approach, the building management can provide the necessary amount of response resources without adversely affecting the overall building operations.
The Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan has developed a Crisis Response Team that is made up of two separate teams that will work together during crises in the building. The Crisis Command Team is the Facilities Management Team that will manage the response efforts of building staff during a crisis.
To manage crises at Burj Dubai, the Crisis Command Team’s structure shall include six key management team members from the building management department. In addition to the six key team members, an additional three key team members are identified to assist in large-scale crises by managing mutual aid support, crisis response documents, and the management of media information.
The Crisis Command Team will be assisted by Building Zone Response Teams that have been identified for the various zones in the building. The Zone Response Teams will provide localized response efforts in the building zones and improve the effectiveness of response efforts by reducing the time needed to respond to a crisis.
Zone Response Teams will be managed by the Crisis Triage Officer with localized management of the Zone Response Team being provided by a Zone Lead position. The Zone Lead position will be assisted by building staff that includes security, concierge, building maintenance staff, and occupants of the building.
Crises at Burj Dubai can range from a hotel guest having a heart attack up to a fire breaking out in the building [AFV1] (resulting in a full building evacuation). To manage the various levels of crises, Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan has identified two management structures to manage crises. Crises that have been identified as Crisis Level 1 or 2 shall be managed by the Crisis Triage Officer, while Crisis Level 3 and 4 situations shall be managed by the Crisis Commander with the assistance of the Crisis Command Team.
During the early stages of a crisis, the Crisis Triage Officer position will be activated and assume command of the crisis response. The Crisis Triage Officer will work with the Building Engineering Officer and the Building Operations Officer. These two positions have been identified because these positions will be responsible for the overall management of the building staff and operations.
In the event the severity of the crisis is escalated to a Crisis Level 3 or 4, the Crisis Commander position will be activated and shall assume control of the crisis response efforts of the Crisis Response Team. During Crisis Levels 3 and 4, the Crisis Triage Officer moves from managing the crisis response to assisting the Crisis Commander by disseminating information from the Crisis Commander and Crisis Command Team to the affected Zone Response Teams.
Zone Response Teams will be activated if they are directly affected by the crisis. By activating only those building zones affected by the crisis, the Crisis Response Plan can isolate the affected area, while allowing the remainder of the building operations to continue as normal.
The Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan success hinges on the ability of the Crisis Response Teams to comprehend their roles and responsibilities during a crisis and be able to implement the Crisis Procedural Responses for the crisis.
The Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan has developed Crisis Procedural Responses for the various types of crises that could occur. These Crisis Procedural Responses have been separated into four categories, including Building System Failure Crises, Human-Related Crises, Terrorism-Related Crises, and Weather-Related Crises.
The Crisis Procedural Responses are being developed for more than 40 different crises, but the format and tasks are being developed in a similar manner to allow the Crisis Command Team and Zone Response Team members a mechanism that will allow them to learn and implement the Crisis Procedural Responses when a crisis occurs.
The Crisis Procedural Responses provide the Crisis Command Team and Zone Response Teams with the general framework for responding to crises. The Crisis Procedural Responses include components to assist the Crisis Response Team respond to crises that include:
In the event of a large-scale crisis, Crisis Procedural Responses also identify outside support that will be called upon to assist in the building’s response efforts. Mutual aid support is critical to success in responding to large-scale crises and is incorporated into The Burj Dubai Crisis Response Plan.
Mutual Aid Support
Mutual aid support provides the building management with additional resources they may call upon to assist a crisis affecting the building structure or operations. Mutual aid agreements can provide the building management and Crisis Response Team with the ability to outsource some of the crisis response efforts to additional resources allowing the Crisis Response Team to concentrate on assisting occupants affected by the crisis.
Mutual aid support includes providing manpower to assist in response efforts, transportation to move occupants off-site, perishable materials including food and water for occupants evacuated from the building, etc. The nature and amount of mutual aid support that is needed will depend on the nature and severity of the crisis.
Jim Antell, P.E. is the Senior Vice President responsible for Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc.’s International Business. He has more than 25 years of experience acting as an advisor to design teams and building owners on compliance with local and international fire safety codes and standards. He is a member of NFPA and American Institute of Architects (AIA). Jon Evenson is a safety and security consultant with Sako Associates who specializes in emergency response plans. Aaron F. Vanney is an associate for RJA. He is based in their Chicago office.