Sustainable Fire Engineering

‘Fire Safety for All': Open Call for Innovative Products & Systems

2015-02-02:  This is NOT … I repeat NOT … a small niche market in the Global Multi-Billion Euro Fire Safety & Protection Related Construction Industrial Sector !   This IS the whole nine yards !!

This is an Open Call for Innovative, Well-Designed Fire Safety / Protection and Accessibility Related Construction Products and Systems, Other Measures and Means, Mechanical and Electronic Devices, ETC, ETC, ETC, ETC !

This Call is particularly aimed at Manufacturers, Suppliers and Distributors in China, India, Japan, and Mainland Europe !

We want to see ‘Real’ Products and Systems, Measures and Means, Mechanical and Electronic Devices, ETC, ETC, ETC, ETC … not flashy brochures … at the 2015 Dublin ‘Fire Safety for All’ Industrial Exhibition, on 9 & 10 April !

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An Accessible Building is Safer, Easier to Use and More Comfortable for ALL Building Users

If Fire Safety for All is properly considered at Building Design Stage :
• Buildings are easier to understand (intuitive) during a Real Fire Evacuation
Fire Evacuation Routes (obvious) are easier to find and to use
• Everyone can safely evacuate a Building on Fire – no more tragic tales about people being left behind in multi-storey schools and offices
RealityReliabilityRedundancy – are the 3 Essential Keywords

Client Organizations: A Building which is NOT Accessible is difficult, if not impossible, for everybody to evacuate during a real fire incident !

So …

Grab a Bicycle – Get a Horse – Take a Train or a Plane – Come to Dublin in April !

Fire-Safety-4-All_smlTo Exhibit / To Sponsor … please go to the Event WebSite: www.fire-safety-for-all.ie

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‘Fire Safety for All’ Update: Dublin Declaration & Press Release

2015-02-01:  This important Event is still a few months away, but the following update will be of interest …. a mixture of some good news and some bad news …

Fire-Safety-4-All_smlTo Register / To Attend … please go to the Event WebSite: www.fire-safety-for-all.ie … places are limited in the New Conference Venue.

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1.  2015 Dublin ‘Fire Safety for All’ Declaration – A Call to Action & Successful Implementation !

From the beginning, we promised that this would not be a polite gathering in Dublin.  It will, instead, be a time for hard work and straight talking by everybody attending … and a good opportunity to have some fun also.  Dublin is a very ‘sociable’ city !

As an indication of our serious intent … please now download and examine the Proposed 2015 Dublin Declaration on ‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings (PDF File, 153 Kb) …

Proposed 2015 Dublin Declaration on 'Fire Safety for All' in Buildings

Proposed 2015 Dublin Declaration on ‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings

If you would like to comment on this document, or if you have any questions … please send an e-mail message to: fireox@sustainable-design.ie

Drafting of the CIB W14 Research Working Group V Reflection Document has already commenced.

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2.  Dublin Fire Safety for All Event’s First Press Release

A strong message from and about the Dublin Event must be widely disseminated at international and national levels … download and read / forward / circulate / publish FireOx International’s First Event Press Release (PDF File, 49 Kb), dated 1 February 2015 …

FireOx International's First Event Press Release

FireOx International’s First Event Press Release

Please help us to spread the word !

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3.  Embarrassment about Original Conference Venue

Accessibility of a Building … encompasses the complete cycle of independent use, in a dignified manner and on an equal basis with others … and includes the approach, entry and use of a building and its facilities, egress during normal conditions and removal from its vicinity … and, most importantly, safe evacuation during a fire incident to a place of safety which is remote from the building and reached by way of an accessible route.

As I write … Ireland has a truck load of accessibility-related National Building Regulations and EU Safety at Work Law (transposed at national level a long, long time ago).  We have strong Equality Law.  We have ease of access to accessibility-related International Standards (such as ISO 21542: 2011) and National Standards from other European Countries, North & South America, and Asia.  We have accessibility-related National Guidance Documents coming out of our ears, and easy access to all sorts of other guidance from around the world.  Lots and lots and lots and lots of paperwork, in digital and hardcopy formats !

Ireland today … is still one of only a few remaining countries which have yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the principal aim of which is to ensure that the Human Environment (including the built, social, economic, virtual and institutional environments) is sufficiently accessible for people with activity limitations to participate positively in all aspects of their local communities … a basic human right, which every able-bodied person takes for granted !

” This is not just a national disgrace, it is a huge embarrassment for our country when you consider that the European Union itself and most of the EU’s Member States have already ratified this UN Convention.”

AND … as I look around Dublin … the City is NOT accessible for its many vulnerable residents and foreign visitors !

Dublin Castle Printworks Building – Main Entrance

Colour photograph showing the Main Entrance to Dublin Castle’s Printworks Building.  Telepathy is required to be ‘aware’ that there is a ramp located way down at the far end of the building.  Notice the limited extent of ground tactile information at the bottom of the steps in the foreground, and the unmarked glazing on the left of the Entrance Doors above.

Are you sitting comfortably ?   Then I will tell you a short story … a ‘real’ story, not a fairy tale … about the Original Conference Venue …

Mr. Sean Sherlock, T.D., Minister of State at Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for Overseas Development Aid, has agreed to open the Event on the evening of Thursday, 9 April 2015.  All of Irish Aid’s Partner Countries in Africa have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Given the serious, socially transformative topic of this Conference … the Minister had also kindly offered to waive the fee for the hire of the Printworks Building in Dublin Castle – a very prestigious location in the City, and a building which was been extensively refurbished in time for Ireland’s recent Presidency of the European Union.  The audio-visual fit-out for this building is magnificently elaborate.  Most unfortunately, the building’s accessibility is entirely inadequate (ATROCIOUS would be a better word to describe it!).

Dublin Castle Printworks Building – Set Down Area

Colour photograph showing a marked Set Down Area at the front of Dublin Castle’s Printworks Building.  Bollards prevent a Taxi from dropping off a passenger, who uses a wheelchair, at the bottom of the ramp.

However, with the right attitude and positive co-operation from the Venue Management Team, many improvements to the building’s accessibility could have been made for the Conference.  From the beginning, however, the Management Team’s response to this issue was negative.

” It is entirely unacceptable that this State’s New and Heritage Building Stock is designed, constructed, and/or managed without a full and proper consideration … and successful implementation … of Accessibility for All and Fire Safety for All ! “

Dublin Castle Printworks Building – Main Entrance Steps

Colour photograph showing, from above, the Main Entrance Steps of Dublin Castle’s Printworks Building.  Also notice the hazardous lack of visual colour contrast in platform and step surfaces.

The Venue Management Team has refused to honour the Minister’s waiver.

Dublin Castle Printworks Building – Top of Ramp

Colour photograph showing the Top of the Ramp at the side of Dublin Castle’s Printworks Building.  Notice the lack of ground tactile information.

We have had no other option but to move the Conference and Workshop to a far better Venue just around the corner … the Radisson Blu Hotel in Golden Lane, Dublin.

Dublin Castle Printworks Building – Bottom of Ramp

Colour photograph showing the Bottom of the Ramp at the side of Dublin Castle’s Printworks Building.  Notice the difficult approach to the Ramp, and also no indication of where there are level surfaces to rest when using the Ramp.

A Building which is NOT Accessible is difficult, if not impossible, for everybody to evacuate during a real fire incident …

‘Rigorous enforcement of building codes and standards by state and local agencies, well trained and managed, is critical in order for standards and codes to ensure the expected level of safety.  Unless they are complied with, the best codes and standards cannot protect occupants, emergency responders, or buildings.’

(2005 U.S. NIST NCSTAR 1: Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers … Page 202, Chapter 9: Recommendations)

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

UN CRPD Article 33 – National Implementation & Monitoring

1.  States Parties, in accordance with their system of organization, shall designate one or more focal points within government for matters relating to the implementation of the present Convention, and shall give due consideration to the establishment or designation of a co-ordination mechanism within government to facilitate related action in different sectors and at different levels.
2.  States Parties shall, in accordance with their legal and administrative systems, maintain, strengthen, designate or establish within the State Party, a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms, as appropriate, to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the present Convention.  When designating or establishing such a mechanism, States Parties shall take into account the principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights.
3.  Civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process.

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2015 Paris Hive Attacks & Fire Engineering for Urban Resilience !

2015-01-31:  The beginning of this 21st Century is deeply unsettling … history is catching up on us, and old certainties are crumbling before our eyes …

The recent, extremely violent Paris Hive Attacks … which occurred between Wednesday and Friday (7-9 January 2015) … have again shown that co-ordinated attacks on a small number of carefully chosen, low-level targets can be just as effective in causing widespread social and economic disruption in a City as a single attack on a high-level target.  Search for our previous detailed discussion, here, on the 2008 Mumbai ‘Hive’ Attacks.

On this tragic occasion, the attacks happened in Europe … not, as before, in far-off India.

Following the 2001 WTC 9-11 Attacks in New York City … the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in 2005 and 2008, recommended that these Building Types should be treated as ‘Risk Priorities’ …

• Tall / High-Rise Buildings ;
• Iconic Buildings ;
• Buildings Having a Critical Function ;
• Buildings Having an Innovative Design.

However, a typical medium-rise office building (in Paris) and off-street supermarket do not fall into the above categories … another indication that the NIST Recommendations must soon undergo a thorough international review and updating.

In the real world, the whole urban and sub-urban infrastructure of a City is at risk from Extreme Man-Made Events … one more risk among significant others, i.e. Hybrid Disasters (e.g. 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident), Severe Natural Events (e.g. earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis) and Complex Humanitarian Emergencies (e.g. mass human migrations, regional famines).  And with 50% of the world’s population already living in Cities, and substantial urban population growth projected over the coming decades … it is clear that, in the short to medium term, Cities must become much more resilient.  Search for our continuing discussion, here, about Sustainable Urban Resilience.

In this context, compliance solely with the minimal and limited fire safety objectives in current national legislation – from whatever source around the world – is so far from being either adequate or acceptable … that it is no longer worth a moment’s consideration.

A Fire Engineering which is ‘fit for purpose’, i.e. is both ethical and professional, in today’s complex and dynamic Human Environment … has an essential and critical part to play in the realization of a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All !

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Global Event: ‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings – Reboot & Reload !

2014-12-09:  FireOx International, the Fire Engineering Division of Sustainable Design International Ltd., is very pleased and proud to present the following Global CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Event

Fire Safety for All !9 & 10 April 2015 – Dublin Castle, Ireland

‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings – Reboot & Reload !
[ www.fire-safety-for-all.ie ]

Co-Sponsored by CIB & RI-ICTA
Kindly supported by Fáilte Ireland

This will not be a polite gathering intended just for an Irish audience, or even for Europeans … this is a Global Event – a catalyst for Substantive Social Transformation everywhere !

Within the professional discipline of Fire Engineering … either a building is Fire Safe or it is not ;  the design philosophy of the fire engineer is irrelevant.  Similarly, now, we must begin to think and act in the simple terms of a building either being Accessible for All, or not.  And if the building is accessible for all, does it tick all of the right accessibility boxes well, i.e. effectively ?

While building fire safety codes and standards exist in almost every country … guidelines relating to the Fire Safety of People with Activity Limitations – IF those guidelines exist at all – are technically inadequate, entirely tokenistic, blatantly discriminatory, and rarely implemented.

This is a very significant obstacle to Effective Building Accessibility everywhere !!

Accessibility is now understood to mean the full cycle of independent building use, in an equitable and dignified manner … and this term includes the approach, entry to and use of a building, egress during normal conditions and removal from the vicinity of the building … and, most importantly, evacuation during a fire incident to a ‘place of safety’ which is remote from the building.  (ISO 21542 : 2011)

Cogently mandated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) … the CRPD’s principal aim is to ensure that the Built, Social, Economic and Virtual Environments are sufficiently ‘accessible’ to permit a vulnerable and major(!) population group in all of our societies to enjoy the fundamental freedoms and human rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Refer to Preamble Paragraph (g) in the UN Convention …

‘ Emphasizing the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development,’

and to … Article 3 (General Principles), Article 9 (Accessibility), Article 11 (Situations of Risk & Humanitarian Emergencies), Article 19 (Living Independently & Being Included in the Community), Article 20 (Personal Mobility), Article 24 (Education), Article 27 (Work & Employment), Article 31 (Statistics & Data Collection), Article 32 (International Co-Operation), and Article 33 (National Implementation & Monitoring).

The focus of this event, therefore, is Real Accessibility.  In other words, Effective Accessibility for People with Activity Limitations (which includes people with disabilities, and children under the age of 5 years, frail older people, women in the later stages of pregnancy, and people with health conditions, etc.) … an accessibility which actually works well for all potential building users.  And it is appropriate also, now, to introduce the concept of Monitoring and Targeting this ‘real’ accessibility … independently, i.e. by 3rd Parties !

It is time to Reboot this ridiculous, professionally negligent and obsolete old system … Reload with innovative and practical building design, construction, management and personal self-protection solutions … and Implement !

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FireOx ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix – Revised & Updated

2014-10-17:  Within the professional discipline of Fire Engineering … either a building is ‘fire safe’, or it is not.  The Design Philosophy of the Fire Engineer is irrelevant.  In fact, nearly everybody involved with fire safety in buildings would collapse in a fit of laughter at the delusional notion that a design philosophy was relevant.  People’s lives are at stake !

Similarly, now, we must begin to think and act in the simple terms of a building either being ‘accessible’, or not.  At stake, this time, is the quality of life and living for very many vulnerable people in all of our societies.

Accessibility for All, according to International Standard ISO 21542 (2011) … includes the approach, entry to and use of a building, egress during normal conditions and removal from the vicinity of the building … and, most importantly, evacuation during a fire incident to a ‘place of safety’ which is remote from the building.

Concerning that All above … FireOx International’s ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix shows who exactly we are talking about … and who must be considered in the development of a Fire Safety Strategy for every building … not just some buildings !

This is not just good design practice … it is also mandated in International Human Rights Law.

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Colour image showing FireOx International's 'Fire Safety for All' Matrix.  Revised and Updated in October 2014.  FireOx International is the Fire Engineering Division of Sustainable Design International Ltd. (Ireland, Italy & Turkey).  For a clearer and sharper print, download the PDF File below.  Matrix developed by CJ Walsh.  Latest revision suggested by Jo Kwan (Hong Kong).

Colour image showing FireOx International’s ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix.  Revised and Updated on 24 October 2014.  FireOx International is the Fire Engineering Division of Sustainable Design International Ltd. (Ireland, Italy & Turkey).  For a clearer and sharper print, download the PDF File below.  Matrix developed by CJ Walsh.  Latest revision suggested by Jo Kwan (Hong Kong).

FireOx International’s ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix (2014) – PDF File, 25 Kb

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Building Fire Safety Codes and Standards exist in almost every country.  However – IF they exist at all – those guidelines relating to the Fire Safety of People with Activity Limitations are technically inadequate, entirely tokenistic and/or blatantly discriminatory.

Refer to my previous post … BS 9999:2008 & BS 8300:2009 – Sleepwalking into Problems ?

