The New New Thing
How research can help integrate the latest technology into NFPA codes and standards
NFPA Journal, May/June 2010
One of the major tasks of NFPA’s technical committees and panels is to integrate new technology into our codes and standards. Sometimes, that technology is in the form of new fire protection products that are emerging in the marketplace; sometimes it’s in the form of technology that is creating a fire safety challenge that must be addressed. There are literally hundreds of active examples of this activity underway in the current standards-development cycles. Two examples from the public fire protection area are the consideration of the hazard that solar panels present to emergency first responders and the consideration of the appropriate performance requirements for firefighters’ gloves.
The Foundation has played an important role in helping NFPA technical committees by developing information to inform their decisions. A vital first step in that process is understanding where and how new technology interfaces with the standards. Where is the frontier? What are the issues? That’s where direct interaction with technical committees and the community can help us.
Here is an example. Last year, in response to a major warehouse fire loss, the Foundation convened a planning group to consider an emerging challenge for fire suppression systems: large warehouses with automatic storage and retrieval equipment that hampered effective internal fire department operations. The group met several times over the last year, and our efforts culminated in a unique “design concept” competition in Orlando in February. Seven leading engineering firms presented state-of-the-art design concepts to address a hypothetical fire in a 65-foot (20-meter) rack-supported warehouse with no internal manual fire extinguishment. The case studies, which can be found on the Foundation’s website, presented innovations such as robotic overhaul, localized CO2 systems, a Red Adair-type elite mobile firefighting squad, the use of the automatic storage and retrieval system to isolate the fire, and an in-rack water mist system. The presentations and the discussion around them will help the NFPA 13 Technical Committees and others address the warehouse of the future.
Here’s another example. The Foundation is carrying out a study to explore how emergency voice communication systems can be appropriately integrated into fire alarm systems. The project will focus on establishing best practices for emergency message content and delivery as a function of emergency type, temporal framework, intended audience, and delivery format. The program will develop tools and templates for message providers, such as incident commanders and facility managers, to assist in planning and composing messages that will maximize effectiveness for the method of delivery.
We are continuing our dialogue with the NFPA community at the NFPA Conference & Expo in June. In addition to several presentations on completed projects, the Foundation will convene three “frontier” research planning sessions. These sessions, on NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code; NPFA 13, Installation of Automatic Sprinklers; and NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), will review the emerging issues facing the technical committees responsible for those documents and discuss research needed to address them. The NEC session will begin to come to grips with the impact of electric vehicles on our built electrical infrastructure. The NFPA 13 session will address the information needed to support the widespread implementation of home fire sprinklers. And the fire alarm code session will look at the way human behavior research can help us make fire alarm systems more effective. I invite you to join us as we cross the codes and standards frontier.
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E. , FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.