2023-10-11: Theory is one thing, but the practical working out and implementation of Sustainable Fire Engineering Design is something else …
The (Sustainable) Fire Engineer will already be an active, contributing member of a collaborative Project Design Team. So, very early on in the Design Process for a Simple Building / Complex Building / Innovative Building / High-Rise Building / Tall Building or Group of Buildings (whatever) … he or she has a relatively mature sketch design on which to work, and major elements of the design can still be modified, without cost implications, based on her or his Creative Solutions which positively support and aid – not hinder, weaken or dilute – the Project Team’s Design Intent.
The Sustainable Fire Engineer should always / must, therefore, have a minimum competence with regard to Building Design and Construction in order to effectively communicate and creatively collaborate in these Design Teams.
[ Recommendation: Instead of looking down on, or discriminating against, Architects … they should be warmly welcomed into the International Community of Fire Engineering … where their particular expertise is badly needed.]
A blank sheet of paper, pencil in hand … or, if you prefer, an empty monitor screen, with mouse poised to move … and how to proceed … should it be this fire safety strategy (?) … or a different, more appropriate fire safety strategy (?)
Incorporate Ease & Reasonable Cost of Post-Fire Reconstruction.
At this early stage in the Design Process … treat Conventional Fire Codes as an irrelevancy in the context of the above Design Objectives … question the adequacy of out-dated, simple prescriptive solutions … and forget about European and North American biases with regard to Passive and Active Fire Protection Measures. Investigate new Sustainable Building Materials & Smart Technologies. Incorporate Factors of Safety throughout the Fire Engineering Design Process. Always remember Defence in Depth and Redundancy. Prioritize Construction Reliability.
Sustainable Design: Green Walls & Fire ?
‘Green Walls’ (also known as Planted Facades, Living Walls, Vertical Gardens, and Vertical Landscapes) is a general term which covers the architectural use of natural vegetation as a vertical element in buildings, both externally and/or internally ; intrinsically, each ‘Wall’ is different. To be absolutely clear from a fire engineering viewpoint, there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ green wall which can be fire tested in a laboratory. There are many benefits and advantages to these Walls … but, in future, they will play an important role in dealing with Climate Disruption, particularly the Urban Heat Island Effect in cities and large towns.
If properly installed and maintained … properly nourished and watered depending on local environmental conditions … Green Walls will not pose a fire hazard. But those are a lot of ‘ifs’ !
Remembering Defence in Depth … the installed ‘sub-soil’ watering system for a Green Wall may be interrupted or break down, so a Smart Water Mist System will help with hydration of the vegetation, and cooling for building occupants/users, as Climate Disruption intensifies. Some of the trees, shrubs or plants may wither and die, so a Water Sprinkler/Deluge (as appropriate) Fire Suppression System will deal with any accidental or intentional outbreaks of fire.
2023-09-26: At the time of writing, the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly is taking place in New York City. Midway through the U.N. Sustainable Development Framework Agenda 2015-2030 … News about its failing progress is very discouraging …
> Amid growing geo-political crises and war, Multi-Lateralism has little chance to operate successfully and there is a growing stalemate within the Security Council ;
> Extreme Weather Events (e.g. heatwaves, droughts, severe storms and rainfall, flooding) are becoming a regular occurrence across the Globe, and their impacts are already devastating ;
> Only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals are barely on track, while development gains in other SDG’s have reversed ;
> Not only are Climate Disruption Targets not being met, but global greenhouse gas emissions are actually increasing.
Compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (#WMO) under the direction of the U.N. Secretary-General, it brings together the latest updates from key U.N. Partner Organizations with a focus on weather-, climate-, and water-related sciences, research and services in support of realizing Sustainable Human & Social Development:
Climate Disruption …
Total Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions from fossil fuels and land use change remained high in 2022 and the first half of 2023. Fossil fuel CO2 emissions increased 1% globally in 2022 compared to 2021, and global average concentrations continued rising through 2022 and the first half of 2023.
The years from 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest on record, and the chance of at least one year exceeding the warmest year on record in the next five years is 98%.
It is estimated that current mitigation policies will lead to global warming of around 2.8 °C over the course of this century compared to pre-industrial levels. Immediate and unprecedented reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions are needed to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, i.e. 1.5 °C.
Sustainable Cities & Communities …
Cities are responsible for a high proportion of global GHG Emissions and are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate disruption and extreme weather events, which threaten the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 11.
Integrated urban weather, climate, water and environmental services, grounded in best-available science and research, are helping Cities to achieve SDG 11.
Observations, high-resolution forecasting models and multi-hazard early warning systems are the fundamental basis for integrated urban services.
Good Human Health & Social Wellbeing …
Trans-Disciplinary Research is fundamental to analysing, monitoring and addressing climate-sensitive health risks and climate impacts on the health sector.
Climate disruption and extreme events are projected to significantly increase ill-health and premature deaths, as well as population exposure to heatwaves and heat-related morbidity and mortality.
Scaling up investments in climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, and progress towards universal health coverage (#UHC) are critical for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3.
Deep & Genuine Construction Sector Collaboration …
[ Institutional Transformation ]
It is inevitable, therefore, that enormous pressures – social, economic, political, legal, and institutional – are being brought to bear on Building Design Professions, Engineers (all disciplines) and Construction Organizations to rapidly, reliably and creatively transform our existing Built Environment ; new buildings, which constitute just a small part of that workload, will be required to carry the heaviest burden. To properly realize a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for ALL, however, Genuine Collaboration must be fostered … between each actor in the construction sector … between practitioners and scientists/researchers … and between different industrial sectors … silos broken apart and traditional barriers transcended.
Sustainable Buildings – Reality vs. Superficial Impressions …
The minimum Life Cycle for a Sustainable Building is 100 years.
To be capable of later #Adaptation, a Sustainable Building must possess a sufficient/appropriate, level of #Redundancy. Lean construction ignores this issue.
Far too many people appear to be still ‘wrestling’ with an obsolete understanding of #Sustainability. It has many more than just 3 Aspects (social, environmental, economic). Time for everyone to cop on and catch up !
The International Fire Engineering Community, in particular, has a fixation with low-hanging fruit … ‘PV Panels’, ‘Timber Buildings’ … and ‘Performance-Based Fire Codes’, which are a hybrid of prescription (rather than Functional Fire Codes, which offer a more free, more open, and flexible option for designers).
So … before moving on in my next Post to look at the potential for Green Walls being a fire hazard, and comparing a top-down Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Approach with a bottom-up Conventional Fire Safety Approach … here is an interesting graphic image, developed by an architectural colleague in Berlin, Ar.Stefanie Blank, showing the difference between all-too-common superficial impressions and the reality of Sustainable Buildings …
As I have written many times before, the concept of Sustainable Human & Social Development is intricate, open, and dynamic … and it is also continuously evolving. So too, the #SFE #RoadMap must continuously evolve.
Fully reflecting the content and views expressed above, it is necessary to further expand the Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Objectives on Page 10 of the Road Map … in order to clearly and directly integrate the issue of Climate Disruption …
2023-08-21: In an earlier Post here, dated 2022-12-19, I presented a Road Map for Sustainable Fire Engineering (#SFE) … which finished on an Urgent Call to Action targeting three specific, fundamental aspects of a Creative Fire Engineering which is capable of answering the challenges of our Complex Built Environment in the 21st Century … under severe threats from Global Climate Disruption, Climate Synergies leading to near-term Climate Tipping Points … and a startling lack of Global Resilience, refer to the CoVID-19 Pandemic, and Supply Chain Chaos initiated by an old-fashioned Cold War I Warrior in Washington’s White House.
Mainstreaming a Transformed Fire Engineering
Ethical Practice of Fire Research and Science
Reliability of Fire Statistics …
From Any Point Of View … the Final Report of ‘EU FIRESTAT’, a project financed by the European Parliament and commissioned by European Commission Directorate-General DG GROW, is a white elephant … a plodding hippopotamus … a retrograde step … a bitter disappointment !!! Completed in July 2022, it comes nowhere near outlining a viable system for the development of urgently needed Harmonized European Fire Statistics … which must be managed and co-ordinated by #Eurostat, in Luxembourg.
The #FIRESTAT Objectives were extremely limited …
‘ The review proceeds from the assumption that fire incident data can serve a number of important purposes – helping to reduce fires and losses, identifying opportunities for safety interventions and education programs, guiding the allocation of public resources to areas of greatest need and impact, and monitoring progress of safety initiatives.’
Nowhere, in this Report, is there any reference to Sustainable Human and Social Development. Where there are references to ‘sustainability’, these are specifically concerning the long-term financial resourcing of statistical systems.
And nowhere is there even the faintest understanding that Fire Engineering has an essential and critical role in the realization of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment For ALL. Fire Engineering Performance Indicators, Targets and Benchmarks must be developed to facilitate that realization ; and Reliable Fire Statistics are their starting point and basic ingredient.
The Report’s Executive Summary (in English, French, and German) covers the limited range of the Project pretty well … and it is almost easy to read. The ‘great and the good’ of Conventional Fire Engineering, both organizations and individuals, were involved in this Project …
The Final Report’s Boxed Recommendation 3, on Page 8, lists 8 Variables / Statistics to be collected as a Tier 1 / 1st Priority across Europe, from Ireland all the way down to Türkiye :
Number of Fatalities ;
Number of Injuries ;
Age of Fatalities ;
Primary Causal Factor ;
Type of Building ;
Incident Location ;
Incident Date ;
So, for instance … the only Fire Statistic related to the Human Condition of Fatalities and Injured which would have been gathered after the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire in #London was … Age of Fatalities … which, in the context of what actually happened on that tragic night and knowing the very large numbers of People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) and other Vulnerable Building Users who died, or were injured, in the fire … is a very serious error, and entirely ridiculous !!??!! FUBAR !!
Essential Variable / Statistic Correction: Age, Gender and Vulnerability of Victims (whether Fatality or Injured). This is critical information and, whatever the resource implications, must be collected.
And if that wasn’t bad enough … this cack-handed approach to the development of Harmonized European Fire Statistics opens up the probability of another Morán with a computer, after a similar fire incident, again showing that a similar High-Rise Residential Tower could be evacuated down a single, narrow, badly designed staircase in 7 minutes. Say no more !!!
Concerning Incident Date … the Consortium appears to be completely unaware that the European Standard Short Format Date is … Year-Month-Day (YYYY-MM-DD) !! See 4.2.2. in the Final Report. Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy.
Generally concerning Tier 1 Statistics … where is there any serious consideration of the deep and substantial Green / Environmental / Climate Disruption Mitigation and Adaptation Measures being imposed on the Design and Operation of New and Existing Buildings … which are already causing serious fire safety problems ??? See many previous Posts on this Technical Blog.
The Final Report’s Boxed Recommendation 3, on Pages 8 & 9, goes on to list 6 Extra Variables / Statistics to be collected as a Tier 2 / 2nd Priority across Europe, from Portugal all the way up to Finland :
Number of Floors ;
Area of Origin ;
Heat Source ;
Item First Ignited ;
Articles Contributing to Fire Development ;
Fire Safety Measures Present.
Concerning Fire Safety Measures Present … my patience is at an end ! I am heartily sick and tired of pointing out that there is no such thing as a ‘Fire Door’ ; it does not exist !! It is ALWAYS a Fire Resisting Doorset !!! See 4.4.3.
This EU ‘FIRESTAT’ Report properly belongs to the Twilight Zone of the last Century … and in today’s Recycling Bin !
And Even More Worrying …
Concerted Resistance to answering the Fire Safety Needs of Vulnerable Building Users ;
The mistaken view that ‘Sustainability’ is merely a graft-on / optional extra to Conventional Fire Engineering ;
Constraining Building Fire Safety Performance within the boundaries of Current Fire Codes ;
Is the EU ‘FIRESTAT’ Final Report another disturbing sign of the growing Trend towards #GREENWASHING in International Fire Engineering ?
Sustainable Fire Engineering (SFE) is a Facilitator – no more than Architecture, Structural Engineering, or Spatial Planning – in the task of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All. However, SFE has an essential role to fill throughout the difficult journey towards that target. In close collaboration with other design disciplines, many iterations … twists and turns along the road … will be necessary.
Beware Greenwashing !
Sustainability is NOT a graft-on, or an optional extra, to Conventional Fire Engineering. This intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving Concept must cut right to the core of everyday design practice, and must positively impact all areas of that practice.