It is time to Reboot this ridiculous, professionally negligent and obsolete old system … Reload with innovative and practical building design, construction, management and personal self-protection solutions … and Implement !

Fire Safety for All !

2015 ‘Fire Safety for All’ Global CSR Event – Dublin, 9 & 10 April

Register Now !

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Upcoming CIB/NIST Workshop on Structural Reliability in Fire ?!?

2014-05-16:  Anybody with even the slightest interest in the Future Development of Fire Engineering Design, and Structural Fire Engineering in particular, should pay attention to the proceedings of an upcoming CIB/NIST Workshop, which will be held on 21-22 May 2014, at the NIST Campus in Maryland, USA …

CIB/NIST Fire Resistance/Resistant/Resisting/Resistive Structures Workshop

It is essential to read 3 White Papersproduced by three separate teams of experts, contracted by NIST, in advance of the Workshop … to get a ‘real’ flavour of how discussions may, or may not, develop next week.  All three papers are available to download from the NIST WebSite (and the links below).  I suggest that you get your hands on them … ASAP !

1.   Fire Behaviour of Steel Structures (March 2014).  20 Pages, 786 Kb.
2.   State-of-the-Art on Fire Resistance of Concrete Structures: Structure-Fire Model Validation (March 2014).  32 Pages, 1.26 Mb.
3.   Fire Resistance of Timber Structures (March 2014).  20 Pages, 998 Kb.

After reading these 3 NIST White Papers … I was not surprised by the large number of ‘unknowns’, or the enormous gaps in our ‘knowns’ …

Taken in whole and all together, however, the three documents are a public confirmation that today’s general practice of Fire Engineering is more akin to that of mid-19th Century Alchemy.  Blinkered practitioners are isolated from the building design process … because they have no understanding of that process, and have no means of effective communication with the many other design disciplines involved.  And minimal, i.e. ‘cost-effective'(?), compliance with the limited and inadequate fire safety objectives in current building codes/regulations is widely regarded as the one and only target for their efforts … a minor one compared to the fundamental, long-term target of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All.  At the same time, frontline fire service personnel are forced to operate on shoestring budgets … and, when a fire emergency inevitably occurs, they are regarded as nothing more than an expendable resource.

!!  Structure … Does Not A Building Make  !!

Some comments on the 3 NIST White Papers …

A.  The Papers contain a number of important technical errors:

  • A similar Introduction in two of the Papers refers only to the 2005 NIST Report (NCSTAR 1) on the 9-11 Collapse of WTC Buildings 1 & 2 in New York City, which contained 30 Recommendations.  However, NIST published a later Report in 2008 (NCSTAR 1A) on the Collapse of WTC Building 7, which contained a further 13 Recommendations … 1 new, and 12 revised/updated from the earlier 2005 Report.
  • There is a reference in one of the Papers to a 1989 European Directive on Construction Products (89/106/EEC), and as later amended.  This Directive was repealed, in 2011, by Article 65 of the new European Union (EU) Regulation No.305/2011 on Construction Products.  Unlike a Directive, a Regulation is addressed directly to the EU Member States, and does not permit any flexibility with regard to national implementation. Annex I of Regulation 305/2011 sets out 7 Basic Requirements for Construction Works:

-  Mechanical resistance and stability ;
–  Safety in case of fire ;
–  Hygiene, health and the environment ;
–  Safety and accessibility in use ;
–  Protection against noise ;
–  Energy economy and heat retention ;
–  Sustainable use of natural resources.

Concerning fire safety in buildings … it is incorrect to state, or even suggest, that only the second Basic Requirement is relevant … a building must satisfy all of the Basic Requirements taken together, i.e. the 7 Basic Requirements are inter-dependent.

B.  Having carefully read the Papers … none of the expert teams appear to have paid any attention to any of the NIST Recommendations, in either the 2005 or the 2008 Reports !   Note well that two separate series of posts on both sets of NIST Recommendations have been carried here on this Technical Blog.

C.  If we have learned anything from the WTC 9-11 Building Collapses, it is that the Fire Engineer must be able to communicate effectively with other mainstream building design disciplines … especially ‘ambient’ structural engineers who speak the language of Structural Reliability, Limit State Design and Serviceability Limit States.  The Fire Engineer must also become an active participant in the creative, trans-disciplinary process of design.  These issues have not been seriously considered in any of the Papers.

D.  All of the Papers lack a common and precise starting point … relevant structural fire engineering concepts are either not defined or badly defined … and the ‘dynamic, complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and fabric under conditions of fire’ requires immediate and urgent investigation …

Structural Reliability

The ability of a structural system to fulfil its design purpose, for a specified time,
under the actual environmental conditions encountered in a building.

Structural Fire Engineering

Those aspects of fire engineering concerned with structural design for fire …
and the dynamic, complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and
fabric, i.e. non-structure … under conditions of fire and its immediate aftermath,
including but not confined to the ‘cooling phase’.

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage

The sequential growth and intensification of structural deformation
and displacement, beyond fire engineering design parameters*, and the eventual failure
of elements of construction in a building – during a fire and the ‘cooling phase’
afterwards – which, if unchecked, will result in disproportionate damage,
and may lead to total building collapse.

[ *fire serviceability limit states ]

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Disproportionate Damage

The failure of a building’s structural system:
(i) remote from the scene of an isolated overloading action ;
and (ii) to an extent which is not in reasonable proportion to that action.

[ Fire-Induced Progressive Damage and Disproportionate Damage are fundamental concepts in the Fire Engineering Design of All Buildings ! ]

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E.  It is not acknowledged in any of the Papers that the Fire Safety Objectives in Current Building Codes/Regulations are, of necessity, limited in scope … and entirely inadequate in the context of Annex I in EU Regulation 305/2011, and the long-term goal of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All.  Refer to the updated Scope, Aims & Objectives of CIB Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’.

F.  Once and for all … use of the term Fire Resistance (and any number of variations thereof, e.g. resistant, resisting, resistive, etc.) in connection with any aspect of structural performance in fire … is ridiculous !   It is roughly comparable to use of the term Fire Proof during the first half of the 20th Century.

G.  Finally, for now … the current unwise focus on Crude Pass/Fail Results from the ‘standard fire’ testing of single loadbearing structural elements must evolve … must be transformed into the more detailed and precise measurement of all aspects of ‘real’ structural system performance over the full duration of a ‘design’ fire (including the cooling phase afterwards) … using a much wider range of performance monitoring equipment, e.g. short wave infra-red thermography.

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It is no longer acceptable for Fire Engineering to exist in an isolated Twilight Zone … completely removed from the everyday realities of Mainstream Building & Construction.

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Model Disability Policy Statement for Educational Establishments

2014-04-21:  Notwithstanding the, by now, well-established existence of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, a host of other national accessibility standards, and a plethora of accessibility design guidance materials … not every ‘real’ site, or building, or built environment, situation is covered.  It would be physically impossible.

Unless it is fixed in your mind … or, more importantly, in the ‘group-thinking’ of an organization … that Accessibility-for-All should be, for example, both independent (i.e. it is not necessary for a person to have an assistant) and inclusive (i.e. friends can do things together and no special deal is made about accessibility for one person) … it can be very difficult to emerge from beneath the weight of those documents referred to above … and to apply important disability-related principles flexibly and adaptively in the real world.

At a recent meeting with some teachers in an Irish school (which shall remain nameless) … I advised that a very good and positive start can be made by discussing together and agreeing on a Disability Policy Statement, which will help to guide future actions.  More steps are required, of course, but those will come later.

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Model Disability Policy Statement for Educational Establishments

Insofar as it relates to the educational activities of

Name of School/College/University/Institute

and its relationships in the wider local community …

We recognise and respect the rights of people with activity limitations:

  • to lead a fulfilling life – autonomously, independently, and with dignity ;
  • to integrate into the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and educational mainstream ;    and
  • to participate in the general life of the wider local community on a basis of equal opportunity with everyone else.

Good Education is an Important Key to Social Inclusion

In order to ensure your autonomy and independence, your civil, political, economic, social, cultural and educational integration, and your active participation in the general life of the wider local community – the principle of equal opportunity shall not prevent the adoption or maintenance of services, systems and policies providing for your support or assistance within this establishment.

[ Discussed and Agreed by the School/College/University/Institute Management Board on …… ]

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2012 Doha Shopping Mall Fire – 5 Jail Sentences for Negligence !

2013-07-19:  Once upon a time, back in 1979, when I was flying to Sydney, Australia … one of the scheduled stops on the route was Bahrain and the New International Airport Terminal there.  In spite of the flashy and expensive building, I noticed how obsolete looking (and functioning) were the fittings in the toilet area.  Could it possibly be, I wondered, that the Arab Gulf Region was being supplied with shoddy, second rate construction products from you-know-where ??

Fast forward to a few years ago … in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia … and I encountered one building – the same building – where one half had a 110 Volt electrical supply, and the other half had a 220 Volt supply.  Amazing !?!   Two different consultants, or contractors, or whatever … one from North America, and the other from Europe … with the Saudis in the middle, having to tolerate this nonsense !!

'Villaggio' Shopping Mall Fire (Doha City in Qatar) - 28 May 2012

Photograph taken by Brian Candy. 2012-05-28. Click to enlarge.

DOHA City Fire – Monday, 28 May 2012 …

I distinctly remember that some Irish people who had actually witnessed the Fatal Fire Incident at the ‘Villaggio’ Shopping Mall (www.villaggioqatar.com), in Doha (capital city of Qatar) … were afterwards talking to Mr. Joe Duffy, on the lunchtime ‘Liveline’ Programme (Ireland’s RTE Radio 1 Station).

19 People were killed on that Monday morning in Doha … 13 Children, 4 Teachers, and 2 Firefighters.  Many more were injured from inhaling toxic smoke.

According to various news reports … an electrical fire, caused by a light fitting (which was not ‘fit for its intended use’) in a Nike Shop, engulfed a section of the shopping centre … spreading to the Gympanzee Drop-and-Shop Childcare Centre on the first floor.

The staircase leading to the Childcare Centre collapsed … trapping victims inside.  One of their fire exits led directly to the seat of the fire, while the other fire exit was locked from the outside.

In addition, the ‘Villaggio’ – a luxury mock-Italian shopping centre (one of the most popular in the country !) where customers could ride around Venetian-style Canals, in Venetian-style Gondolas – was later found to be in breach of legislation because Essential Fire Safety Measures were either inadequate or missing, at the time of the fire: the fire sprinkler system was not working properly; inflammable paint and decorative mouldings were used in the construction; the building did not have effective fire evacuation procedures in place; the building was not equipped with proper fire-fighting equipment; and the fire alarm wasn’t loud enough.

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A Qatari Court – Thursday, 20 June 2013 …

The recent outcome from this Qatari Court Case has been nagging at me ever since I saw the news on Al Jazeera (English) … www.aljazeera.com

Only Some of the People having Control / Responsibility were convicted for the Negligence which resulted in the 19 Deaths, and many injuries, at the 2012 ‘Villaggio’ Fatal Fire Incident.

Four people received six-year jail terms, while the fifth received a five-year term.  All five are currently out on appeal, and will remain out of custody until the appeals process is completed.

Those convicted include Two Co-Owners of the Childcare Centre, and Members of the Mall’s Management Team.  Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani, one of the co-owners, is also currently Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium … while Iman Al-Kuwari, the other co-owner, is the daughter of Qatar’s Culture Minister.

Two other defendants, including the Mall’s Assistant Manager and Head of Security, were cleared of all charges.

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Other People having Control / Responsibility were also Careless, Incompetent, and Negligent …

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RF-Based Firefighter Communication Performance in Buildings

2013-05-22:  Whatever Service Providers claim … every day, we experience mobile/cell phone reception variability, drop-off and failure in buildings … whether we are fully conscious of it or not.  It’s inconvenient, but all we have to do is change location, even slightly … and ‘re-dial’.  However, if we are travelling on a train or bus, and it enters a tunnel … the problem can be annoying, as the situation is beyond our control !

On the other hand, however … not too far from where I live, there is an art house cinema with underground screens on different levels.  In this particular case, mobile/cell phone reception failure can be a positive joy – it will not be necessary to listen to someone else’s loud conversations during the film !

BUT … emergency first responders use radio frequency-based communication systems during the normal course of their work … and in the current built environment, these systems can also be unreliable.  Improved climate resilience in our future building stock will make matters worse.  So, it makes a lot of sense to take this issue seriously now !

Fire Departments equip their firefighters with a Radio Frequency-Based Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) … also known as an Automatic Distress Signal Unit (ADSU) … which sends out a signal to a fire incident base / control centre / command post when the firefighter is motionless or in distress, with a clear indication of his/her location … or, if necessary, a general warning can be sent from the fire incident base / control centre / command post to all firefighters to evacuate a building immediately … for example, if extensive structural collapse is imminent.

Recently, the National Institute of Science & Technology (USA) issued Technical Note 1792.  I have just a few short comments to make before jumping into the document …

1.   The Empire State Building and a Subway Station in New York City are both iconic building types … and unusual, in the context of the USA generally … but not so in Europe, with our long tradition for ‘hard/heavy’ construction.  Challenging environments for radio frequency-based communication systems are encountered in our basement / underground building types, and low-rise complex building types … never mind high-rise and tall buildings.

2.   Outside buildings, adequate external access routes for Firefighting Vehicles are mandated in building codes and standards … and Firefighter Lifts are provided inside buildings, etc., etc., etc.  Facilitating reliable radio frequency-based emergency communications should become a normal part of thinking about … and designing for … Safe Firefighter Access.  And … before new buildings are occupied, it should become routine to carry out an emergency communications check, as part of a wider collaborative effort between Building Management Teams and Local Fire Services.

3.   This NIST Technical Note is further evidence … as if any more evidence were needed … that it is a continuing and difficult process to fully implement the 2005 & 2008 NIST WTC 9-11 Recommendations.  To date, the easier low hanging fruit (system and procedural inadequacies !) have been tackled, which may be presented and/or described as substantive changes in building codes and standards … mere window dressing … tokenism, at its worst !   However, as discussed here before many times, some European countries continue to completely ignore these important NIST Recommendations.

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NIST Technical Note 1792 (March 2013) - Title Page

Click to enlarge.

March 2013 – NIST Technical Note 1792: ‘Performance Analysis of RF-Based Electronic Safety Equipment in a Subway Station and the Empire State Building’.

To Read/Download NIST TN 1792 (PDF File, 9.02 MB), go to … http://dx.doi.org/10.6028/NIST.TN.1792

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NIST TN 1792 – Summary & Conclusion (Page 59)

Radio Frequency (RF) PASS Tests were performed in a New York Subway Station and the Empire State Building because these types of structures provide challenging RF propagation-channel environments.  In the Subway, the RF PASS systems were limited in their ability to communicate beyond the initial entrance level.  Without the use of repeaters, most of the systems could communicate only a short distance beyond the bottom of the stairwell that connected the token booth corridor to the street.  Two systems used repeaters to extend the coverage area.  When a repeater was located at the base of the stairwell leading up to the street, those two systems were able to communicate the RF PASS alarms between the street level and the first passenger platform.  However, with only a single repeater, neither of the two repeater systems was able to communicate between the external receive site and the second passenger level.  This suggests that for structures with sizable subterranean sections, a repeater system will likely be required to reach an external incident command post.  If the structure has multiple subterranean levels of increasing depth, a multiple-hop relay system will likely be necessary to ensure the reliability of the communication channel.

