The Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) salutes ENR for the "False Alarms" cover story (ENR 6/7 p. 46). ENR presented multiple sides of the fire protection story throughout the country.
FCIA believes there may not be a need to design buildings to stand up to 9/11-type attacks. But buildings should be designed to the triad of fire protection: effective compartmentation, alarms and detection, and suppression systems. No single part of the system is the answer to all fire and life safety concerns.
Firestopping typically is about 0.5% of total building cost, and can be less than 50 per sq ft in new construction, even in the most complicated environments.
Current post-fire incident reporting does not track the effectiveness of compartmentation, only detection and extinguishing systems. Therefore, statistics on the performance of fire-protection features in buildings may yield misleading conclusions. Compartmentation may be doing more than we think in buildings.
Thanks again for providing provocative articles that do help improve our construction industry through discussion thats allowed in our free society.
Having read Nadine Posts article, I am struck by the lack of concern of the most critical factor, the ability to evacuate the building quickly and safely. Maybe more disturbing is our inability to learn and adapt from these tragedies. Following the 9/11 attack, Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur came under threat of a bomb. The chaos and slowness of the forced evacuation resulted in officials formulating and testing a plan that allows for the structure to be emptied in 20 minutes.
No code can protect all occupants from the kinds of attacks we have seen and may likely endure in the future. It seems there are more strides to be made, and lives saved, in ensuring buildings are built to allow people to fulfill a most basic instinctto flee.
The ENR issue, with a courageous article by Nadine Post and a pointed editorial (p. 66), broached a subject we all have been apprehensive to acknowledge. While we do need to question procedures and codes, we should not lose sight of the American spirit. As much as it pains us, we will not be able to protect ourselves and our children from every calamity. But we should not go through life looking over our shoulders. Weve got to stand tall.
Seven World Trade Center burned for almost seven hours unattended before it succumbed. Evidence to date indicates it was being constantly provided with fuel during the entire period prior to collapse. So how does one design for burnout, as Gene Corley suggests, for that totally implausible scenario? (ENR 6/7 p. 50).
I think it really is time that "the construction industry, developers and financiers" raise their heads and respond to these continual charges of avarice and greed. It is time to remind the public at large, and the go-along politicians, that the cost of a building is ultimately paid for by the end-user.
I cannot and do not defend sloppy workmanship, or cost-cutting at the risk of safety. No responsible member of the construction community does.
It is clear that 9/11 has forever changed the way we approach new buildings. Much analysis, research and soul searching is being done to develop changes to the codes in steel design, concrete design, fireproofing, etc., which can improve public safety under realistic load scenarios, not missiles or airplanes.
Reasonable code revisions can make our high-rises safer without making it economically impossible to build. The effort should be undertaken.
As a structural engineer, I was personally offended by some of the statements made by certain groups in the flurry of post-9/11 finger-pointing and blame-mongering. It hurt me to think that people believed design professionals knowingly cut corners and put tenants and firefighters at risk. But it is not in our best interest to pass off the concerns of organizations like the Skyscraper Safety Campaign as irrational or irrelevant. When we make statements that marginalize the statements of the 9/11 families, our profession and our industry look bad to the public we serve. We should be educating these people.
We can do a better job of designing buildings for quicker evacuation and creating safe zones for tenants in the event of disasters. We can also make our buildings safer for firefighters to operate in. As a volunteer firefighter, I know it is nearly impossible to put out large, open-area fires in high-rises. Sprinkler and standpipe systems are absent, out of service or installed improperly throughout the U.S.
My compliments to ENR and Nadine Post for saying what has long needed to be said. Every tragedy spawns its share of individuals who use it to support a particular agenda. That usually ends up muddying the earnest efforts of the true professionals. Trying to build a terrorist-proof high-rise is unrealistic and misleads the public.
I look forward to the $16-million WTC report. The data gleaned from why skyscrapers collapse after being sucker-punched by 747s loaded with innocent people and jet fuel will be most useful in future code-writing endeavors.
With the help of some sharp lawyers and good code modifications we can surely prevent additional insanity.
After we learn how to build better buildings, maybe NIST can turn some of those same cognitive skills on that quoted high failure rate of sprinklers. The public deserves to know why sprinklers dont operate when they are not installed in areas of fire.
People expect buildings to protect them regardless. I believe the public should have a say in the "safe enough" question, but they also must be willing to pay the price for the resulting construction. Thats when it gets fuzzy.
Our consensus processes bring us building codes that define, for a moment in time, "safe enough." As a participant, I find the process interesting and also very frustrating. Some people are very reluctant to change what has been established, others want change immediately. What we ultimately agree on is a legitimate adjustment in the definition of "safe enough," even though in many cases it is "too safe" for me.
Thanks for putting the events of Sept. 11, 2001, into a more rational and objective perspective. Those of us in the structural design profession have been waiting for knowledgeable voices, other than just Jon Magnussons, to emerge from the wilderness. Unlike other vested material interests, the structural steel sector is apparently taking the "high road" and has refused to be dragged into the emotional, uninformed and self-promoting discussions about building codes and the role of structural fire resistance in occupant safety. So it is gratifying to see the practicing fire protection and structural design professionals finally entering the debate.
The ongoing sympathy for the WTC survivors sometimes gets confused with politics and rhetoric. Here are people who are understandably looking for some solace for profound loss by getting involved in campaigns for various reforms. Their involvement and commitment is commendable, but the expertise of a professional is lacking. Sincerity and frustration are no substitute for knowledge and experience. It never hurts to re-evaluate building codes every so often, but lets leave it to the experts.
I commend Nadine Post for her attempt to put the situation in a less-emotional perspective. I think we all learned the hard lesson of underestimating the potential of our enemies to concoct a previously unimaginable plot to destroy large buildings full of innocent people.
Provocative Yet Balanced
July 19, 2004