In this third decade of the 21st Century … the Safety Objectives in current Fire Codes / Regulations are limited, inadequate, and lagging far behind today’s creative moulding and re-shaping of the Built Environment ; they are almost, but not entirely, irrelevant in the context of the urgently required transformation of conventional fire engineering. For anybody who cannot see the broad, beautiful landscape beyond codes and regulations … this SFE Road Map is definitely not for you. For those who can see, your constant companion … your compass … will be a Personal Code of Ethics.
Essential Considerations Before Starting Out On The Road …
1.World Trade Centre Attacks in New York City, on 11 September 2001. Two sets of important Recommendations were issued by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2005 and 2008. Not only is the implementation of these still incomplete, but the solid progress which has been made e.g. on Firefighter Safety, is continuously under threat from vested interests. Other jurisdictions have tended to ignore the Recommendations. SFE takes full account of this Extreme Man-Made Event.
2.Grenfell Tower Fire in London, on 14 June 2017. Evidence at the Official Inquiry continues to shock and horrify ; the entire fire safety regulatory edifice in England is dysfunctional, and it poses a real and serious danger to Public Health and Safety. Inquiry Phase 1 Recommendations were issued in 2019. Already, the Recommendation concerning Evacuation for Vulnerable Building Users & PEEP’s (#33.22 e and f) has been discarded by AHJ’s … and it has also been stated (#34.14) that as everything about the single narrow staircase in the Tower appeared to be OK, it will not be investigated in Inquiry Phase 2 … a sure sign of dysfunctional dysfunction ! SFE sees beyond these major flaws.
3.Sustainable Buildings Il Bosco Verticale Towers in Milano … this exciting Project, designed by Stefano Boeri and completed in October 2014, has become the International Icon for innovative / environment-friendly construction. These new approaches to building design are posing enormous fire safety challenges. [ Remember back … was it 15 years before fire codes were able to ‘solve’ the Atrium in buildings ? ] SFE, however, must cope with this extraordinary level of architectural creativity ; and Fire Engineering Practitioners must be capable of active participation, collaboratively, within Project Design/Construction Teams.
Looking past the Milan Project … it is important for the reader to experience a more rounded flavour of where the exciting synergy between Creative Design and the Inclusive Language of Sustainability is at present, and where it is tending to go …
4.Building Energy Performance Rating Schemes Under enormous environmental and political pressures, the headlong rush to conserve energy in buildings, and to make them more energy efficient … especially after the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine … is proceeding in blissful ignorance of fire safety and necessary independent technical controls. Measurement of real building performance, after energy refurbishment has been completed, is generally avoided.
The Road Ahead … From Gro Harlem Brundtland To Reliable Fire Statistics …
2020-09-22: Adopted at the International Fire Conference: SFE 2016 DUBLIN (www.sfe-fire.eu) …
Many years have passed since the 1972 UN Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In 2016, Sustainable Development remains an intricate, open, dynamic and continually evolving concept. The guide and driver for frontline practitioners, policy and decision makers must be a personal Code of Ethics … an integrated and inter-related whole which cannot be reduced to fixed rules inviting game playing and ‘trade-offs’. After working with this Code, it may be necessary to expand on and discuss its principles and/or some of the issues raised … not to narrow its focus, but to broaden interpretation.
The realization of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment demands a concerted, collaborative, very creative and widely trans-disciplinary effort at national, local, regional and international levels across the whole planet – Our Common Home. The informed operation of appropriate legislation, administrative procedures, performance monitoring and targeting, and incentives/disincentives, at all of these levels, will facilitate initial progress towards this objective … but not the quantity, quality or speed of progress necessary. Our time is running out !
This Code of Ethics applies … for those who subscribe to its values … to policy and decision makers, and the many different individuals and organizations directly and indirectly involved in the design, engineering, construction, and operation (management and maintenance) of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for ALL.
The Purpose of this Code of Ethics is to guide the work of competent individuals and organizations in a context where incomplete or inadequate legislation, administrative procedures and incentives/disincentives exist … but, more importantly, where they do not exist at all … and, amid much confusion and obfuscation of the terms, to ensure that implementation is authentically ‘sustainable’, and reliably ‘safe’ and ‘resilient’ for every person in the receiving community, society or culture … before it is too late !