NIST TN 1792 - Figure 16: 'Subway + System 4 Performance'

NIST TN 1792 – Figure 16: ‘Subway + System 4 Performance’. Click to enlarge.

In the path-loss measurements and analysis performed at five frequencies, ranging from 430 MHz to 2405 MHz, there are several important insights.  Based on the upper adjacent values in the box-plot statistical representation of the path-loss data from the Empire State Building (see Figure 36), path-loss values of 140 dB to 175 dB are possible for high-rises.  For the Subway, the path-loss values exceed 210 dB to 240 dB at the lower two passenger platforms (see Figure 35).  The frequency dependence is more pronounced for the Empire State Building results, but less apparent in the Subway data.  Thus, while a system may function well at the lower end of the frequency spectrum in the above ground portions of a large building, the subway results demonstrate that subterranean structures can cause path-loss values greater than 200 dB across the 430 to 2400 MHz range.

NIST TN 1792 - Figure 21: 'Tall Building + System 4 Performance'

NIST TN 1792 – Figure 21: ‘Tall Building + System 4 Performance’. Click to enlarge.

The testing completed here focused on RF PASS system performance and RF propagation-channel measurements in a high-rise and subway station.  While a primary goal of the effort was to look at the correlation between the system performance and path-loss behaviour, a secondary goal was to gather path-loss data in two high-attenuation settings.  Thus, parameter values for log-normal distributions that will allow simulation of the measured path-loss conditions are included in this report.  The authors hope that the data presented here, along with future sets of data, can be used to develop a complete suite of test methods, not only for RF-based PASS systems, but also for other RF-based electronic safety equipment.  The path-loss values obtained here are general and could be used to develop standards for other equipment as the need arises for standards for these systems.

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In Ireland … 10 UHF Channels have been allocated to the Fire Services for use with hand portable radios …

Ireland: The Fire Services Council's Firefighter Handbook (2001) - Table 2.4.2

Ireland: The Fire Services Council’s Firefighter Handbook (2001) – Table 2.4.2. Click to enlarge.

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Mainstream Good Design & Accessibility for All Signage ?

2013-03-06:   Further to an earlier Post, dated 30 November 2012 … on Sustainable Accessibility for All

Accessibility IS a Fundamental Human Right !

‘ For many Weak and Vulnerable People, today’s Complex Human Environment is inaccessible and unsafe … a hostile ‘reality’ which prevents independent functioning and participation in a local community;  it is a blatant denial of their human rights.’

Relevant Human Environment (social – built – virtual – institutional) Factors … factors which are external, or extrinsic, to the context of a person’s life and living situation … include policies and standards, negative attitudes and stigma, lack of services, problems with service delivery, inadequate funding, lack of accessibility in the built environment and to electronic, information and communication technologies, lack of consultation and involvement, and an absence of reliable data and evidence.

Accessibility for All …

Take a really close look at the photograph below … and see a staircase which, in spite of all the legislation in the EU Member States, contravenes almost every accessibility-related design guideline.  It is far from being an unusual scene in our European Built Environment …

Staircase Egress - Unsafe, Difficult Accessibility !!

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-10-31. Click to enlarge.

Now, imagine the consequences of one, tiny slip …

Which is why our concern must be with Accessibility for All … which includes consciously thinking about children under the age of 5 years, women in the later stages of pregnancy, and frail older people (not all older people !) … and how they use and interact with their surroundings.

In addition, however … our attention must also turn to the large numbers of people, in all of our societies, with health conditions which result in serious impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions.  As a prime example, consider the Big-4 Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s): Cardiovascular Diseases (e.g. heart attacks and stroke), Cancers, Diabetes, and Chronic Lung Diseases.

These 4 NCD’s – targeted in a World Health Organization (WHO) Global NCD Campaign – share health risk factors (tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, harmful alcohol use) … cause more than 36 million deaths annually (almost 80 % of deaths, from such diseases, occur in low and middle-income countries) … and result in a high proportion of disability (66.5 % of all years lived with disability in low and middle income countries).

NCD’s can limit one or more of a person’s major life and living activities … such as walking, eating, communicating, and caring-for-oneself.  Examples of common NCD-related impairments include paralysis due to stroke, and amputation as a result of diabetic neuropathy.

When Easily Assimilated Signage IS Essential in Buildings …

Good Architectural Design IS ‘intuitive and obvious’ for building users … design characteristics which are critical in the case of Fire Engineering Design.  However, what is intuitive and obvious in Ireland may not be so intuitive and obvious in Turkey … and what is intuitive and obvious in Europe will certainly not be intuitive and obvious in Africa, India, or China.

Architectural & Fire Engineering Design must, therefore, be adapted to Local conditions … culture, social need, etc., etc.

