Author(s): Birgitte Messerschmidt. Published on April 5, 2022.

Big Plans

NFPA helps shape an ambitious global initiative designed to improve fire safety in the built environment over the next decade


In October, an exciting new plan was announced that could have a major impact on fire safety in the built environment around the world—exactly the kind of ambitious global initiative embraced by NFPA.

The effort is called “Global Plan for a Decade of Action for Fire Safety” and was created by the International Fire Safety Standards Coalition (IFSS), a group of about 80 fire safety organizations worldwide, including NFPA. The goal of the plan is to “stabilize and then reduce the forecast level of fire fatalities, injuries, economic cost, and environmental impact around the world by 2032 as the global population increases.” This can be done through an internationally consistent approach to the safety and management of buildings and infrastructure—no small task, considering the forecasted increases in population and urbanization. The plan outlines 15 objectives and a list of more than 60 action items, presented in five general areas: people, products, structures, infrastructure, and community. It can be implemented at the individual, community, city, national, regional, and global levels, and can be used by any nation regardless of its income.

I participated in the development of this new IFSS initiative, and what is particularly exciting to me is that the plan is aligned with the United Nations’ goals around sustainable development as well as the World Bank’s Building Regulation for Resilience Program. Using the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™ as the starting point, we have created a tool that can support the development of local, regional, and national plans of action while simultaneously providing a framework to allow coordinated activities at the global level.

The plan arrives at a critical moment for global fire safety. The UN estimates that 2.5 billion people will be added to the world’s urban population by 2050, with almost 90 per cent of this growth occurring in Asia and Africa. This intense urbanization will lead to rapid construction of new buildings to keep up with demand, a process that is challenged by different and at times divergent needs. Historically, the focus of new construction has been to ensure that buildings are structurally safe and that they protect occupants from the weather. In recent decades, however, an awareness of the role that buildings play in creating sustainable spaces, including curbing our use of fossil fuels, has caused us to rethink the built environment. Buildings still need to protect us, and the challenges spurred by climate change have led to a focus on building resilience. But now we also want the building to be energy efficient through an increased use of insulation, and we may even want it to produce energy by adding photovoltaic panels to the building envelope. The products we use for construction as well as the construction methods are also changing—think 3D-printed houses.

But an issue often overlooked in these discussions is fire safety. As I’ve pointed out before, fire safety is too often an afterthought, whether it concerns the development of new products, the design of a new building, or the creation of new building regulations or codes. For too long, the fire safety community has played second fiddle to other societal needs. But we can no longer accept this limited vision among governments, codes and standards developers, designers, or installers. Fire safety needs to be incorporated from the start when shaping the built environment of our future.

The “Global Plan for a Decade of Action for Fire Safety” offers a unique opportunity to break down the silos that exist in the fire-safety space and share our expertise in creating tomorrow’s built environment. This won’t happen unless we are willing to push this plan forward, and I’m ready to do it. Read more about it at

Birgitte Messerschmidt is director of the Applied Research Group at NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler