Last week NFPA introduced EFFECT™ (the Exterior Facade Fire Evaluation Comparison Tool) to help building owners and managers assess risk in their properties, and stem the tide of fires in high-rise structures with combustible cladding. Now, coming on the heels of that release, we see yet another harrowing example of a building with combustible exterior wall panels going up in flames in Malaysia.
At NFPA, we spend a lot of time peeling away layers so that we can better understand fires and the related hazards that often lead to loss of people and property. After 120 years, we know that when it comes to big fire events, it’s never just one thing that goes wrong. It’s often more than one factor so you have to look at fire and life safety more holistically – and you need a variety of stakeholders supporting and advocating for a solid safety infrastructure. We call this the fire protection and prevention ecosystem.
Epic blazes running up the sides of skyscrapers in cities from Dubai, to Shanghai, to Atlantic City, to Melbourne, were vivid examples of breakdowns in this ecosystem where the proper use and application of referenced codes were lacking. Then the world watched in horror as a similar fire ripped through the Grenfell Towers in West London, killing 71 last June.
In response to all of these, NFPA created a risk-based tool to help building owners, facility managers and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) evaluate their inventory of potential at-risk buildings from the convenience of their desktop.
Assessing risk is not easy work, but it is necessary. EFFECT™ helps time-crunched property managers and enforcers proactively assess the entire building – taking into account the facade, the building itself, fire protection systems and features, egress design, communications and notification systems, and any exterior ignition sources.
When the investigative commission in London releases their findings on Grenfell, the topic of fire safety will once again be thrust into the spotlight in a big way – and rightly so. In the meantime, governments have mandated risk assessment of buildings; communities have created cladding tasks groups; and building owners and registered design professionals are being held more accountable for the safety of exterior wall systems.
This is a great start, but we need more proactive measures to promote the full fire protection and prevention ecosystem. This means maintaining an effective policy and regulatory environment supporting fire and life safety; using the latest codes and standards; choosing safety over cost-cutting; applying the referenced standards within a code; promoting the development of skilled professionals who can apply the code; supporting effective code enforcement; educating the public and policymakers about the dangers posed by fire and other hazards; and providing effective response capabilities.
Without adherence to every piece of the system, we are destined to stall or reverse the reductions in fire loss that we have achieved by these very practices.