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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 PANEL MEMBERS Janet S.Baum, Health, Education & Research Associates, Inc., Chair Robert A.Altenkirch, Mississippi State University, Vice Chair Robert J.Asaro, University of California at San Diego Craig L.Beyler, Hughes Associates, Inc. Donald B.Bivens, DuPont Fluorochemicals Randy R.Bruegman, Clackamas County Fire District #1, Oregon Joseph P.Colaco, CBM Engineers, Inc. James M.Delahay, Lane Bishop York Delahay, Inc. Leon R.Glicksman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Eric R.Hansen, Eric Hansen Group Susan D.Landry, Albemarle Corporation Elaine S.Oran, Naval Research Laboratory Richard E.Schuler, Cornell University Jim W.Sealy, Architect, Building Code Consultant, Dallas, Texas Miroslaw J.Skibniewski, Purdue University Michael Winter, United Technologies Research Center Elaine M.Yorkgitis, Automotive Division/3M Submitted for the panel by its Chair, Janet S.Baum, and its Vice Chair, Robert A.Altenkirch, this assessment of the fiscal year 2001 activities of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory is based on site visits by individual panel members, a formal meeting of the panel on March 1–2, 2001, in Gaithersburg, Md., and materials provided by the laboratory.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 LABORATORY-LEVEL REVIEW Technical Merit According to laboratory documentation, the mission of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) is to meet the measurement and standards needs of the building and fire safety communities. In support of this appropriate mission statement, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory has recently defined four overall “goals,” or areas of activity, each of which is the responsibility of one division: Advanced Construction Technology (Structures Division), High Performance Building Materials (Building Materials Division), Enhanced Building Performance (Building Environment Division), and Fire Loss Reduction (Fire Research Division). These are appropriate areas of activity for the laboratory, and the panel believes that the laboratory, by producing results in these areas, can make a difference for the building and fire safety communities. However, the panel is concerned that three times in the last 5 years a new set of overall laboratory objectives has been introduced. While evolution is healthy, constant change at the highest level is unsettling. The lack of a constant and coherent summary of the laboratory’s overall goals can be expected to confuse both laboratory staff and their customers and also makes it difficult for the panel to assess the long-term progress of the laboratory. The Building and Fire Research Laboratory must develop a 5-year strategic plan that should be presented to the panel at its next meeting in March 2002. The process of laying out a coherent, long-term strategy for the laboratory is complicated but necessary, and laboratory management should seek assistance and input from a variety of sources. Professional facilitators with experience in the process should be brought in from the outside. Technical input from customers and potential customers should be solicited to help determine their priorities and what types of results are most likely to be implemented by industry. Finally, the expertise of the laboratory’s junior and senior technical staff should be tapped; they are familiar with cutting-edge technologies and attuned to the activities of the external communities, and the reactions of these communities to NIST efforts. The panel recommends that the laboratory develop a strategic plan for a variety of reasons, but the key benefits would be having a coherent and stable definition of goals and programs through which the laboratory could effectively establish an organizational culture internally and present a consistent face externally. The plan, and the process of determining the plan, could also help resolve internal uncertainties about the laboratory’s future and the direction of individual projects and programs. The current goals map one-to-one with the laboratory’s divisions. This approach may be the easiest way to manage the programs, but it is important not to lose sight of potential cross-divisional synergies or opportunities for collaborations. Regardless of how the laboratory’s specific goals are defined or organized, the panel observes that strong relationships among staff throughout the laboratory are essential. The laboratory should consider various mechanisms to allow the technical staff, especially the more junior staff, to gain familiarity with staff and projects from groups and divisions outside their area. For example, informal events that would allow staff to meet each other or internal seminars about ongoing or proposed activities are both ways to increase cross-fertilization and build a more unified culture within the laboratory. Awareness of what is occurring in other divisions will help people know where to go for advice or get ideas for cooperative projects, and informal relationships will lay the
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 FIGURE 7.1 Organizational structure of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. Listed under each division are the division’s groups. groundwork for future collaborations built on familiarity and trust. The panel observed that several of the divisional-level themes, such as service life prediction, life-cycle costs, and durability, certainly could be related, but it was not clear if a unified approach to these questions was being taken across the laboratory or whose responsibility it was to make sure that the activities are interwoven when appropriate. The Building and Fire Research Laboratory is organized into four divisions: Structures, Building Materials, Building Environment, and Fire Research (see Figure 7.1). Technical work is also under way in the laboratory office on a variety of activities, mainly in the Office of Applied Economics. All of these units are discussed in detail in the divisional reports in the remainder of this chapter. The Fire Research Division is new this year, the product of a merger of the former Fire Safety Engineering Division and the Fire Science Division. The