Archive for March, 2009
2009-03-31: ‘Sustainable’ … ‘Sustainability’ … ‘Sustainable Development’ … what’s all this about ? … and where to begin ?
Words much abused … not only in English … but definitely in French !
Words much confused … for example, in the USA … where ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Green’ can be interchanged in the same conversation without apparent rhyme or reason. Is there a difference between the two ? Some people don’t want to admit that there is … those working in the Green Building Council … or those peddling the LEED Environmental Building Rating System around the more economically advanced developing countries in the world. In India … you can find a ‘LEED’ Building, minimally adapted to local conditions and having used many imported products and systems in its construction (from you-know-where !) … sitting prettily in the neighbourhood of a slum.
In Ireland … remember the good old days, 12-18 months ago … when Economists could afford (?!?) to talk about ‘Sustainable Economic Development’ … did they really mean economic development which is compatible with sustainable development ? No, they didn’t !
Is there any level of awareness amongst our Politicians ? In the National Development Plan (2007-2013), Mr. Brian Cowan T.D., then Minister for Finance, wrote in a January 2007 Foreword to the Plan …
” This National Development Plan is about the future of those young people, their parents, and their grandparents. It establishes a blueprint for the economic and social development of this island for future generations.
In this Plan, we have a unique window of opportunity to get it right: in terms of spatial planning, support infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic growth.”
… an unusual limitation on the use and context for the word ‘sustainability’ … which should now also be exhibited in the National Gallery of Art !?!
Some Organizations openly state that they are dealing with … or they will only be dealing with … environmental aspects of sustainable development. That is a silly waste of time … and counterproductive !
Properly Defining Sustainable Development
Let us quickly re-wind back to the end of the 20th Century …
… not as far back as the Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which met in Sweden, from 5-16th June 1972 … which, for us, was a very interesting exercise …
… but to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which was chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway). Mansour Khalid (Sudan) was Vice-Chair of the Commission.
The definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ appears at the beginning of Chapter 2 …
” Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
- the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given ; and
- the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
Many readers may only be familiar with the first sentence above but, in isolation, that leaves the definition of ‘sustainable development’ so vague that it is almost meaningless. And let us be clear in our own minds … an ambiguous definition will continue to be rejected by the Developing and Least Developed Regions of the World … the concept being viewed as an unaffordable luxury and/or a means of continued domination and control by the ‘North’.
Other readers may be surprised by the second, and more important, half of the WCED/Brundtland Definition. It is clear, however, that it was always intended that there would be more than 3 Aspects of Sustainable Development … Environmental, Social and Economic … to be identified and examined. How, on this Earth, was it possible for anybody to ever bring into existence that clumsy 3-Circle Diagram ???
The 1987 WCED/Brundtland Report continues a little further on …
” The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations is the major objective of development. The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries – for food, clothing, shelter, jobs – are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life. A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. Sustainable Development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.”
Sustainable Development is the greatest challenge ahead of us in this 21st Century. It remains very much an intricate, open, dynamic and evolving concept …
… and a clear choice must be made: decide to pursue the detailed elaboration of this concept … either with the aim of practical implementation … or of intellectual masturbation.
We made that choice many years ago … back in the mid-1990’s.
Practical Implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development
In order to make any ‘real’ progress … how can we establish, agree upon and achieve a wide international consensus on what the ‘basic needs of all’ are … and with some precision ?
Is there an internationally recognized document, already long in existence, where these ‘basic needs’ are not only specified for all people, but are protected and guaranteed ?
Yes, indeed there is … the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR) … and these needs, therefore, can also be described as being ‘responsible’.
Reading through the 1948 UDHR, it might be helpful if a distinction is made between human rights and social rights …
Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education (Art.26(1), UDHR), but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a Nation State.
Commentary: In contrast to Human Rights, it is not protection from the State which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the State’s help.
Social Rights, as distinguished here, include and extend beyond current understandings of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
This is why, almost a generation after the 1987 WCED/Brundtland Definition of Sustainable Development …
… Sustainable Design International, has defined Sustainable Human & Social Development as follows …
Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … and their children.
* As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).
Furthermore … for a sizeable group of people in all of our societies, the sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights … is the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008 … just short of 60 Years after the UDHR was adopted on 10th December 1948 !
A 3rd International Instrument to be placed at the top of this Framework of Basic & Responsible Needs, i.e. Rights … is the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) … adopted in Paris, on 2nd November 2001 … and which came into being shortly after the World Trade Center (9-11) Incident in New York, on 11th September 2001.
The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity raises cultural diversity to the level of the common heritage of humanity … as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature … and makes its defence an ethical imperative which is robustly linked to, and cannot be separated from, respect for the dignity of each individual person.
Paris, at the end of 2001, presented the world with a valuable opportunity …
- to reaffirm the unshakable conviction that intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of peace ; and
- to reject outright the theory of the inevitable clash of cultures and civilizations.
