Monday, February 20, 2017

Risk Analysis for Emergency Communications

Emergency communication systems indicate the existence of an emergency and communicate the information necessary to protect life.  NFPA 72,  National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code , describes six different types of systems: one-way emergency communication system, distributed recipient mass notification system (DRMNS), in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications system, in-building mass notification system, wide-area mass notification system, and two-way emergency communications system. Each of these types of systems are suitable for various structures, locations, and situations. Determining the right system for the right structure and application is a performance-based task that must rely on a risk analysis.

A thorough risk analysis will determine if a system is needed and what type should be installed. There are nine elements that a  risk analysis for mass notification systems must include.

Emergency response plan. Is there a written emergency response plan in place? If a current plan exists then the mass notification system can be designed to address the hazards presented in the plan.  If no plan exists, the a full risk analysis must be conducted.  Integrating and installing mass notification systems will require the development of an emergency response plan.  These plans are to be developed in accordance with NFPA 1600 and NFPA 1620.

Occupant load. The risk analysis should consider the amount of people that occupy a given structure or space.  This analysis must be based on the maximum occupant load of the entire structure, using the occupant load factor shown in Table of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

Occupancy type. What is the occupancy classification of the structure?  What activities take place within the building?

Perceived peril. What factors would contribute to the harm of a building’s occupants?  What dangers or hazards exist? What are some obstacles to protection of life?

Building characteristics. What is the buildings function or purpose? What is the structures layout? What are normal operation conditions within the property? What systems and safety precautions are in place, or built into the structure?  Using a tool like the, S.C.O.P.E. worksheet can aid in this process.

Occupant behavior. How will certain design elements affect occupant behavior? Based on the building characteristics how will occupants behave in an emergency situation?  Are there systems and structures in place that would be detrimental to occupants based on their planned behavior?

Hazard development. At what rate will an event occur? Will storage, systems, or processes contribute to an increased rate of development? What could escalate an emergency incident?  Are there any systems in place to mitigate or decrease the rate of hazard development?

All-hazards approach.  All practical potential events should be considered in the risk analysis.  General categories of potential events include, natural hazards, human caused, and technological events.

Extent of notification. How many people and in what locations will need to be notified?  What will they need to be notified of? How extensive will the notification need to be? This will be different for each event and the risk analysis should outline the notification extent for each potential event identified.

Fire and emergency events require quick and decisive decision-making. Any emergency communication system should be designed to activate quickly and provide the most appropriate, clear, and concise information to the occupants.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Solve Fire Protection Problems Like a Management Consultant (Part 1)

One of my favorite shows is House of Lies.  Based on the book by the same title, this comedy series showcases the behind-the-scenes activities of management consulting. Intrigued by this “world” I spent the better part of a year studying the management consulting industry.

McKinsey & Company is the most widely regarded and renowned management consulting firms.  Their methods of analyzing problems, creating effective solutions, and managing the process is what distinguishes them as “the most influential private organization in America”. These methods are largely responsible for setting “the course of American capitalism”.  The systems and processes that McKinsey uses for problem solving in the manufacturing, energy, transportation, healthcare, communications, and pharmaceutical industries, can also be applied, with great effectiveness, to the fire protection industry.

Over the next few months I will be publishing a 7-part blog post series on how to practically implement and utilize McKinsey & Company systems and processes to solve fire protection problems. This series is collectively titled, McKinsey Method for Fire Protection Solutions. As you read keep in mind that these systems and processes can be applied to  fire protection organization and leadership, and to physical fire protection systems and components.

The benchmark McKinsey problem-solving process contains three components:

  1. Analyze the problem
  2. Present the solution
  3. Manage the process

Analyze the problem. To find a solution, the problem or need must first be identified. In organizations this problem may be related to competition, organizational structure, financial efficiency, or operations management.  In regard to fire protection, the problem could be related to code compliance, system selection and functionality, or performance-based design.  After the problem has been identified and clearly defined, a solution can be created. McKinsey utilizes a “fact-based, hypothesis-driven” 4-step process (to be discussed in a future post) to solve any problem: frame the problem, design the analysis, gather the data, interpret the results.

