Bradford, England 1985: Fans seek the safety of the field as the bleachers burn at the Valley Parade soccer stadium. The blaze killed 56 people. (Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)
An NFPA 101 Technical Committee is devising operational procedures and guidelines to help large assembly spaces manage the human side of fires and other emergencies
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2011
By Ed Roether, Jeffrey Tubbs, and Jarrod Alston
Designing for life safety in large assembly occupancies such as stadiums and amphitheaters poses unique challenges. Complying with the fire resistance, fire suppression, emergency notification, means of egress, and other requirements contained in the applicable codes and standards is an integral part of the design process to provide the appropriate level of safety. Additional measures and some special provisions are also necessary with regard to the operating features associated with such occupancies. These spaces need to address additional potential hazards posed by large crowds, greater crowd densities, and, in many, cases a wide range of uses. Some facilities need to address the possibility of unruly crowds.
Top: Fans being pulled to safety to escape a crowd crush at Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield, England, in 1989. Ninety-six people were killed and hundreds injured. Bottom: The scene at Candlestick Park in San Francisco before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, moments after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck, causing widespread damage throughout the region. (Photos: Top, AP/Wide World; below, Bettmann/CORBIS)
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Sight + Sound
Alternate methods for voice and visual communication permitted by NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 in assembly spaces.
Solutions for these challenges must rely upon a carefully coordinated fire and life safety plan, as well as up-to-date facility management and emergency plans for safety during events. NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, includes provisions to address facility management, including specific requirements for crowd managers, life safety evaluations, and emergency plans. Similar requirements are included in NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®.
A number of past events underscore the need for comprehensive and coordinated fire protection and life safety systems and emergency plans to guide venue management in the event of fire or other emergency. In 1985, a fire during a soccer match at the Valley Parade outdoor stadium in Bradford, England, killed 56 people; the fire was believed to have been caused by a cigarette or match that was discarded into a large amount of trash under the wooden seating of the stadium. The crowd did not react quickly to this devastating fire, which contributed to the loss of life. In 1989, 96 people were killed and hundreds injured in a crowd crush at a soccer match held at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. That same year, the 6.9-magnitude LomaPrieta earthquake struck just minutes before the start of Game 3 of the World Series at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, with an estimated 30,000 people in the stands. No one died at Candlestick, but the quake killed 63 throughout the region and injured nearly 4,000. More recently, in May of this year, a fire during a baseball game required the evacuation of a portion of the upper deck of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The fire was in a confined storage area and was quickly contained by the Los Angeles Fire Department. The stadium announcer informed the crowd that the stadium did not need to be evacuated. No deaths or injuries were reported.
While guidelines for life safety evaluations in NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 include facilities management aspects, as well as safety features and systems necessary for the building, evaluations tend to focus more on the physical features of the facilities rather than management guidelines. To help venue operators in the area of management guidelines, the Life Safety Code Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancy and Membrane Structures has formed a task group to consider operational requirements for venue operators to achieve life safety goals. The task group is considering operational requirements that should be included for venue operators to follow, similar to requirements for the venue’s construction and system features.
The group, which includes representatives from the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), an organization for facility managers, will consider a range of questions. Fore example, does the facility management have adequate experience managing the specific type of facility? Is there clear contractual language between those having a role in the events the facility will host? Does the operations manual adequately address appropriate actions for a complete range of uses and emergencies? Does the facility management policies and procedures manual appropriately account for the characteristics of the specific events being held at the facility and its attendees?
Based on initial discussions, the ultimate goal for the task group will be to help facility owners, managers, and operators develop operational procedures and management guidelines to address the range of allowable uses and possible emergencies. The group will have to decide early in the process whether the operational guidelines are to be proposed as new code language to the 2015 edition of the Life Safety Code, as a separate guideline document, or as a combination of the two.
Life Safety Evaluations
The purpose of the Life Safety Code is to provide the minimum requirements for the design, operation, and maintenance of buildings and structures for safety to life from fire and to aid in life safety for other types of emergencies. Life safety evaluations, which are unique to assembly occupancies, require an assessment of fires as well as other emergencies, such as severe weather, earthquakes, civil disturbances, and hazardous materials incidents in and near the facility. Each scenario may necessitate a different action: shelter in place, relocate, or evacuate. Additional safety measures, including safety systems, physical features, operational procedures, and emergency responses, may be needed as a result of the evaluation.
Although applicable codes and standards include provisions for certain aspects of those conditions, such as seismic loading, wind loading, and lightning protection, simply meeting these provisions may not be sufficient to adequately address safety to life unless supplemented by a life safety evaluation. Life safety in large assembly spaces ultimately depends on a combination of the safety systems and features provided, and how occupants, facility management, and first responders react during an emergency. Building features and safety systems have to be coordinated and need to facilitate the necessary emergency response. NFPA 101 requires a life safety evaluation to address this need in large assembly spaces. These assessments are required for spaces using smoke-protected assembly seating (Sections 12.4.2 and 13.4.2 of the code); buildings with occupant loads exceeding 6,000 (Sections 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168 of the code); and spaces with festival seating of more than 250 persons (Sections 22.214.171.124.1 and 126.96.36.199.1 of the code).