So … once it is possible to construct an initial, robust framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments … specifying the ‘basic needs of all’ … which underpins and cuts down to the core of a far more elaborate and hard-edged, 2nd Generation Definition of Sustainable Human & Social Development …
… we can roll out the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda … and begin the serious task of transforming our Human Environment (see a previous post) by gradually improving and monitoring ‘real’ Sustainability Performance … using …
- Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) … see a previous post ;
- Performance Indicators ;
- Target Setting ;
- Benchmarking ;
- Performance Evaluation & Independent Verification ;
2009-03-24: Permit me, first of all, to vigorously reclaim the word ‘accessibility’ back from the Transport Sector. This important conference in Barcelona was not about transport networks or distances from the nearest transportation node … but about Accessibility of the Human Environment for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), i.e. Accessibility-for-All.
A 2-Day Conference organized by EuCAN – the European Concept for Accessibility Network co-ordinated from Luxembourg – it was held in the TRYP APOLO Hotel (Av. Paral-lel, 57-59), on the 19-20th March 2009 … an impressive start-up event for the next EuCAN Project … a publication elaborating the business opportunities being created by Design-for-All for manufacturers and service providers across Europe.
I was very pleased to make a presentation on the exciting business potential of Accessible Fire Engineering … a subset of Sustainable Fire Engineering …
There were, however, some developments at the conference which should be brought to wider public attention for consideration and discussion … here in Ireland, but also in other European countries …
1. News was announced at the conference that the Proposed International Accessibility-for-All Standard (at present ISO CD 21542.3) has been overwhelmingly supported (mid-March 2009) for progress to the Draft International Standard (DIS) stage in its development. If everything goes well, we should see this International Standard being published sometime during the first half of 2010.
The ISO Accessibility-for-All Standard, which will be an essential implementation tool for Articles 9 & 11 of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Buildings, is particularly important for 2 Reasons:
- ‘Fire Safety’ Texts are now included in the Main Body of the Standard ;
- ‘Fire Evacuation’ is fully integrated into the definition and meaning of ‘Accessibility’.
2. A conversation during the conference morning coffee break, on Friday 20th March, with Bojana Rudić and Miodrag Počuč of the Centar Živeti Uspravno in Serbia, has finally convinced me that all of the various Accessibility Design Philosophies …
- design-for-all (some attempts have been made to develop 6 Principles for this rather vague philosophy) … used by EU Institutions, and more widely throughout Europe in reaction to universal design ;
- universal design (with its 7 Principles/Commandments) … preached from the USA … but in Japan, for example, a more practical application can be seen. Strangest of all is the relatively recent establishment in Ireland of the Centre for Universal Design, within the lumbering qwango that is the National Disability Authority (NDA) ;
- inclusive design (with its 5 Principles) … originating from Great Britain ;
- barrier-free design (a philosophy long out of date) … still widely referred to in Germany and other parts of Central Europe ;
- facilitation design (a newer philosophy based on 2 WHO ICF Terms: ‘Facilitator’ and ‘Environmental Factors’ and intended to update barrier-free design) … not yet well known ;
… are not only causing enormous confusion about accessibility among the ‘un-initiated’ and architectural students, to take just two examples … but are diverting scarce resources away from the process of ‘real’ accessibility implementation.
In some cases, devotion to these philosophies is so consuming that I have experienced, first-hand, a general tendency to discourage any talk about rights … with some prominent members of the International Accessibility Community (who shall remain nameless !) not even bothering to read the actual text of the 2006 UN Disability Rights Convention !
3. Concerning the development of a European Accessibility Business Strategy …
Yes … Accessibility-for-All is about much more than making life and living easier for people with disabilities. Children, frail older people (not all older people !), women in the later stages of pregnancy, people who have a health condition, etc., all now need to be included in a more Person-Centred Approach to the design and sustainable transformation of our Human Environment. This is absolutely essential.
But … the 2006 UN Convention must be used as a Product & Service Checklist which covers the basic, i.e. minimum, responsible needs of people with disabilities … a sizeable social group in all of our societies. Failure to complete this simple task is a fundamental strategic error !
The 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also their sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Integration of Accessibility-for-All Performance
Building Accessibility, to take a specific example, is now more complex … and includes …
- Approach to the building from the site boundary ;
- Entry through principal entrance(s) ;
- Health, Safety, Convenience & Comfort In Use, including thermal and acoustic comfort, good indoor air quality, protection from fire, etc ;
- Egress under normal conditions ;
- Evacuation in the Event of a Fire, or other emergency ;
- Removal from the vicinity of the building back to the site boundary ;
- Each stage of a Work Process, at every level, in places of work ;
- Use of Electronic, Information & Communication Technologies (EICT’s) – at minimum, those permanently fixed in/to the building ;
- Management, Services & Attitudes of People in the organization using the building ;
- Recruitment, Employment, Promotion & Training Practices within the same organization.