Present the solution. Even more challenging than creating a problem solutions, is communicating that solution and having it accepted for implementation.  Effectively presenting a solution is a two-pronged approach, structure and buy-in.  The solution presentation has to be structured in such a way that it can be communicated clearly and concisely.  The problem solution must be presented so that it is understood, and generates buy-in from necessary stakeholders and decision makers. Communication is key!

Manage the process.  Somebody has to do the actual work of implementing the solution. This is where the skills of project management, administration, and leadership come together. The individual, or team, responsible for solution implementation, must possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA's) to manage the project through to completion.  This individual must also be able to maintain the budgets, paperwork, and other documentation required for the successful administration of the project. The individual responsible for implementing the solution must be able to lead people.  This person will be responsible for leading the team that is working on this project, and for working with the client or stakeholders to see it to completion.

Resources and references:

Monday, February 6, 2017

NFPA 407 Aviation Fueling Checklist

NFPA 407 is the Standard for Aircraft Fuel Servicing. The standard outlines general requirements for all aviation fueling operations and four individual fuel applications.  

General requirements (Chapter 4). These apply to all fueling operations.  Outlined in this section is general safety guidelines, fueling equipment requirements and specifications, and fueling operations requirements.

Aviation fueling facilites (Chapter 5). This section addresses requirements for fuel tanks, installation plan review requirements, system components, and acceptance testing criteria.  In addition to the requirements listed in this section, fuel tanks must also be installed per the requirements of NFPA 30.

Airport fueling vehicles (Chapter 6).  Fuel vehicle manufacturer requirements are outlined in this section. Marking, vehicle operation, and general safety requirements are also stated in this section.

Rooftop heliports (Chapter 7).  With a few exceptions, this section largely refers the reader to NFPA 418, Standard for Heliports.

Self-service aircraft fueling (Chapter 8). Provides a short list of requirements for the protection of the user.  These include location of emergency fuel shut-off switches, fire protection, informational signage, access control, and fire protection.

For fire inspectors tasked with conducting periodic inspections of these facilities, the minimum requirements can be difficult to pull from the standard.  The link below will take you to an NFPA 407 inspection checklist that can be used for guidance during an inspection.

Related posts:

Information: 503-969-2028 or

Monday, January 30, 2017

Fire Protection for Mission Critical Facilities w/ ORR Protection Systems

Interview with Lee Kaiser, VP of Engineering, ORR Protection Systems

Tell us about yourself.

I am a fire protection engineer and Vice President of Engineering for ORR Protection Systems. I fit the definition of a “fire nerd.” I grew up in a firefighting family that volunteered in their community and was a “chief’s kid.”  My father’s day job was running a hardware store, which I worked in, and that gave me lots of opportunities to develop mechanical aptitude and electrical skills. I went to Iowa State University and majored in Construction Engineering. I first worked as a mechanical engineer for a consulting engineering firm and started to specialize in fire protection systems. That interest leads me to ORR where I’m finally able to focus on special hazards fire protection systems, which is a passion I didn’t know I had until it found me.

How did you get into this career field? What attracted you to this?

In my mechanical engineering career, we had three areas of design responsibility: HVAC, Plumbing, and Fire Protection.  At the time I volunteered for my local fire department (and still do) and the leadership at the engineering firm assumed I would like getting assigned projects with more intense fire protection needs (they were right).  I started picking up more and more projects with smoke control, clean agent systems, and foam systems and eventually I tested for a fire protection engineering license after already having a mechanical engineering license.  I’ve always taken a construction-oriented approach to fire protection systems and working for ORR allows me to continue with that angle.

Tell us about ORR Protection Systems who they are and what they offer.

ORR Protection Systems is a provider of special hazards and fire alarm systems as well as a full-service provider of fire protection system inspection testing and maintenance.  We specialize in mission critical facilities and power generation plants, but we have customers in all markets. We have a strong national business and provide services for many large companies that choose to consolidate their fire protection needs with one provider for convenience and consistent quality.