2020-07-23: Time is fast running out. You have to ask yourself: “Do I feel lucky ? Am I a GreenWasher“ – do I enjoy playing with numbers, relaxing with estimates having tenuous links to reality, cheating the ‘system’ (just like Germany’s Dieselgate), or convincing myself (and everybody else) that progress is being made when the evidence clearly shows that things are getting worse … “or an Implementor ??” – establishing meaningful Benchmarks, setting (and iteratively re-setting) ambitious Performance Targets using reliable, up-to-date data and statistics, then closely monitoring Positive Progress, and reporting Real Verifiable Results …
In 2015 … 193 World Leaders, representing all of the United Nations’ Member States, adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) … placing our world, i.e. its people, environment and limited resources, on a path towards a more sustainable future … more specifically, aiming to ‘free humanity from poverty, secure a healthy planet for future generations, and build peaceful, inclusive societies as a foundation for ensuring lives of dignity for all’.
To properly track the implementation of these consensus goals … reliable, quality, and timely data is vital. Yet, five years later too much of the data is still out-of-date or unavailable, and too many people are being left behind in the numbers. Half of the data used to measure the SDG Target Performance Indicators are missing. Two-thirds of poverty data from Sub-Saharan Africa and global deforestation figures are five years out-of-date. Only 100 countries in the world have nationally-representative data on violence against women, and more than 25 million refugees around the world go uncounted in national statistics.
With only 10 years left to achieve the SDG Targets, there is a critical need NOW for a Data Platform which makes quality and timely data for the SDG’s Accessible to All, improves knowledge of geospatial tools and Geographic Information Systems (#GIS), and builds capacity to use these tools to support global policy and decision making …
In partnership with the Environmental Systems Research Institute (#ESRI) and National Geographic … SDG’s Today: Global Portal for Real-Time Data … is a platform developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (#SDSN). This one-of-a-kind open access data platform has the potential to revolutionize how we understand and communicate the urgency of the SDG’s and how solutions are developed, by providing a much-needed virtual space where key stakeholders from around the world can access and engage with timely data (updated annually or in more frequent intervals) on the SDG’s, and learn how to use the data effectively to push Agenda 2030 forward. The platform also houses GIS training and education resources and supports countries and other institutions to produce, share, and engage with the data to help ensure that, together, we meet the global goals by 2030.
Using Data To Effectively Implement The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development …
The Court of Auditors assessed whether EU co-funded energy efficiency investments in buildings had cost-effectively helped the EU towards meeting its 2020 energy saving target. The Auditors concluded that operational programmes and project selection were not driven by a cost-effectiveness rationale. While Member States required buildings to be renovated to save a minimum of energy and improve their energy rating, this sometimes happened at a high cost. Because of a lack of comparative assessment of project merits and of minimum/maximum thresholds for cost-effectiveness, projects delivering higher energy savings or other benefits at lower cost were not prioritised. In overly-polite language, they recommend improving the planning, selection and monitoring of investments to improve the cost-effectiveness of spending.
With all of the Hot Air and Ridiculous Hoopla about improving Energy Conservation and Efficiency in New Buildings (Green, BREEAM, PassivHaus, LEED, nZEB, etc., etc.) … by far the biggest Energy Problem is with Europe’s Existing Building Stock. This Auditor’s Report shows that Progress in Meeting Agreed EU Targets is dismal, and there is still a cynical approach in Member States to the use of EU Funding …
Update 2020-09-01: Although the term ‘Vulnerable People’ remains unaltered, I considered it wise, and very necessary bearing in mind the obvious myopia in the mainstream health, safety and design worlds … clearly demonstrated by the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire in England, and this current CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 Global Pandemic … to include references to specific social groups …
Vulnerable People: Those people – in a community, society or culture – who are most at risk of being physically, psychologically or sociologically wounded, hurt, damaged, injured, or killed … and include, for example, people with disabilities, young children, people with health conditions, frail older people, women in late pregnancy, refugees, migrants, prisoners, the poor, and homeless.
2020-07-20: So many diverse design disciplines and interested groups are involved in the realization, operation and maintenance of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable Human Environment (built, social, economic, virtual, and institutional) … that the use of simple, easily assimilated language and precise, harmonized technical terminology must be widely exercised. For the effective application of Building Information Modelling (BIM), this is particularly important.
And concerning Fire Engineering, it is not clear when the practice began, but defining a concept simply in terms of performance in a ‘standard test fire’ is entirely inadequate, and fails to explain the actual meaning of the concept.