Performance in all of these different, and up until now separate, components must be brought together and properly integrated.
- Accessibility-related Products
In Ireland, we suffer from an over-supply of British manufactured accessibility-related products which are badly-designed and inadequately tested … or not tested at all. Inability to show compliance with Part D of the Irish Building Regulations is a big issue … that is, if those manufacturers even realize that we have our own separate building legislation over here.
By the way, failure to be able to show compliance with Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations for England & Wales is an issue across the water as well !
The situation isn’t much better in the rest of Europe. Yes … the quality of design is much, much better, but there is still enormous confusion about CE Marking.
Accessibility-related Products are still, and always have been, industrial products which are being placed on the Single European Market. Normal rules apply !
- Accessibility-related Services
Hopefully, we will soon see the demise of the Access Consultant … a plentiful species, particularly in Great Britain … an individual who only deals with ‘approach to’, ‘entry’ and ‘use’ of a building or facility … and nothing about ‘fire evacuation’. Their days are slowly numbered !
The rest of us, however, need to familiarize ourselves with necessary new services …
- Accessibility Impact Assessment ;
- Accessibility Performance Indicators ;
- Accessibility Benchmarking, Target Setting and Progress Evaluation ;
- Independent Accessibility Verification ;
Accessibility-related Services must be dragged out of prehistoric caves … screaming, if necessary. Services must become much more professional !
2009-03-17: Pull closer to the screen … we can lower the sound level, and be honest with ourselves for a few minutes …
We have enabling legislation spewing out of our ears in the European Union on the subject of ‘fire safety, protection and evacuation for all’ … there is absolutely no shortage whatsoever !
The problem is that far too many fire officers (prevention and operations) and building control officers in local authorities, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors do not know and/or do not care about this issue.
Rates of compliance with legislation are very low. Proper compliance is such a rare thing … that you would almost feel like holding a party, in celebration, right there on the spot when it’s discovered ! This applies not only to Ireland and Great Britain … but to the rest of Europe as well.
And while many countries have already signed and ratified the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008 … and many more will do likewise during the course of the next year or two, including the United States of America (according to the Whitehouse WebSite !) … I am sure that few individuals in those countries have any understanding of Article 11 (text quoted in an earlier post).
Accessible Fire Engineering:
On that fateful morning of 11th September, 2001 … at the World Trade Center Complex in Lower Manhattan, New York City … we witnessed a catastrophic failure in common practices and procedures … at all levels …
- Architectural / Conventional (‘Ambient’) Engineering / Fire Engineering ;
- Building Management ;
- Emergency Responders / Firefighters / Rescue Teams ;
- Control Organizations Having Authority (AHJ’s) or Jurisdiction ;
- Fire Safety Objectives in Building Legislation, Codes & Standards.
This was a ‘real’ fire incident. It has been very, very closely examined in the intervening years. Disability was a major issue at the heart of the tragedy … 6% of WTC building occupants were people with mobility impairments … approximately 8%, in total, were people with disabilities. The overall number of People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), however, was higher.
It is for this reason that three vital WTC Components have neatly dovetailed and fused … to realize an essential rational and empirical basis for a transformed fire engineering approach which can deal effectively with ‘fire safety, protection and evacuation for all’ of the people who use buildings … Accessible Fire Engineering … a subset of Sustainable Fire Engineering …
1. 2005 NIST(USA) NCSTAR 1 Final Report on 9-11 WTC 1 & 2 Tower Collapses.
2. 2008 NIST NCSTAR 1A Final Report on 9-11 WTC 7 Collapse.
3. Ongoing NYC-ATSDR World Trade Center Health Registry (established 2002).
Further Information about ‘fire safety, protection and evacuation for all’, the NIST 9-11 Reports and the WTC Health Registry … is available at the FireOx International WebSite …
Picking up, therefore, where I left off a few days ago …
An ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ in a Building should:
- adjoin every fire evacuation staircase in a building ;
- be located on every floor (note: fire evacuation routes at ground level should lead directly to the exterior) ;
- include adequate space for the people in wheelchairs, and their assistants, people using crutches, people with visual impairments, etc., who may be expected to use the area of rescue assistance during a fire emergency ;
- have good lighting at all times (note: lighting activation/de-activation by motion detection, for reasons of energy efficiency, should not be used in an area of rescue assistance) ;
- be clearly indicated with good signage ;
- be fitted with an accessible and reliable communication system placed at a height of 900 – 1 200 mm above finished floor level, facilitating direct contact with a person in the main fire and security control centre for the building ;
- be of sufficient size for the storage of a sufficient number of (powered) evacuation chairs, portable fire extinguishers, a fire hose reel and a manual fire alarm call point, a fire evacuation supply kit containing, for example, smoke hoods, suitable gloves to protect a person’s hands from debris when pushing his/her manual wheelchair, patch kits to repair flat tyres, and extra batteries for powered wheelchairs, etc.