The life safety evaluation, wich must be updated and approved annually, consists of an assessment of the physical conditions and the facility management policies and procedures in place to respond to emergencies, as well as the relationships between “facility management, event participants, emergency response agencies, and others having a role in the events accommodated in the facility,” according to the code. Assessments typically include considerably more supporting documentation about the facility design than is required for the less tangible aspects of facility management.
Components of the life safety evaluation must be translated into emergency plans. Section 4.8 of the Life Safety Code lists requirements for these plans, including procedures for reporting of emergencies; occupant and staff response to emergencies; evacuation procedures appropriate to the building, its occupancy, and emergencies; appropriateness of the use of elevators; designing and conducting fire drills; type and coverage of fire protection systems; and other items required by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).
The design team works with the authorities having jurisdiction to develop safety features for the building. However, the design professional has a limited role after the facility has been issued a Certificate of Occupancy. Other professionals, such as fire department personnel and facility management staff, will continue to make safety decisions and judgments over the life of the facility. Thus, it is important that the facility management team and approving authorities understand the limitations of the facility. This was illustrated last February, when the AHJ in Arlington, Texas, refused to approve the installation of 1,250 temporary seats in Cowboys Stadium before Super Bowl XLV, citing a lack of guardrails and handrails, incomplete exit ramps, and structural concerns with the stands. This kind of facility knowledge should guide the development of appropriate management and emergency responses as the plan evolves.
The facility management staff typically has the primary responsibility for updating the life safety evaluation over time and developing the emergency plan. (Part of that plan includes providing a minimum number of crowd managers for a particular venue and types of events, the requirements for which are included in the Life Safety Code. Until recently, there was little guidance on how to manage crowds, but the IAVM now offers online training. Various state fire marshals’ offices, such as those in Maryland and Rhode Island, also offer training for crowd managers.) Concepts and results from the life safety evaluation, such as the emergency events considered, the uses contemplated for the facility, areas where significant crowding is expected, and methods for initiating evacuation,should guide the development of the emergency plan.
Unfortunately, the facility management team may not become involved in the creation of a facility until after the design has been completed, and may thus have little communication with the design professional. The management team may be unaware of the reasons for some specific fire protection and life safety features and physical conditions. In these instances, the management team may need to work with the fire department to understand the conditions, uses, and limitations of the facility.
Relationships among facility management, event participants, emergency response agencies, and others who have a role in the events held in the facility need to be maintained, and their responsibilities must be clearly understood so that there is no confusion during an emergency. Good communication, strong relationships, and mutual respect among all parties enhance the building’s life safety plan and features.
Committee Task Group
The newly formed Assembly Occupancies and Membrane Structures Committee’s Operational Requirements Task Group has been asked to provide recommendations to the assembly committee regarding standards for the management of facilities with large assembly spaces. If an existing facility does not meet the specific requirements of current codes and standards, for example, what policies or procedures could facility management incorporate to compensate for those physical limitations? As another example, consider a severe weather event: should there be a relationship between the proximity of a storm cell and the initiation of action by facility management?
The task group may determine that some aspects of facility management would be better addressed in a guide developed and managed by the IAVM and referenced by annex text in the Life Safety Code, while other aspects should to be included in the code itself. Ultimately, the task group will begin to delineate the relationship between the physical conditions of a facility and the management of that facility, thereby improving communication among all the parties that bear responsibility for the events held in a large assembly space.
Ed Roether formed Ed Roether Consulting, LLC, to offer consulting services related to the standards applied to the built environment. He has more than 30 years’ experience, having worked the last 20 years at Populous, previously known as HOK Sport, Venue, Event. He has been a member of the Life Safety Code Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies and Membrane Structures for more than 15 years.
Jeffrey Tubbs, PE, FSFPE, is an associate principal with Arup, where he leads the Boston Consulting Practice. He has more than 18 years’ experience as a fire protection engineer and has worked on three continents. He chairs the Life Safety Code Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies and Membrane Structures and is the lead author of the text Egress Design Solutions, which is published by John Wiley & Sons.
Jarrod Alston, PE, is an associate with Arup. He has extensive experience with fire modeling, people movement, and performance-based design of structures and infrastructure.
Sight + Sound
Alternate methods for voice and visual communication permitted by NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 in assembly spaces
Both codes permit the use of public address systems as an alternative to a voice alarm notification system that complies with NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®. A typical NFPA 72-compliant system is often ineffective in large open areas, whereas the facility’s public address system can provide effective communication. The Life Safety Code recognizes this and includes provisions addressing performance and reliability of the public address system. The specific message broadcast over the voice communication system should be developed in coordination with the fire department, and it should address a range of possible emergencies.
Scoreboards, message boards, and other electronic means are allowed as an alternate to visible alarm notification. Practically speaking, there are more challenges for providing emergency messages in text format than in audible format. Those challenges range from device placement to facility management challenges, such as how messaging is to be handled when the emergency voice/alarm communication is a “live” announcement. Other challenges include how to present the text. Should information be presented in multiple lines or in a streaming single line? How long should the messagebe, and how long should it appear? The devices need to be used in a manner that promotes rather than interferes with egress. The Fire Protection Research Foundation currently has a project underway to review these issues.