This Terminology … a body of particular terms, each explaining and defining a single concept, covering inter-related building requirements, e.g. human health, accessibility and fire safety for all, firefighting, social rights, design, performance monitoring, and facility management … takes account of:
Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA)
WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Fire Engineering Terms … take account of the ‘realistic’ end condition, i.e. a real fire in a real building which is occupied or used by real people with varying behaviour and abilities in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from a fire building, and active participation in a building’s Fire Emergency Management Plan.
General Terms … are also included in order to facilitate a better understanding of:
the complexity of human behaviour and perception (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and proprioceptive) ;
the wide range of health conditions ; and, more specifically
2019-04-05 (2021-07-22): Let us imagine, for a moment, that we are in another dimension … The Twilight Zone …
… and that this is a Positive Energy Building, set in a sprawling, diverse, interconnected and flourishing #Woodland with its ecosystems, flora and fauna … an idealized scene … the Sustainability Idyll …
But … is it … ?? What percentage of the world’s population would ever have the opportunity to live this way ???
And … lurking all around this beautiful scene, is an inherent and growing threat to life, property, and those trees, shrubs, and wildlife … #Wildfires / #Bushfires …
The Aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering (#SFE) is to dramatically reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment (including the social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional environments) … to protect the Natural Environment … and, within Buildings, to ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for All Users / Occupants, not just for Some, during the full building life cycle.
[ Human Environment: Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the Natural Environment. ]
So … how do we reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment … and improve its #Resilience ?
A recent publication provides a good platform – a benchmark – to begin this serious conversation …
December 2018 … the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (#IUFRO), which is based in Vienna, published Occasional Paper No. 32: ‘GLOBAL FIRE CHALLENGES IN A WARMING WORLD – Summary Note of a Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change’ …
Today, catastrophic wildfires are increasingly common across the globe. Recent disasters have attracted media attention and strengthened the perception of wildfires as ‘bad’ events, a plague worsened by climate disruption that has yet to be eradicated. Although it is true that fire has a destructive potential, the reality of global fire activity depicts a much more complex picture in which fire can be a useful, if not necessary, tool for food security and the preservation of cultural landscapes, as well as a an integral element of many ecosystems and their biodiversity.
Global fire activity is shaped by diverse social, economic, and natural drivers influencing the fire environment. The culminating complexity of these factors defines, in turn, the likelihood of a landscape to burn and the potential positive or negative outcomes for communities and ecosystems that can result from a blaze. Although many regions remain understudied, the effects of ongoing climate disruption associated with other planetary changes are already visible, transforming fire activity in ways that are not well understood but are likely to be dramatic, with potential dire consequences for nature, and society in case of #Adaptation failure.
Based on the limited available statistics, there is a growing trend in the cost of wildfires. In addition to human lives that are lost to flames or smoke, and the billions of euros imputable to firefighting and insurance coverage, the growing interest in costs linked to healthcare, business stability, or the provision of ecosystem services such as drinking-water indicates negative economic consequences impacting countries’ GDP and social stability. Attempts to evaluate the future costs of wildfire disasters point at a worsening situation, yet the list of possible social and economic effects is incomplete and the magnitude of envisaged impacts is conservative.
Notwithstanding the difficulties inherent to global climate modelling, there is a scientific consensus on the future increase in the frequency of fire-conducive weather associated with drier ecosystems, a mix that will eventually result in more frequent and intense fire activity. When combined with an ever-growing world population and unsustainable land uses, the conditions leading to fire disaster will only be intensified. Although fire governance has historically advocated for fire suppression, a ‘NO FIRE’ motto is not an option anymore in the new fire reality. Current policies aiming at total fire suppression have been shown to be detrimental and are therefore outdated. The key to wildfire disaster risk reduction in a changing world now lies in learning to live with fire.
Investments in international co-operation, integrated management, local community involvement, cutting-edge technologies, and long-term data collection are critically needed to ensure the future of fire disaster risk mitigation. Moreover, future land development policies must prioritize the protection and the restoration of natural and cultural landscapes that have been degraded by the inappropriate use of fire or, conversely, by historical fire exclusion; keeping a place for fire in forest resource management and landscape restoration has been shown to be a cost-effective and efficient solution to reduce fire hazard.
