Solving Seismic Design Challenges for Fire-Sprinkler Systems at JFK


A 1.84-million-sq.-ft. behemoth that holds three complete concourses. Passenger check-in space big enough to hold Giants Stadium. A facility capable of accommodating 14 million passengers annually. Yet, the new American Airlines mega terminal at Kennedy Airport in New York pushed the envelope for designers, engineers and contractors who seemed to have less space to work with, not more.

Seeking to create clean, modern lines as well as functional space, architects challenged all disciplines to help them keep their vision. This meant squeezing utilities into as little space as possible, including a fire-sprinkler system that met new seismic codes.

No room for traditional seismic joints

As a rule, seismic joints are not small, and not pretty. They require a convoluted Rube-Goldberg style arrangement of connections that would allow movement in all directions. “There was just no room for all that extra hardware,” explains David McMahon, senior project manager, SIRINA Fire Protection Corp. “Seismic codes are a relatively new issue in our part of the country, and to use the traditional grooved coupling configuration just would not cut it.”

SIRINA found a seismic expansion joint product that makes designing fire-sprinkler piping runs a lot simpler. Capable of up to

“We installed dozens of them throughout the terminal in places I know we could not have used any other type of seismic joint,” comments Rocco Abbate, executive vice president of SIRINA.

“In fact, it was the first set we ordered that convinced us it was the right product,” he continues. “They were so easy to install in the first phase of construction we knew it was the perfect seismic joint to use for the rest of the project.”

The “wing-like” architecture of the terminal even created an interesting challenge. The designers had to have some special units created that would accommodate up to 12 in. of movement and installed them in the ceiling at building separations. They needed extra movement and flexibility there because of the expected rise and fall of the facility from wind and snow. High winds across the wing-like roofline were expected to raise the roofline up to five in. And the snow loading could cause the roof to deflect downward as much as an inch.

The American Airlines terminal, which started in 1999, is a four-phase project slated for completion in 2007. The terminal will centralize ground access and passenger processing at JFK Airport. It will have 37 jet gates and 18 commuter gates, large customs and immigration halls and a streamlined baggage system.

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