Fire & Life Safety (Focus On Preparation and Prevention)
- By Mike Halligan
- May 1st, 2016
For the better part of the
last 20 years, performance-based
designs have been promoted as an alternative
to traditional or prescriptive building,
fire and life safety codes. The reason for this is
that performance-based designs are tailored to
meet the fire protection and life safety needs of
a particular facility. As campus facility designs
have evolved and become more complex — consider a campus
residential high-rise building combined with retail, classroom and
office space — new approaches have increased the necessity and
popularity of a performance-based code approach.
While the performance-based design approach is quite common
in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United
Kingdom, implementation in the U.S. over the past 20 years has
been slow. The reason for such slow acceptance is due in part to the
code restrictions mandated by local and state governments.
Codes and Performance-Based Solutions
Performance-based design has been increasing in popularity
due to situations where prescriptive codes don’t adequately address
or meet the design needs of a more unique facility. Most facility
planners and architects would agree that building codes have not
kept pace with technological innovation and current construction
practices. To account for this fact, the National Fire Protection
Association (NFPA) has started to include performance-based
options in several of its prescriptive codes, including NFPA 1
(Uniform Fire Code), NFPA 13 (Standard for the Installation of
Sprinkler Systems), NFPA 72 (National Fire Alarm Code) and
NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code).
The International Code Council (ICC) also addresses performance-based design in documents that include the International
Performance Code, the International Building Code and the
International Fire Code.
Performance-based design differs from prescriptive design in
that designers can use alternative solutions as long as they meet
the stated goal of the performance-based code.
Assemble the Design Team
The campus design team should not attempt to create a
performance-based design on its own. There is a need for a team
of disciplines to work together: architects, electrical engineers
and mechanical engineers, as well as fire protection engineers and
representatives from the user and local authorities having jurisdiction
all need to work together during the design, construction and
acceptance of a performance-based design. Skilled engineers,
designers and safety professionals understand the purpose and
goals of both prescriptive and performance methods. They also
understand that there are pros and cons to both design methods.
The campus must also understand what the long-term impacts
of a performance-based approach will have on building uses and
maintenance of critical systems. Too often maintenance is not
adequately funded for highly complex HVAC systems or simple
items such as horizontal fire doors. There can be as much as a 2 to
7 percent increase in maintenance costs for systems with unique
sequencing to control the spread of smoke. The team will need
to factor in the upfront cost of performance-based solutions and
weigh any upfront savings with long-term maintenance costs.
Functions that may take place inside a performance-based
design may be limited. Fuel loads and fire spread are key factors.
Altering fuel loads may have a negative impact on life safety
systems. Changes of use — even minor changes — will require a
review of the original performance design parameters.
There is a place for performance-based design on our campuses.
The important elements to remember are:
- With each functional change during the life of the building,
new plans must be compared to the original fire safety goals
established during the design of the performance-based code-compliance
- Initial cost savings must be measured against any increase in
Most campuses can identify opportunities when a performance-based design for fire safety is appropriate. Oftentimes, the
best building candidates are older historic structures that a campus
wants to find a new purpose for. Performance-based designs
can help preserve the historic elements of the building as well as
ensure that modern-day life safety is incorporated.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.
Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.