When a building is NOT ‘intuitive and obvious’ for the broad range of potential building users … easily assimilated signage IS essential …

International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’ was published in December 2011, as a full standard.  In its Introduction, ISO 21542 is linked to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) … almost like an umbilical cord.

The scope of ISO 21542 covers public buildings.  The Accessibility Agenda in the U.N. Convention is very broad … so much standardization work remains to be completed at international level.

Concerning Accessibility Symbols and Signs … reference should be made to ISO 21542: Clause 41 – Graphical Symbols … and on Pages 106, 107, 108, and 109 … the following will be found:

  • Figure 66 – Accessible Facility or Entrance ;
  • Figure 67 – Sloped or Ramped Access ;
  • Figure 68 – Accessible Toilets (male & female) ;
  • Figure 69 – Accessible Toilets (female) ;
  • Figure 70 – Accessible Toilets (male) ;
  • Figure 71 – Accessible Lift / Elevator ;
  • Figure 72 – Accessible Emergency Exit Route.

I use the word ‘accessibility’, and not ‘access’ … because Accessibility has been defined in ISO 21542 as including … ‘access to buildings, circulation within buildings and their use, egress from buildings in the normal course of events, and evacuation in the event of an emergency’.

A note at the beginning of the standard also clarifies that Accessibility is an independent activity, i.e. assistance should not be necessary … and that there should be an assurance of individual health, safety and welfare during the course of those (accessibility-related) activities.

During the very long gestation of ISO 21542, an overwhelming consensus emerged in favour of using the term Accessibility for All … thereby sidestepping the thorny issue of different design philosophies which are described as being accessibility-related but, in practice, are limited and/or no longer fit-for-purpose.

'Accessibility for All' Symbol ?The Accessibility Symbol used throughout ISO 21542 is shown above.  I know that a small group of people from different countries worked very hard on this particular part of the standard.  My only contribution was in relation to the inclusion of Figure 72, concerning Fire Evacuation.

This ‘accessibility’ symbol is an attractive, modern and, of course, abstract representation of a concept … a person with an activity limitation using a wheelchair.  The symbol succeeds very well in communicating that concept.

However … as an Accessibility for All Symbol … encompassing people with other than functional impairments, e.g. hearing and visual impairments … and children under the age of 5 years, women in the later stages of pregnancy, frail older people … and people with the four main types of non-communicable disease discussed above … is this symbol, also, limited and no longer fit-for-purpose ??

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Proposed New Sign for 'Area of Rescue Assistance'

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Shown next, above, is the proposal for a new Area of Rescue Assistance Sign … which is contained in ISO 7010:2011 / FDAM 115 (2013).  While it is nice to finally see this Safety Sign appear in the mainstream of safety signage … the title being proposed for the sign and the explanatory texts which accompany it are very problematic …

  • The technical term being proposed – Evacuation Temporary Refuge – is too long and too difficult to understand ;
  • The explanatory texts which accompany this Sign are very confusing and misleading.

This problem has arisen because the people who drafted ISO 7010:2011 / FDAM 115 (2013) hadn’t a bull’s notion that ISO 21542 even existed !

In ISO 21542, we use the term Area of Rescue Assistance … which is easy for everybody to understand, including building users, building managers and firefighters, etc., etc.

We also explained, in ISO 21542, that a Place of Safety is a remote distance from the building … not anywhere inside the building !

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Mainstreaming Disability …

U.N. CRPD – Preamble

(g)  Emphasizing the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development,

As ‘disability’ moves closer towards … and is integrated and fully included in the ‘mainstream’ of sustainable community life and living … it is absolutely imperative that individuals and organizations who make up the Disability Sector become much more cohesive (far less fractious within) … that they begin to fully understand the practices and procedures of the mainstream … and actively and robustly engage with that mainstream.

It is ridiculous, for example, that a large amount of the Sector’s energy is still being diverted into meaningless meditations and endless tracts on whether it is ‘universal design’, or ‘design-for-all’, or ‘inclusive design’, or ‘facilitation design’, etc … when an entirely new design paradigm is being demanded by a world (our small planet when seen from the moon !), which is experiencing enormous levels of human poverty, natural resource shortages, human rights violations, and severe weather events.  The overriding priority must be ‘real’ implementation … Effective Accessibility for All !

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'Earthrise' from Apollo 14

Colour photograph – ‘Earthrise’ – taken from the Apollo 14 Spacecraft … showing a bright colourful Earth, in a dense black ‘sky’, rising above the pale surface of the Moon. Click to enlarge.

NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth

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And … Effective Accessibility for All is but one component of …

‘Social Wellbeing for All in a Sustainable Built Environment’

Refer also to …

2004 Rio de Janeiro Declaration on Sustainable Social Development, Disability & Ageing

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Update:  2013-05-31 …

While the wider international design community is working hard on developing an array of Accessibility Symbols to facilitate different health condition and impairment categories, and to suit different environmental situations, e.g. a fire emergency in a building … I recently encountered another interesting contribution …

Alternative Accessibility Symbol (USA-2011) - Functional Impairment

Click to enlarge. For more information: www.accessibleicon.org

Any comments ??

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