The Size of an Area of Rescue Assistance should:
- relate to expected local usage during a fire emergency. When the number of people using/occupying/working in/visiting a specific building is considered … calculate how many may have to wait there, if the lifts/elevators cannot be used for evacuation and/or fire safety management procedures fail.
For example, if there are only two fire evacuation staircases on a floor in a building (on opposite sides of the building, of course), each area of rescue assistance should be designed to cater for the expected needs of the full floor.
Please also see the end of my Post: ‘U.S. Disability Statistics – EU Practical Application ?’, dated 2009-02-25.
Evacuation Chairs should be capable of:
- being safely and easily handled ;
- carrying people of large weight (up to 150 kg) ;
- going down staircases, which may be narrow and of unusual shape, particularly in existing buildings ;
- travelling long distances horizontally and externally, perhaps over rough ground, in order to reach a ‘place of safety’.
When it is necessary to go up an evacuation staircase to reach ground level … for example, from a basement or underground shopping centre … Powered Fire Evacuation Chairs should always be provided.
A ‘Reliable’ Buddy System:
In buildings with a reasonably stable user profile, e.g. workplaces, a Buddy System should be introduced throughout the building user population. For reliability and flexibility, e.g. to accommodate absence or holiday leave, a buddy system should always comprise at least 3 or 4 people.
In the case of a person using a wheelchair, his/her Buddy Unit should never be less than 4 people …
Fire Safety Management Procedures:
Prior to putting any Management Procedures into operation … and certainly before carving any of these procedures in stone … meaningful consultation should take place with building users and local fire authorities … which, particularly in the case of people with activity limitations, will produce the desired outcome of informed consent.
Informed Consent …
Consent freely obtained – without threats or improper inducements – after appropriate disclosure to a person of relevant, adequate and easily assimilated information in a form (e.g. oral, written, braille) and language understood by that person.
Personal Representative …
A person charged, under European Union or EU Member State national law, with the duty of representing another person’s interests in any specified respect, or of exercising specified rights on that person’s behalf – and including the parent or legal guardian of a child, i.e. a person under the age of 18 years, unless otherwise provided for by European Union or EU Member State national law.
Without wishing to be obscure, or to avoid the issue … Fire Safety Management Procedures need to be developed to suit each specific building, with its own building user population.
2009-03-16: Wherever you are in the European Union (EU) … and whatever you are doing … there is just one phone number that you need to remember for emergency services – ‘112’.
Now that Bulgaria has set up its own 112 Hotline, the single EU Emergency Phone Number works in All EU Member States, without exception …
Check out your country … here !
When you call ‘112’, – from a land line, a public pay phone or a mobile/cell/handy phone – a local operator will either deal with your call directly, or redirect you to the emergency service you need – ambulance, police, or the fire services.
There is no charge for a ‘112’ Phone Call.
The single EU Emergency Phone Number does not replace existing national emergency phone numbers – it works alongside them.
Did you know that this number has been around for almost 20 years … and still only 22% of Europeans know about it ?
However, one small little problem remains … you can only call this number … that is, if you are physically capable of making a call and having a phone conversation !
Article 9 of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (text quoted in an earlier post !), which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008, requires that the …
EU ‘112’ Emergency Phone Number System SHALL be ACCESSIBLE !
Get your fingers out Brussels !!!
UPDATE 2013-04-06: In the interim … there has been no dramatic improvement …
Flash EuroBarometer 368 – February 2013 – Summary Report
Click the Link above to read/download PDF File (1.4 MB)
2009-03-14: The Construction Sector Comedy of Errors continues without intermission …
On Tuesday last, 2009-03-10, I attended a Conference in Dublin Castle: ‘Energy Efficiency in Historic(al) Buildings’, organized by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) and the Irish Georgian Society. Boys and girls … we are in trouble … flat, uninspiring presentations from our beloved DEHLG policy makers. Missing … any wider context of required energy efficiency targets across the whole of the built environment … or views and solutions from anywhere else beyond our two little islands (Ireland & GB) on the periphery of Europe. The approach taken to this important subject was “let’s just jump in, and see what we can do”. What a day !
[Note: Thanks also to the DEHLG … Ireland still has no National Climate Change Adaptation Policy.]
That same morning, on Tuesday, an Opinion Piece: ‘Research Hub Benefits All’ appeared in The Irish Times (page 13), written by no other than Mr. Kieran McGowan, Chairperson of CRH. He was full of suggestions about research in Ireland, and was most happy to support the proposed research alliance between University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD). However, a quick visit to the CRH Holding Company WebSite is both relevant and informative. There, you will learn that the Company operates in 35 countries, employing approximately 93,500 people. Entering the key words/phrases … ‘research’, ‘construction research’, and even ‘building research’ … into the site search engine yields nothing of value … that’s right … nichts, nada, niente, zilch, zero ! With all the window dressing about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), etc, etc … the principal ‘value’ in CRH still remains short term ‘shareholder value’. If it looks interesting, gobble it up. Why waste money on a Research Division ? … which should be located in Ireland !