Overall, synthesis of globally available scientific evidence revealed the following key issues for Landscape Management and Governance:
Climate Disruption, with longer, hotter, and drier fire seasons, in combination with other environmental changes linked to population growth and unsustainable land-use practices, is contributing to extreme wildfire events that exceed existing fire management capacities. The world is entering a ‘new reality’ that demands new approaches to fire governance.
Fire is an inherent feature of the Earth System and many ecosystems, including their fauna, are dependent on it for their long-term survival; nevertheless, ongoing changes in global fire activity in terms of location, intensity, severity, and frequency will have immense costs for biodiversity, ecosystem services, human well-being and livelihoods, and national economies – to extents that have yet to be evaluated. Investment in social, economic, and environmental monitoring is therefore urgent, especially in under-studied regions.
Integrated fire risk reduction is key to adapting to ongoing changes in global fire risk. Future #Sustainable Fire Risk Mitigation demands integrated region-specific approaches based on a clear understanding of fires in context, population awareness and preparedness, fire surveillance and early-warning systems, adaptive suppression strategies, fire-regime restoration, landscape-scale fuel management, changes to many land use practices, and active restoration of landscapes.
Engagement with local communities, land-owners, businesses and public stakeholders – via multiple tiers of governance – is crucial to restore and maintain landscapes that are biodiverse and functional, respectful of local cultures and identities, economically productive, and above all, fire-resilient.
People have historically achieved sustainable co-existence with flammable ecosystems and have often used fire as a land-management tool, thereby shaping many modern and long-standing landscapes around the world. Traditional fire knowledge is thus key to adapting to local changes in fire activity, using known techniques for the reduction of dangerous fuel loads, prescribed burning and sustainable landscape management practices.
Building adaptive capacity to confront fires must be based on knowledge of the natural and cultural roles of fire, how they have shaped our modern landscapes, and their importance in the long-term functioning of socio-ecological systems. Further developments in land-system science, geospatial technologies, and computer modelling will enhance our understanding of the long-term ecological and socio-economic drivers of fire through the widespread collection and distribution of harmonized fire data at the global level. However, creating and sharing such knowledge requires national and international investments in scientific and operational fire science programmes.
Catastrophic fires are undeniably part of our future. Current scientific estimates are conservative, meaning that changes in fire activity might be worse than anticipated. We have to act now to mitigate catastrophic fires and limit the occurrence of disastrous situations. Given disparities but also similarities in the levels of fire risk around the world, and the capacities to manage it, knowledge and technology transfers through international cooperation will be a paramount factor in learning to live with fire.
This Occasional Paper is the result of a large collaborative effort by fire scientists and practitioners who believe that learning to co-exist with changing fire activity is not only possible but necessary if we, as a global society, are to adapt to climate disruption and keep our natural and cultural landscapes healthy, resilient, and safe for the next generations. The work presented hereafter was developed during, and as follow-up to, the Global Expert Workshop on ‘Fire and Climate Change’ hosted in Vienna, Austria, on 2-4 July 2018. It stresses the diversity and the complexity of the global fire situation, a situation that is evolving, positively or negatively, in unknown proportions due to global environmental changes — with climate disruption being the most acknowledged manifestation.
Conclusion – Learning To Live With Fire
We live on a flammable planet; although not everything is meant to burn, fire cannot be eliminated. Ongoing global climate disruption combined with other planetary changes is leading to more frequent and more extreme fires exposing vulnerable societies, economies, and ecosystems to disaster situations. The recognition of fire activity as a worsening hazard threatening human security is the necessary first step towards international co-operation for the mitigation of disaster risk situations in fire-prone areas.
However, we are not defenceless. Fire scientists in many regions of the world have been developing successful strategies and tools based on cutting-edge technologies for several years. Those are now mature enough to be up-scaled and adapted to other geographic contexts as part of national fire management frameworks. Additionally, integrating existing and future scientific knowledge on climate disruption and changing fire regimes, and systematically collecting long-term data on current and past fire uses will foster better informed decisions, models and enhanced efforts towards Wildfire Disaster Risk Reduction, as well as contribute to the development of Sustainable Anthropocene Fire Regimes.
We hope this paper will be a catalyst for a paradigm shift, so fires are not seen as an enemy to fight but as natural and necessary phenomena, as well as a useful and necessary tool that can often help protect people and nature. It is paramount to revise, fund, and fulfil future management, research, and governance needs if we are, as world citizens, to trigger a societal change that will help us better live with fires.
