WTC 7 Tower Talk of SFPE Seminar

Editor's note: As part of our continuing effort to deliver useful news, CSE has begun recruiting some of our readers to help report on notable conferences and seminars. This month Eric J. Babcock, of Gage-Babcock & Associates, Inc., gives us his rundown on the Society of Fire Protection Engineers' Professional Development Week, held recently in Baltimore.


Continuing education and professional development are a necessity in today's technologically expanding engineering world. This is especially true in the still emerging field of fire-protection engineering, and acquiring a broad range of information in a short period of time is tough to do while focusing on the daily projects.

That being said, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers recently conducted its third Professional Development Week in Baltimore with more than 250 people in attendance.

Among the more interesting offerings were courses on the applications and uses of fire-modeling programs as performance-based design continues to gain prominence.

Besides individual courses, the conference included a lessons learned report on the World Trade Center Building Performance Study. Three members from the Federal Emergency Management Agency study team, as well as another expert in structural engineering, presented the group's findings. From a fire-protection standpoint, one of the most interesting aspects involved the collapse of the No. 7 WTC building. This structure was one of the buildings that did not sustain a direct airplane impact, but did collapse.

An exact cause and origin of the fires within was not determined or illustrated by the panel. However, some hypothesized that fires within the main mechanical room may have affected a system of load-bearing transfer trusses, triggering the collapse.

The team's research was based upon a video of the events, evaluation of the building's construction and post-extraction evaluation of structural members, among other things. Exact results, the committee reported, were unclear, because the pile of dust and twisted steel made it difficult to determine which members fell first, which did not have enough fire proofing and which were simply deformed due to fire or the 100-story fall.

The team did feel confident that further research might lead to more information to make other buildings safer.

The predominant lesson, according to the committee, was an increased need for all engineers to obtain a larger cross-disciplinary understanding of building engineering and design.

A second event, "Fire Protection Strategies for 21st Century Building and Fire Codes," a two-day symposium, hit on a number of issues, most notably the use of the International Building Code vs. NFPA 5000 Building Code .

Other hot topics included discussion of the use of height and area tables, fire-resistance design methods, fire test procedures, fire-rated glazing innovations, human behavior and egress.

SFPE's next professional development symposium will be conducted March 24-27, 2003 in Las Vegas. A fall conference will focus on "Designing Structures for Fire."

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