Yesterday, 2009-03-13, another Article appeared in The Irish Times (bottom of page 5): ‘Ireland Closer to Kyoto Emissions Target Due to Economic Slump’, by Mr. Harry McGee, IT Political Staff (?). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Press Release which generated this newspaper article was released on Wednesday, 2009-03-12, at 17.59 hrs. in the evening.
The 19-Page EPA Report: ‘Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Projections 2008-2020′ was issued on the same day as the newspaper article – 2009-03-13. Excellent media management !
These three different texts fail to examine, or even discuss, the following issues …
- How many € Millions and € Millions belonging to the Irish Tax Payer are being spent, and will be spent into the far future, on buying this country out of trouble … because of the abject failure to meet our responsibilities under Kyoto I (up to 2012), and the Real EU 2020 Target of -30% GHG Emissions on 1990 levels (assuming there will be an agreement in Copenhagen, next December, on a Post-2012 Kyoto II Instrument). This has always been the EU Target. See Paragraph 31, German Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council (8 & 9th March 2007).
- Having seen the numbers and range of assumptions which underpin the EPA’s GHG Emission Projections up to 2020 … how Reliable are those projections ? Where are the critical Statements of Uncertainty ?
- Who are the Individuals who sat on their fat, over-paid asses throughout the last 10-15-20 years, and allowed this country to fall into such a haphazard state ? Would any of these individuals be the same people who are now preaching sermons on ‘responsible’ GHG Emission Compliance … and still foisting upon us Voluntary Codes of Practice and Compliance Schemes, Ineffectual National Marketing Campaigns, Feather Light Regulation, and Press Releases which obscure what is really happening ?
Do you see any parallels with current events in the Irish Financial Sector ?
- Can the Irish Construction Sector be expected to meet any Real Performance Targets (e.g. Proper Building Energy Rating Labelling, Meaningful GHG Emission Reductions, Serious Energy Efficiency Improvements, whatever … ) – as distinct from Theoretical Performance on paper – without a Very Necessary Sectoral Infrastructure capable of shaping suitable responses to those targets, and ensuring that they are implemented ?
As already discussed in an earlier Post … a Complete Cultural Shift in the Irish Construction Sector is essential. So, let me give you a small flavour of what we need to do …
1. Construction Data & Statistics:
Ireland does not currently possess a comprehensive National Construction Database. No reliable statistics can be presented with regard to building or construction-related performance in 1990, or 2005. No coherent projections, therefore, can be made for the years 2010, 2012, 2020 or 2050 … under any futures scenario.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) gathers construction-related Economic Data. Energy Ireland (SEI) Databases are not reliable.
Construction is not identified as a separate Sector, by either the Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) or the European Environment Agency (Denmark), in European Greenhouse Gas Emission (GHG) Databases.
2. A Concerted Programme of Infrastructure Restoration:
- Re-establish and adequately resource an Independent National Institute for Spatial Planning & Construction Research (formerly known as An Foras Forbartha) in Ireland, having joint responsibility with the CSO for maintaining a reliable National Construction Database.
Construction Research & Innovation must be given a high national priority !
The National Institute must establish close working relationships with the relevant European Union Institutions, particularly EuroStat in Luxembourg.
[By ‘independent’ … I mean at a long, long, long arm’s distance away from the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG).]
- Re-establish and adequately resource an Independent and Fully Accredited National Construction Testing & Development Complex.
- Re-Format, Revise & Horizontally Integrate the National Building Regulations.
The existing format is both limited and seriously flawed. For discussion in a later Post.
- Adequately resource the Irish National Accreditation Board (NAB), and closely monitor the quality of its work.
- Adequately resource the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) and ensure that Ireland participates vigorously in the European Standards Organizations and ISO (International Standards Organization).
- Adequately resource an Independent Irish Agrément Board (IAB), and closely monitor the quality of its work.
[By ‘independent’ … I mean at a long arm’s distance away from the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI). These two organizations were supposed to have been separated a few years ago anyway.]
- Adequately resource awareness raising and Institutional Capacity building for Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation in the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG), Energy Ireland (SEI) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).
- Adequately resource awareness raising, Re-Training and Re-Education for Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation at all levels in the rest of the Construction Sector, including All (Professional) Design Disciplines and All Construction Organizations.
3. Initial Construction Quality:
Post-completion repairs and/or system retrofitting always involve compromises, are costly and are rarely anywhere near being 100% effective. Ensure Proper Initial Construction Performance through robust inspection of buildings during construction … checking that all relevant legislation has been complied with and that construction products have been approved, i.e. properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use (in the location of use)’, etc.
