Author(s): Kathleen Almand. Published on December 29, 2014.

Research IN THE AFTERMATH OF DISASTERS such as Hurricane Sandy and Colorado’s Black Forest Fire—events that had major impacts on the built environment—the building and emergency response community is exploring the concept of resiliency: building for, planning for, and responding to such events to reduce their impact.

The Infrastructure Security Partnership, a group that looks at ways to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, expands on that definition, describing disaster resilience as the capability to “prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, or mitigate any anticipated or unexpected significant threat or event, including terrorist attacks, and to adapt to changing conditions and rapidly recover and reconstitute critical assets, operations, and services with minimum damage and disruption to public health and safety, the economy, environment, and national security.” The five concepts embedded in that definition—prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery—resonate with NFPA’s mission and our codes and standards activities in support of that mission.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently completed a study to look at how the concepts of resiliency might apply in our world. The study began with the 34 NFPA documents with the word “code” in the title, all of which contain provisions (usually stated as minimum requirements) designed to reduce risk. While many of those documents focus on fire and explosion risk, documents such as NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, and NFPA 909, Protection of Cultural Resource Properties—Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, contain provisions that address other types of external emergencies.

NFPA documents excel at providing the structure for the prevention, protection, and mitigation aspects of resiliency through the provision of engineered features designed specifically to lessen the impact of an event, usually related to fire. But NFPA codes and standards also address response and recovery aspects of resiliency, some through their administrative provisions that describe how the codes are to be implemented. There is a suite of NFPA standards, beginning with NFPA 1600, Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs, and including many of our public fire protection documents, that is oriented around response. As the emergency response community has expanded its activities to include an all-hazard preparedness and response scope, NFPA documents have evolved in a similar fashion.

The Foundation’s study identified two areas where more consideration could be given to the idea of resiliency in our codes and standards. One asks whether there is a means for NFPA to provide guidance during phases of a building’s life beyond construction, such as during the design phase or during upgrades of existing buildings. The other looks at document scope: considering that the primary focus of many of our documents is fire and electrical safety, how could more of our codes and standards be made suitable for use in other types of emergencies, or as protection against a broader array of hazards?

The Foundation will continue its work in support of NFPA codes and standards this year to try to address these gaps and provide tools to NFPA technical committees as they develop resources for the community to enhance our collective resiliency.

KATHLEEN H. ALMAND, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president, Research, at NFPA, and executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.