Monthly Archives: September 2014

Nordic Building Conference hosted by DBI

DBI_BuildingDay2014_Invitation-1Copenhagen, 19 November (+ dinner 18 November)

EU standardization and sustainability are important factors influencing the future of building materials. Innovative thinking and new product development are thus required in order to respond to market needs.

DBI Building Day 2014 is a conference benchmarking the effect of applied research for the Nordic building and construction industry. Get a unique opportunity to engage with leading experts within fire technology, innovation and standardization.

For more information and sign up visit DBI’s homepage.

Swedish research project studies underground evacuations

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Data on current evacuation simulations that involve climbing stairways are outdated and imprecise. A new project being conducted by Lund University seeks to correct this problem by providing better evacuation solutions for underground constructions. 

Buildings are on their way underground, so to speak, and new constructions are now deeper than ever. In Copenhagen, for example, construction of the underground metro system is underway. This trend is also apparent in Sweden, where the next stage of Stockholm’s metro will reach depths of up to 100 metres.

These deep constructions will result in escape routes that include long stairways in the event of an evacuation, and this is something Sweden’s Lund University is currently studying quite closely. The research project, whose title is ‘Ascending Stair Evacuation’, examines how people behave while following escape routes that involve stairs.

– Our ambition is to study how long stairways affect walking speed, as well as which physiological factors come into play, explains Karl Fridolf, a Ph.D. candidate in Lund University’s Department of Fire Safety Engineering and leader of the project.

Existing data is imprecise
The project began in 2013, and the original idea came from an actual need among engineers working with underground constructions such as cellars or metro systems.

– I spoke with a group of engineers who had worked on a large underground project in Stockholm. They had plenty of doubts as to how they should model the construction in relation to emergency exits and escape routes, as they couldn’t find data on how people behave when climbing long stairways during an evacuation, Fridolf recounts.

When he looked into the scientific literature in the area, it became apparent that the existing data had been produced some 40-50 years ago.

– We’ve actually changed physiologically since then. We’ve become older, and there are more overweight people today. At the same time, the data we found involved relatively short stairways that can’t be compared to today’s constructions with longer stairways. All things considered, the data didn’t apply to today’s conditions, he explains.

A 30-storey walk
To find data that better meets today’s needs, the project team is conducting three trials that share a common recipe: a demographically representative group of about 70 test subjects are being asked to climb three sets of stairs, from bottom to top, while having their time, pulse and metabolism rates measured.

The first of the three trials was conducted in a 12-storey building, while the next trial will be held in a 30-storey building to determine whether there is a limit for how long a stairway can be before one should consider alternate evacuation options, such as fire-proof elevators. The data from the first trial has not yet been fully analysed, so it is still too soon to report any final conclusions.

– It does appear, though, that people make it to the top regardless of whether they’re in a hurry or taking their time. Eventually, everyone finds their own tempo, Fridolf says.

Based on the findings of the trials, the project group will obtain precise data about walking speed that can be used in evacuation simulations – and not just for people as a whole, but for separate subgroups, too.

– Because we also have the test subjects’ demographic data, we’re able to assign a specific walking speed to certain groups of people – such as the elderly or those who are overweight – and these speeds can be used to create even more precise simulations, explains Fridolf.

Proper solutions
Today’s evacuation simulations that involve climbing stairs use a single walking speed for all people. Using the project’s data, however, future simulations will paint a much clearer and precise picture of real life evacuation situations. Furthermore, this new type of data will come to influence which solutions are used in future constructions.

– Previously, when engineers performed simulations in a tunnel, they reduced walking speed for safety’s sake if there was smoke in the tunnel. When we studied the matter in connection with the Metro project, though, it turned out that people actually reduced their speed due to the smoke – but not as much as one might expect when coming up with an evacuation model. This suggests that less costly evacuation solutions can be found, Fridolf explains.

This finding may also be the result of the Ascending Stair Evacuation project. With new, precise data, engineers can better calculate exactly which evacuation solutions are needed, instead of using over- or under-dimensioned solutions.

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Ascending Stair Evacuation (ASE)
The ASE project began in 2013 and is scheduled for completion in 2015. The purpose is to determine walking speeds for people climbing stairs in evacuation situations, and the information will be used to create more precise simulations. The Department of Fire Safety Engineering at Lund University is directing the project, which is also supported by the Swedish Transport Agency and Brandforsk, the Swedish Fire Research Board. The project has a working budget of approximately €215,000.

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The Metro project
Metro was a joint project whose goal was to secure underground railways and tunnels in Sweden. The project was completed in 2012, and the Department of Fire Safety Engineering at Lund University was involved in the evacuation phase. The research teams examined which warning systems had the best effect in a tunnel, and how quickly people moved – though only until they reached a stairway. The ASE project is thus a natural successor to the Metro project, the purpose of ASE is to study what happens when people have to climb stairs during an evacuation procedure. The Metro project had a total budget of around €1.5 million.