- Adequately resource, with Staff (e.g. building controllers, inspectors, administrative, legal), Monitoring Equipment (e.g. sound meters, long wave infra-red cameras, etc.) and Technical Support (e.g. training, library facilities, access to research) … all Building Control Authorities in the country.
Introduce a fully Integrated (including Part B of the Building Regulations) and Mandatory Inspection Scheme on all Construction Projects, at the following Construction Stages …
Ground Floor Construction ;
Super-Structure (above Radon Resisting Membrane) … inspections to take place at a level no higher than first floor ;
Such an Inspection Scheme must operate uniformly across the country. Piecemeal variations and maverick procedures operated by National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) or Individual Local Authorities cannot any longer be tolerated.
4. Consumer Protection:
- Establish an Independent and Comprehensive National Building Insurance Scheme.
Self-Regulation by the Architectural and Legal Professions offers merely the ‘appearance’ of protection to the Irish Consumer.
The current system of Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) / Law Society ‘Opinions on Compliance with Building Regulations’ is inadequate … and offers no protection to the Irish Consumer. The phrase ‘substantial compliance’ is much misunderstood and widely abused.
- Introduce and adequately resource the discipline of Independent Technical Controller. He/she must be independent from Construction-related Organizations, the Building Design and Legal Professions … Local Authorities … and any other National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s).
- Introduce a Mandatory Building Completion Certification System.
Before any Building can be occupied, a Certificate of Building Completion Performance, and an Accompanying Report, must be issued by an Independent Technical Controller. The System will include an independent evaluation of compliance with relevant building legislation and a thorough examination of ‘real’ construction performance.
Building Completion Documentation can be designed to include …
- a Fire Safety Certificate, which is issued only after adequate monitoring of the actual fire safety related construction ;
- a Disability Access Certificate, which is issued only after adequate monitoring of the actual access related construction ;
- a Building Energy Rating (BER) Label ;
- a Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) ;
- etc., etc.
[Many of the above ideas have been incorporated in the 2008 Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA) Publication: ‘The Climate Change Challenge‘, which presents a strategic overview of Irish Climate Change Policy.]
2009-03-10: Regarding Seán’s Comment, dated 2009-03-06.
Yes, the guidance provided in Technical Guidance Document B (Ireland) is inadequate … and the same can equally be said of Approved Document B (England & Wales).
And yes, you will find only partial answers in British Standard BS 9999, even though it was only published on 31st October 2008 last.
Access Consultants in Ireland and Great Britain rarely deal with any matters relating to fire safety in buildings.
Please allow me, therefore, to fill in some gaps for you. The following guidance is suitable for application in any European country …
People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) experience many difficulties when attempting to independently evacuate a fire building. However, our reasoning is very simple. If we can get things right for the most vulnerable building users, we get them right for everyone else also.
The Target Destination … whether evacuation is independent, assisted by other building users or accomplished by means of firefighter rescue … is a ‘Place of Safety’. This term is not well defined in legislation or codes.
Building User ‘Place of Safety':
Any location beyond a perimeter which is  metres from the fire building or a distance of  times the height of such building, whichever is the greater … and … where necessary and effective medical care and attention can be provided, or organized, within one hour of injury … and … where people can be identified.
Where there is a Risk of Explosion … multiply the numbers in square brackets above by 4 (at least !).
All Fire Evacuation Routes – inside and outside a building – should comply with Accessibility Design Criteria. This is an entirely alien concept to many Fire Prevention Officers in Local Authorities, and Fire Consultants !
Panic Attacks, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, exist.
Standard Movement Times, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, do not exist.
People should be able to reach an ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ inside a building with ease. In practice, few people understand what the word ‘refuge’ means (as in … refuge point, refuge area, area of refuge, etc). As a result, these spaces are regularly misused and/or abused in buildings. And there is great difficulty translating a word into other languages which, in English, can have so many meanings. In Italian fire safety legislation, for example, ‘refuge’ has been translated as ‘spazio calmo’. How crazy is that ?
So … what is an ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ ?
A building space directly adjoining, and visible from, a main vertical evacuation route – robustly and reliably protected from heat, smoke and flame during and after a fire – where people may temporarily wait with confidence for further information, instructions, and/or rescue assistance, without obstructing or interfering with the evacuation travel of other building users.
This is a notional Area of Rescue Assistance …
A Clear Evacuation Width of 1.5 metres on the Evacuation Staircase facilitates ‘contraflow’ in a fire emergency (shown on the lower flight of stairs), i.e. emergency access by firefighters entering a building and moving towards a fire, while building users are moving away from the fire and evacuating the building … as well as allowing sufficient space to safely carry an occupied wheelchair down the staircase (shown on the upper flight of stairs).
