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Why sprinklers now? The proposed ordinance to sprinkler all high-rise buildings in the city of Chicago has been the source of more public pressure, aldermanic wrangling and technical debate than any other issue facing the city council in the last three decades. Millions of dollars in potential costs are at stake.

11/01/2004


Why sprinklers now?

The proposed ordinance to sprinkler all high-rise buildings in the city of Chicago has been the source of more public pressure, aldermanic wrangling and technical debate than any other issue facing the city council in the last three decades. Millions of dollars in potential costs are at stake.

Last year's tragic fire at the County Building has only exacerbated what was already the most vexing life-safety issue facing the city since the adoption of the original ordinance in 1973. The need to finally address the complete range of life-safety issues, relating to both commercial and residential high-rise structures, has split the debate along distinct lines: 1) Mandate the installation of sprinklers in all high-rise buildings by a certain date with no exceptions; or 2) implement an incremental approach.

The former offers a proven capability to fight fires, protect property and save lives. It, however, will be enormously costly, requiring large capital investments by property owners, especially in buildings that may be near the end of their useful life cycle.

The incremental approach relies on increasing life safety by improving fire-alarm and detection technologies and stressing better, but less-costly [passive] solutions. Short of full sprinkler protection, they offer a higher level of safety that would still save lives.

Both approaches, in my opinion, seem likely to fall victim to legislative and bureaucratic inertia. Unless a new, more pragmatic pathway is found, no action will be taken.

The fire-protection community is strongly behind the use of sprinklers in high-rise buildings; they work. Yet a more subtle understanding of the interwoven technical, financial and political aspects of the issue is needed to converge on a truly workable answer to the problem. Consider these solutions:

  • Inventory and classify all high-rise buildings based on their actual life-safety risk. Commercial and residential buildings are different. Address the most difficult buildings and hazardous situations first.

  • Develop a customized range of solutions for each hazard class, utilizing proven performance criteria, as the basis for improved life-safety design.

  • Begin the differentiation process by addressing the worst offenders first—apply the best engineering knowledge and practical firefighting experience the community can offer to the life-safety needs of individual buildings.

  • Utilize new computer-aided-design tools, including advanced fire-modeling techniques, to achieve the most appropriate—and cost-effective—alternative to meet the criteria.

  • Utilize new research into the psychological reactions of human beings in fire scenarios to improve life-safety systems. Get better at knowing how people react.

  • Develop better approaches to managing people under life-threatening stress.

  • Infuse the culture of life safety into the daily habits of all high-rise occupants. Increase people's interaction with their immediate surroundings.

  • Provide a funding mechanism, such as low-interest loans or tax incentives, to spread the increased life-safety costs over a long time period. Think of the city, property owners and the public as partners. But always remember: It has to be affordable to be implemented.

  • Create a public/private forum to address all life safety issues in the city. We need to talk together to find a solution that works for everybody.

Stephen O'Malley , AIA, Gage Babcock and Assocs., Chicago

Where's the LON side?

As I started to read "Taking Control of BAS Specs" (CSE 09/04 p. 25) I initially couldn't help but nod my head in agreement. Then disgust set in. At one point the panel discussion noted that consulting engineers should model their specifications on "an independent source, such as ASHRAE Guideline 13-2000."

I am getting exasperated with the ASHRAE crowd thinking they rule the BAS world. There are alternatives and other building functions such as security, fire, elevator control, lighting, appliance control, power, communications and process. There are most definitely many other ways to move and interact with data.

Let me quote a recent CSE NewsWatch story (9/27/04) about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopting a new controls specification: "UFGS-13801 and UFGS-15951 are based on LonWorks technology with the ANSI/EIA/CEA 709.1 open communications protocol serving as the cornerstone."

This should give any specifications-writing engineer a moment of pause to ask why the Corps effectively shut out BACnet on specifications. A more important question is how long is the ASHRAE/BACnet crowd going to push its weight around? Why wouldn't the same engineers who allegedly "cut and paste" vendor specs, as noted in the roundtable, do the same thing with BACnet specifications? If I were to utilize CtrlSpecBuilder, do you think I could select "Lonworks" or "LNS Lonworks"?

What it really comes down to is that specifiers should spend the proper amount of time to engineer. Not only do a large number of engineers fail in this respect, but also in the review afterwards. Why? Because engineers, in my opinion, don't really understand control systems and don't spend the proper amount of time to understand them. Keep in mind these are the same engineers that have been involved with ASHRAE for years. Is there a link of complacency?

I would suggest that specifiers participate in more diverse groups out of the HVAC arena such as UPnP, Lonmark, IPv6, XML and similar groups.

Engineers writing specifications need to be professional and analyze materials left by the manufacturer's sales representatives to see where they skew their lineup of "open" products to maintain proprietary edge, and hide behind the words BACnet or Lonworks—how they utilize "supervisory" controllers to lock up complete subsystems with their own products, leaving the building owner with fewer long-term options and higher replacement and upgrade costs for equipment and controls.

I applaud the Corps for showing due dilligence and insight to create a specification that meets its needs, not its ego.

I hope next time CSE will publish a more diverse discussion.

Daryl Clasen , CSI System Integration





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