Large-scale fires in Norway underscore need for comprehensive emergency planning

IMG_6449Local emergency planning needs to be rethought from bottom to top. Such was the simple conclusion of a new report by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning, which investigated the local response to a January fire in the village of Lærdalsøyri.

When 40 houses burned to the ground on the night of 19 January in Lærdal Municipality, it was the worst fire Norway had experienced since 1945. However, it was also the result of a series of unusual and unavoidable circumstances, as the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning concluded in a recent report entitled ‘The Fire in Lærdal, Flatanger and Frøya, Winter 2014’.

The fire started in a building in the tiny village of Lærdalsøyri, and its actual cause has yet to be determined. But just after 11 p.m., a local inhabitant rang to the emergency dispatch centre to report what was most likely a flash fire in the building next door, and that there was a considerable risk that the flames would spread.

– The region is normally dry in January with only a little precipitation, and this year there was  under seven millimetres of rain or snow, says Anne Rygh Pedersen, a branch manager at the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning.

Over €24 million in damages
Meanwhile, the weather was warmer than usual, and the wind made fire conditions even worse.

– The wind was blowing quite hard. And when it hit the valleys, it was deflected off the rock face and created turbulence and unstable wind conditions in the village, Pedersen explains.

Even though the first fire engine reached the scene just six minutes after the emergency call, by 11:15 p.m. the flames had spread to several neighbouring houses. The houses were made of wood, the direction of the wind was shifting constantly, and the fire continued to spread to the rest of the village and up into the valley. The wind eventually died down the following morning, and with help from local inhabitants, fire departments from neighbouring towns and the Norwegian Civil Defence, the fire was brought under control. By this time, however, 40 buildings had burned down (of which four were part of the village’s historic town centre, though none of these were protected homes), 70 people had lost their homes and property, and the damages totalled more than €24 million.

A lack of training
The incident in Lærdalsøyri was one of three large-scale fires to hit Norway within a span of 11 days due to unusual weather conditions that included drought and heavy winds. And the three fires have raised questions about the region’s emergency preparedness and organisation, as the overall response was less than optimal. Take the Lærdalsøyri, for example:

– The response efforts were too poorly organised. There are around 2,100 people who live in the Lærdal Municipality, and the emergency response team is quite small, with 16 part-time fire fighters and no on-call emergency service, Pedersen explains.

An emergency response team of this size is not equipped to lead or organise a large-scale effort that includes fire brigades from several municipalities, helicopters and the Norwegian Civil Defence.  And the Lærdal Municipality suffered the consequences.

– A small emergency response team does not have the necessary training to lead such a large-scale effort. They don’t have the overview of the available resources, such as those that can be obtained from neighbouring municipalities. In Lærdal, this meant that a tanker loaded with foam, which could have been used to prevent the fire from spreading, first arrived from an airstrip in a neighbouring municipality five hours after the initial deployment. Had it arrived earlier, several of the buildings most likely could have been saved, Pedersen assesses.

A lack of emergency planning
It is not only in the event of an emergency that the small response teams have difficulties meeting the challenge at hand. The preventive work is often insufficient because smaller municipalities might not have the means to hire a fire safety engineer.

– There was no plan that could have been followed to coordinate the efforts of the many fire brigades that showed up in Lærdal. They organised themselves without a strategy, and without any real cohesion among the different fire-fighting efforts, says Pedersen.

Overall coordination was further complicated by the fact that communication between the various actors was widely based on mobile phones, and the network buckled in connection with the fire, as did the power grid.

Furthermore, there was no emergency response plan in place for saving the protected buildings in Lærdalsøyri. As a result, a plan was simply drawn up on the fly while the fire was underway, which cost a great deal of dear time.

Consolidated efforts are necessary
The challenges presented by sparsely populated regions with small emergency response teams are much greater in Norway than in Denmark, which is not a new phenomenon.

– In autumn of 2013, a working group headed by the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning conducted a fire safety study for the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. In it, there was a recommendation for combining Norway’s emergency response teams from 18 regions because, from our point of view, the working group knew the existing emergency efforts were poorly organised. It’s something we’ve known for many years, and it was very clearly underscored by the three fires we saw in January, Pedersen emphasises.

– There is a need for more experienced leaders and improved preventive measures. A large and consolidated emergency response team is necessary, says Pedersen.

It’s too early to say what consequences of this might be, as the municipalities themselves decide whether they want to consolidate their emergency response teams with those of neighbouring municipalities.

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The fire in Lærdalsøyri by the numbers

16 part-time fire fighters served in the municipal fire brigade
€24+ million in damages
40 houses burned down
70 people lost their homes and property
115 fire fighters were involved in the emergency response
178 members of the Norwegian Civil Defence participated in the response
270 people were hospitalised for shorter or longer periods of time
446 people were examined at the hospital
680 people were evacuated from their homes
4,000 hours were spent fighting the fire