Evacuation Skills & Self-Protection from Fire in Buildings …
A ‘skill’ is the ability of a person – resulting from adequate training and regular practice – to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.
Building users should be skilled for evacuation to a ‘place of safety’, and test/drill/non-emergency evacuations should be carried out sufficiently often to equip building users with that skill. Consideration should be given to practicing evacuation once every month or, at most, every two months; once a year is inadequate. In the case of people with a mental or cognitive impairment, there is a particular need to encourage, foster and regularly practice the adaptive thinking which will be necessary during a ‘real’ fire incident.
Since Fire Protection Measures and Human Management Systems are never 100% reliable … it is necessary for frail older people and building users with disabilities to be familiar with necessary guidelines for self-protection in the event of a fire emergency.
Assisted Evacuation & Rescue Techniques …
Firefighters have two functions:
- fighting fires ; and
- rescuing people who are trapped in buildings, or for some reason, cannot independently evacuate a building which is on fire.
People with disabilities are participating more and more, and in ever increasing numbers, in mainstream society. It is necessary, particularly for firefighters, to become skilled in how best to rescue a person with a disability from a building, using procedures and equipment which will not cause further harm or injury to that person.
Manual handling of occupied wheelchairs in a fire evacuation staircase, even with adequate training for everyone directly and indirectly involved, is hazardous for the person in the wheelchair and those people – minimum three – giving assistance.
Generally … Powered Wheelchairs are too heavy for manual handling in any situation.
For these reasons, all lifts/elevators in new buildings should be capable of being used for fire evacuation. Lifts/elevators in existing buildings, when being replaced or undergoing major overhaul, should then be made capable of being used for fire evacuation.
Local Fire Authorities should ensure that they possess the necessary equipment to rescue people with a wide range of impairments, and that specialized rescue equipment is regularly serviced and maintained. Every Fire Authority should have an ‘accessible’ and ‘reliable’ Emergency Call System which is available, at all times, to the public within its functional area.
It is essential that every Firefighter is fully aware of this important public safety issue, and is regularly trained in the necessary rescue procedures involving people with a wide range of impairments.
In order to avoid confusion … the International Standards Organization (ISO) published International Standard ISO 8601 over 20 years ago. It has since been revised many times, but the current version is …
ISO 8601 : 2004
Data Elements & Interchange Formats – Information Interchange – Representation of Dates & Times
This was ‘adopted’ by CEN (Comité Européen de Normalisation) as European Standard/Norm … EN 28601.
And, under CEN Rules … it has been ‘transposed’ as the National Standard in the CEN Member Countries … for example …
I.S. EN 28601 – Ireland ;
BS EN 28601 – Great Britain ;
NF EN 28601 – France ;
UNI EN 28601 – Italy ;
CSN EN 28601 – Czech Republic.
The Standard Short Format for writing any date in the Gregorian Calendar is …
Year – Month – Day
Today is … 2009-03-07 … and there can be no confusion !
Much to the amusement of local people, the means of transport I decided to use … guaranteeing a vivid experience of the varied local sights, sounds and smells … was an Auto-Rickshaw … a three-wheeled scooter, with an open yellow cab on the back. It is a common form of transport in the large cities of India. This was a serious effort … no messing around in the sealed cocoon of an air-conditioned taxi !
These 2 Photographs were taken during the rush hour traffic, early one morning, in Bengaluru. The roads were jammed solid with traffic … every type of vehicle … crawling along at a snail’s pace. The driver of my Auto-Rickshaw was bent over the handlebars … always coughing … heaving a loud, jagged-rough, deep cough …
The reason for his coughing … you can see an actual pollution haze to the right of the frame below … a haze so thick, that it almost had to be parted with your hands in order to see ahead …
This is the reality of everyday life on the ground in one of the economically more advanced ‘developing’ countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China & South Africa (BRICS) – where far too many people are chasing the dream of our reality in Europe … a reality created from the plunder, over hundreds of years, of those same ‘developing’ countries.
This is why the European Union must lead by ‘real’ example when it comes to Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. But, is it ‘real’ ????
This is why Ireland must begin to properly face up to its responsibilities under Kyoto I, the EU 2020 Targets, and a probable Kyoto II International Agreement to be finalized in Copenhagen towards the end of 2009.
This is why the United States of America must stop prancing around our fragile planet like a spoiled, immature child … and engage seriously with the rest of us. We have lost all patience !
Copenhagen & the European Union …
On 28th January 2009, the European Commission issued COM(2009) 39 final …
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee & the Committee of the Regions – Towards a Comprehensive Climate Change Agreement in Copenhagen.
On Page 2 of the Communication, the Executive Summary commences …
‘ The successful conclusion of the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 is a key priority for the European Union (EU). Now that the Climate & Energy package has been adopted, the EU must step up its contacts with third Countries, both in the UN context and beyond.’