What does “mission critical” mean? What is a “mission critical” facility?

In the traditional sense mission critical means data centers and telecommunications facilities that must operate with high reliability and minimal downtime. We feel that definition extends to lots of other facilities that have a high cost of downtime or perform a function critical to their business or the public. With that mindset, many of our customers value their fire protection systems and voluntarily choose higher levels of protection that exceed the minimum levels required by building codes.

What are some fire protection/life safety consideration for data centers that are different for other occupancy types?

Like any building or room, data centers cannot tolerate a large fire, but it’s the information technology equipment in a data center that is sensitive even to small fires or smoke events.  It is the ripple effects that a lost or interrupted computer process has on public safety, critical services, or economic loss away from the room the fire occurs in that makes data centers unique. Our society’s reliance on technology, in one way or another, originates in a data center and that makes them worthy of higher levels of fire protection.

What codes and standards apply to data centers?

NFPA 75 is an occupancy standard for information technology equipment rooms (data centers). It’s the primary standard, but it references several others where it borrows concepts for protection, including NFPA 76, the National Fire Alarm and Signalling Code, and the National Electrical Code.  

How do these apply?

NFPA 75 is a voluntary standard. The choice to follow the requirements in NFPA 75 is made after performing a risk analysis of the data center room or facility.  There are seven risk factors listed in the standard that help determine if it should be followed.

Have you been involved with and/or can you comment on the NFPA Research Foundations Data Center Project?

The Fire Protection Research Foundation has conducted a two-phase project on smoke detection in high airflow spaces and has completed phase one of a two-phase project on the use of gaseous suppression systems in high airflow spaces. Phase two is planned for late 2017 and 2018 and is in the fundraising stage. ORR has contributed time on a technical panel and financial resources as a principal sponsor for some of these. We feel this research is beneficial for our customers and are happy now that research from the detection project has now made it into NFPA 75.    

What do you see for the future of data center protection and design?

I think that designers plans for data centers are very creative and different. I think there will be the continued growth of modularity and data centers will be designed to grow in building blocks, such as the use of containerized data center buildings.  I also think the computing power packed into smaller and smaller footprints will force operators to consider advanced fire protection systems like clean agent systems and air sampling detectors because a single thermal event localized in one area of a room can affect so much processing output.  I also believe that it will make it more cost-justified because the more expensive fire protection approaches can protect much more financial revenue being generated by the high-density computing equipment.

I expect liquid-cooled servers will be more popular in the future and manufacturers will choose combustible oils as the cooling fluid. The oil, similar to mineral oil, is a combustible liquid and that will necessitate a change in the fire protection approach because combustible liquids have really never been a part of IT equipment rooms before.

In regard to data centers what is the most important information for the following groups:

  • firefighters responding to emergencies in these facilities, should know to power down electrical equipment and when it is appropriate to do so. Can power be shut down for just the affected portion of the facility? The best way to figure this out is to have a meeting with the data center facility engineers and work it out ahead of time.
  • facility managers and building owners responsible for these facilities, should understand how to operate the fire protection systems they have in place, how to train their employees and contractors to interact with them, and what not to do to cause false alarms or accidental discharges of a suppression system. Facility managers need to have written procedures for their systems and contractors servicing those systems should be able to help provide them if there are none.
  • fire inspectors and plans examiners that are reviewing these occupancies, should know whether NFPA 75 has been applied or not, and the installation standards for the chosen fire protection systems. Most buildings are not data centers and the specialized systems that get installed can be rare in some jurisdictions. It is really great when a fire inspection department is big enough they can turn one person into the “special hazards” guy and he can review all those systems.

Do you have any recommended resources for further study?

I have learned a lot from reading manufacturer white pages and from the Fire Suppression Systems Association resources.  The special hazards industry is small and much of the institutional knowledge that gets handed down to the next generation is documented through the FSSA and certain manufacturers.