4C — November 23 - December 13, 2018 — Owners, Developers & Managers — M id A tlantic

Real Estate Journal


O wners , D evelopers & M anagers

By Daniel Colombini, Goldman Copeland Innovation in Building Fire Protection


uilding codes typically offer the best of both worlds when it comes

“equivalent” design solutions is known as performance-based design, and that concept has come a long way since Hammu- rabi’s Code stated in 1754 BC that “a house should not collapse and kill anybody.” The modern version originated in 1965 in France. In its purest form, it achieves the desired end without explicit dictation of the means. The National Fire Protection Association’s standard describes equivalency as follows: “Noth- ing in this standard is intended to prevent the use of systems, methods, or devices of equivalent or superior quality…over those prescribed by this standard. Technical documentation shall

be submitted to the authority having jurisdiction to demon- strate equivalency.” It’s that last sentence that can dissuade property owners. Equivalent designs must be pre- sented to the local government agency that oversees buildings, and that process may seem daunting. But as a fire protection engineer who has successfully proposed equivalent designs in New Jersey and beyond, I can at- test to the fact that the resulting innovations can be well worth the effort. Those innovations can relate to “passive” fire protection sys- tems and to “active” ones. Pas- sive protection systems relate to

how the building is constructed and confine the fire to a limited area, also protecting a safe path for evacuation. Active systems provide responses to a fire, alert- ing occupants and controlling its spread. They include fire detection, alarm, and sprinkler systems, as well as communica- tion and hose systems for use by firefighting personnel to extin- guish the fire. Those systems can be designed to ensure safe evacuation of all occupants as well as mission continuity for critical operations such as hospitals and data cen- ters. They focus on the dangers of smoke, which causes many fatalities, as well as fire. The

complexity of different settings and of fire events themselves underscores the value of innova- tive solutions. Such solutions are appropri- ate where traditional codes do not address unique conditions. Historic buildings, for example, present specific fire safety chal- lenges that can be addressed through performance-based design. I recently used that method when tasked with installing sprinklers in an historic office building lobby. I evaluated an alternate sprinkler installation, using a sophisticated fire model custom-developed to analyze sprinkler response time in the alternate configuration. The design was presented to the New York City Department of Buildings and approved, avoid- ing destruction of the intricately detailed plaster ceiling and the cost of that demolition. Performance-based design may seem in concept unstruc- tured, but it is used often enough that a framework for implemen- tation has been developed. Fire protection goals are initially defined, almost always includ- ing protecting life safety and property. They may also include mission continuity as well as ad- dressing specific circumstances such as preserving historic fea- tures. Once the fundamental goals are established, more specific criteria are developed to address additional stakeholder priorities. With those goals and criteria in hand, the design process be- gins. Detailed drawings are de- veloped; modeling and computer simulation may be involved. The process provides design flexibil- ity and enables innovation in methods and materials. The designs are then pre- sented to project stakeholders for evaluation. They are refined further to reflect stakeholder comments before being approved for implementation. Ideally, this process starts in the con- ceptual phase of the project. It can, however, be implemented at any point. Increasingly, property own- ers should see equivalency not as a daunting challenge but as an available opportunity. It’s an opportunity that can be used to build innovative fire protec- tion designs that can enhance properties in ways that standard practice cannot. Daniel Colombini is a prin- cipal at NYC-based consult- ing engineering firm Gold- man Copeland. 

to fire protec- tion: they are prescriptive, requiring spe- cific materials and methods; and, they al- low for “equiv- alent” design solutions, en-

Daniel Colombini

abling creative approaches to be proposed. Yet building owners often overlook the latter option, even though it enables innova- tive solutions that can be supe- rior to standard practice. The methodology for providing

Goldman Copeland celebrates 50 years of engineering excellence transforming many of the Greater New York tri-state area’s most iconic buildings.

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