A paragraph later, it continues …
‘ In order to limit the global average temperature increase to not more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, developed countries as a group should reduce their emissions to 30% below 1990 levels in 2020. The EU has set the example by committing to a 20% reduction in its emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020, irrespective of whether or not an international agreement is concluded. This is by far the most ambitious commitment by any country or group of countries in the world for the post-2012 period.
The EU is willing to go further and sign up to a 30% reduction target in the context of a sufficiently ambitious and comprehensive international agreement that provides for comparable reductions by other developed countries, and appropriate actions by developing countries. Developing countries as a group should limit the growth of their emissions to 15-30% below business as usual.’
2009-03-03: Recent international attention has been drawn, in a morbid sort of way, to the current economic condition of two contrasting cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – Abu Dhabi and Dubayy (Dubai).
In the month of October, 2008, I was very pleased to travel to both of these cities for the first time … with the purpose of introducing the subject of Sustainable Fire Engineering at a Building Seminar in the World Trade Centre, Dubayy. My host was, and is more so now, convinced that this innovative approach to fire engineering offers a key to future commercial success in the Gulf Region.
Before making my presentation, however, I had spent some essential days wandering around Abu Dhabi … soaking up the local atmosphere and culture.
Arriving later in Dubayy, I was ‘shocked and stunned’ – a vivid Dublin expression - to see that Billions of Dirhams (the local currency) had been spent on re-creating the Nightmare that is the 20th Century American City … where, if you want to just scratch your nose, you must get into your car – or one of them at least – to do so.
It was tragic to see how the local authorities were trying to ‘shoehorn’ an Urban Rail System into the existing City Fabric … ducking, and weaving in and out, between road overpasses and spaghetti junctions which had only been built in the last 10 years.
Sightings of UMO’s (Unidentified Moving Objects) … pedestrians and cyclists … are extremely rare ! The local summer, by the way, is the only season when it is definitely unhealthy to engage in either activity … temperatures can regularly reach into the low 50s oC.
People are much smarter in Abu Dhabi – so I was told. They have seen the mistakes which have been made up the road, and they are determined to take a different path with their future development.
“How long will it take to transform and re-shape Abu Dhabi into a Sustainable City ?”, I was asked.
In order to answer that question, a new language is required. Let me introduce you to some of its Technical Terms … which, even after many years of sweat and toil in SDI, are still being regularly reviewed, revised and updated:
Human Environment …
Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the natural environment.
The Human Environment comprises, and must be taken together as a unified, complex whole:
Social Environment …
The complex network of real and virtual human interaction – at a communal or larger group level – which operates for reasons of tradition, culture, business, pleasure, information exchange, institutional organization, legal procedure, governance, human betterment, social progress and spiritual enlightenment, etc.
The Social Environment shapes, binds together, and directs the future development of, the Built (including Virtual) Environment.
Built Environment …
Anywhere there is, or has been, a man-made or wrought (worked) intervention by humans in the natural environment, e.g. cities, towns, villages, rural settlements, services, transport systems, roads, bridges, tunnels, and cultivated lands, lakes, rivers, coasts, seas, etc.
Virtual Environment …
A designed environment, electronically-generated from within the Built Environment, which may have the appearance, form, functionality and impact – to the person perceiving and actually experiencing it – of a real, imagined and/or utopian world.
Long before the present seismic upheavals and sordid revelations … the intuition of many people around the world had been informed that ‘economics’ inhabited its own closed environment … and operated to entirely different ‘rules’ from the rest of us – mere peasants – which are anything but open and transparent. The ‘actors’ in this Economic Environment are not accountable. Well … not yet, anyway !
Economic Environment …
The intricate web of real and virtual human commercial activity – operating at micro and macro-economic levels – which facilitates, supports, but sometimes hampers or disrupts, human interaction in the Social Environment.
And, still under development … the Institutional Environment.
Social Wellbeing …
A general condition – in a community, society or culture – of health, happiness, creativity, responsible fulfilment, and sustainable development.
Individual Welfare …
A person’s general feeling of health, happiness and fulfilment.
And finally for now:
The City …
A geographical region, with open and flexible boundaries, consisting of:
(a) An interwoven, densely constructed core (built environment) ;
(b) A large resident population of more than 500,000 people (social environment) ;
(c) A supporting hinterland of lands, waters and other natural resources (cultivated landscape) ;
together functioning as …
(i) a complex living system (analogous to, yet different from, other living systems such as ecosystems and organisms) ; and
(ii) a synergetic community capable of providing a high level of individual welfare and social wellbeing for all of its inhabitants.
- Japan in April and May 2010 … Accessibility-for-All ! on
- Recent Terenure Terraced Housing Fires – Party Wall Failures !! on
- Recent Terenure Terraced Housing Fires – Party Wall Failures !! on
- Spectacular Dawn over Amandola (FM), in Italy – 28 April 2013 ! on
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