Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London's Olympic Fire Protection

The 2012 summer Olympics in London are in full swing. The Games are taking place over 24 venues divided into 3 zones, The Olympic Park, The River Zone, and The Central Zone.  Four firms  (Arup, Buro Happold, Jeremy Gardner Assoc., Tenos) were contracted to provide fire protection/life safety consulting to these major developments.  Each of these firms brought there own engineering approach and code interpretations and applications to the table.

The venues fall into 3 categories for fire protection considerations:
  • New Permanent Venues
    •  built for the long term
    •  may require specific modifications for the Games
  • New Temporary Venues
    • built specifically for the duration of the Games (in place 1 year before, to be remove after)
  • Existing Venues
    • require specific modifications and change of use during the Games
The layout, site design, and construction of the Olympic venues are governed by the International Olympic Committee's specific guidelines.  In addition to the main 24 venues, there are also support structures and additional facilities required to run the Games and broadcast them around the world.  These facilities and equipment will be rented or contracted out and includes temporary structures, technical facilities, A/V cable runs, and specific required Olympic signage.  Other temporary elements contributing to the Games include tents, fencing, cabins, modular structure, scaffolding, and temporary power supplies.  Each of these need to be looked at separately, and as part of the whole, when evaluation fire protection/life safety hazards and code compliance.

As the site is governed by the IOC guidelines and standards, issues arise regarding meeting their standard and meeting fire/life safety compliance.  Some of these differences concern:
  • venue designs and layouts
  • access routes and entry/exit guidelines
  • distances to venues and seating locations
  • security and access control
  • queuing, loading, and exit times for various groups
Here, in America fire prevention and regard for life safety would have been an afterthought compared to response planning, however, in the home of Big Ben fire prevention and life safety is a primary concern.  The London Fire Brigade's Fire Engineers have been embedded in the planning stages for 2 years leading up to now.  A Central Fire Engineering Support Group maintained oversight of all planning applications and fire safety issues of major projects.  Fire safety support teams throughout the London area and associated boroughs provided input, advice, and guidance on everyday fire safety and protection concerns and issues.  Protection and prevention work stream groups were set up within the main structure of the London Fire Brigade Olympics Project work plan.

Fire protection and life safety is just one small part of the successful planning, preparation, and production of the Olympic Games.  Just this small part is made up of many groups and people, yet all working toward the same goal.  There is much to be garnered from observing this process of ensuring a fire safe Olympic community. We see a priority placed on proactive fire prevention rather than reactive response (though incorporated), a variegated command structure that required the creation of multiple groups for consistent oversight (a skeleton of the ICS structures that we are familiar with), every one with their own interests working together to do what needs to be done to ensure that the Games are successful. 

To read more, and see a breakdown of fire protection measures for each facility check out this presentation from Hemming Fire.