The information and insights contained in this Occasional Paper connect together to promote the use of several existing solutions to the problem: defining national fire risk reduction frameworks, collecting and analyzing relevant traditional knowledge and biophysical fire data, investing in fire detection and prediction technologies, involving and preparing stakeholders, and improving fire use and landscape management in ways that help control the fuel load and the spread of fire, while limiting GreenHouse Gas (#GHG) emissions and protecting the communities and the landscapes they live in and often depend on.
The Status Quo is no longer an option; it is time to make Integrated Fire Management the rule rather than the exception.
I was very pleased to make a Presentation at both events, adapted to suit an Irish context, on … ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering – Necessary Professional Transformation For The 21st Century’ … which continues to evolve.
Sustainable Fire Engineering: The creative, person-centred and ethical Fire Engineering response, in resilient built form and smart systems, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development … the many aspects of which must receive synchronous and balanced consideration !
Annual Fire Losses, both direct and indirect, amount to a very significant percentage of Gross Domestic Product (#GDP) in all economies, whether they are rich or poor … and result in enormous environmental devastation and social disruption. Some losses have not yet been fully identified, e.g. environmental impact … while others are not yet capable of being fully quantified, e.g. business interruption, brand and reputation damage. Globally, fire statistics still remain unreliable. In all cases, however, the waste of valuable human and natural resources caused by preventable fires is unsustainable and no longer acceptable.
From an entirely different perspective … Sustainable Buildings are presenting every society with an innovative and exciting re-interpretation of how a building functions in response to critical energy, environmental, climate change and planetary capacity pressures … an approach which has left the International Fire Engineering and Firefighting Communities far behind in its wake, struggling to develop the necessary ‘creative’ and ‘sustainable’ fire safety strategies.
The Aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering (#SFE) is to dramatically reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment (including the social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional environments) … to protect the Natural Environment … and, within buildings, to ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for All Occupants, not just for Some, over the full building life cycle.
The following Priority Themes for SFE lie outside, or beyond, the constrained and limited fire safety objectives of current fire regulations, codes and standards – objectives which do not properly protect society, a fire engineer’s clients, or the facility manager’s organization:
Fire Safety for ALL, not just for Some. Nobody left behind !
Firefighter Safety. Everyone goes home ! It is easy to dramatically improve firefighter safety with building design. So, why haven’t NIST’s 2005 and 2008 WTC 9-11 Critical Recommendations been properly implemented anywhere ?
Property Protection. Fire damage and post-fire reconstruction/refurbishment are a huge waste of resources. On the other hand, protection of an organization’s image/brand/reputation is important … and business continuity is essential. Heritage fire losses can never be replaced.
Environmental Impact. Prevention of a fire is far better than any cure ! But prevention must also begin by specifying ‘clean’ technologies and products. Low Pressure Water Mist Systems are not only person/environment-friendly and resource efficient … they are absolutely essential in airtight and hyper energy-efficient building types (e.g. LEED, PassivHaus, BREEAM) in order to achieve an effective level of fire safety for all occupants, and firefighters. [ Note: Environmental Impact Assessment (#EIA) has been superseded by Sustainability Impact Assessment (#SIA).]
Building Innovation, People and Their Interaction. Fire engineers and firefighters must begin to understand today’s new design strategies.
Sustainable Design and Engineering. Wake up and smell the coffee ! Legislation can only achieve so much. Spatial planners, building designers and fire engineers must subscribe to a robust Code of Ethics * which is fit for purpose in the Human Environment of the 21st Century.
Sustainable Fire Engineering Solutions are …
Adapted to a local context, i.e. climate change/variability/extremes, social need, geography, economy, and culture, etc ;
Reliability-based – lessons from real extreme and hybrid events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 Attack, 2008 Mumbai/2015 Paris/2016 Brussels Hive Attacks and the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident, are applied to frontline practice ;
Person-centred – real people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and due consideration is given to their responsible needs, and their health, safety, welfare and security in the Human Environment ;
Resilient – functioning must be reliable during normal conditions, and include the ability to withstand, adapt to and absorb unusual disturbance, disruption or damage, and thereafter to quickly return to an enhanced state of function.