panel applauds this reorganization and believes that the unification of these two groups has positively affected morale, collaborative efforts, and financial stability within the laboratory’s fire programs. The process of combining the units is not yet complete, and continued efforts are needed to ensure that the new division’s goals are defined and understood, fiscal and human resources are appropriately allocated, and an identifiable culture is established. As in the past, the panel continues to be impressed with the technical quality of the staff and the individual projects under way in the laboratory. In the Structures Division, good progress is being made in the work on high-performance concrete and the collaborative effort in wind engineering with Texas Tech University. In the Building Materials Division, getting the integrating sphere up and running was a significant achievement, and the projects on microstructural understanding of interfacial and interphasal phenomena and appearance performance and durability issues are very impressive. In the Building
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 Environment Division, staff are producing useful standards and tools, such as the Building Automation and Control network (BACnet) and the CYCLE D and REFLEAK software for the alternative refrigerants program, and are also performing research on technologies with broader applications, as in the MEMS project. In the new Fire Research Division, the tradition of innovative approaches to fire modeling and test method development continues, and work on polymer nanocomposites is effectively exploring technologies to improve flame-retardant materials. In the Office of Applied Economics, a recent accomplishment is the extension of a software tool that supports code compliance to applications beyond the original one— health-care facilities—to correctional facilities and other special-use buildings. Program Relevance and Effectiveness The Building and Fire Research Laboratory supports a diverse array of customers including the construction industry, materials producers, and the fire service community. Relevant NIST products include software packages to enable external use of NIST models, new measurement methods and technologies, and basic research that enables the development of advanced materials. The varied portfolio of software available from the laboratory is impressive. Examples are fire simulations at multiple scales, models of air flow within buildings, simulations of concrete tests, and decisionmaking tools based on life-cycle costs. Measurement-related activities often link data collection to the development and verification of models or standards, as in the wind engineering efforts and the fire testing; in some cases, the relevant measurements cannot even be performed until NIST staff develop and demonstrate necessary new technologies, like the integrating sphere and the new thermal conductivity facility. In its research on advanced materials, the laboratory is ideally positioned to connect work on understanding fundamental phenomena or characterizing materials with efforts to encourage utilization of these materials in actual construction or commercial products. Ongoing projects of this type include work on fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites and polymer nanocomposites. The laboratory makes an effort to disseminate results and information about its products widely, and staff publish articles and technical reports, deliver presentations at workshops, organize meetings and consortia, participate in standards and codes organizations, and work closely with individual companies on adoption of new technologies. As noted in the preceding section, the scientific merit of the work under way in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory is first rate, and the products and results provided to industry are therefore of high technical quality. However, any efforts to ensure that laboratory programs are relevant and effective must start with understanding what customers need and how NIST programs and results will be used. The laboratory is reaching out to the relevant communities, but input must be evaluated carefully as projects are being chosen and technical strategies mapped out. For a laboratory program to have an impact, staff must understand at the start of the effort who the audience for the work is and what implementation mechanisms will be used. In some cases, like programs undertaken for a consortium or for another government agency, the customers for the NIST work may be obvious and the immediate utilization of NIST results, at least by these customers, may be relied upon. However, even in these cases, the laboratory should still consider whether the work has broader applications and how and if the laboratory’s greater customer community might benefit. Thorough consideration of the potential impact of projects and careful planning of effective dissemination routes will help maximize the return on NIST’s efforts and perhaps help determine when organizing a consortium or accepting external funding is most appropriate and productive. An area in which the Building and Fire Research Laboratory is uniquely qualified to provide much-needed results to industry is standards and codes. The U.S. standards and codes development process
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 relies on committees of experts drawn from various construction and design companies, and the process is both technical and political. This system can favor the status quo and has the potential to impede the adoption of advanced technologies. In some cases, the current regulations governing design and construction in the United States simply do not reflect the most up-to-date understanding of material properties and safety issues. Improving the technical input to the standards and codes development process is important, and the Building and Fire Research Laboratory can help provide scientific data and expertise on the materials or techniques being regulated. With this technical information, code makers would be better equipped to make rational decisions and produce science-based standards, and thus the U.S. standards and codes system would certainly be improved, and U.S. industry’s competitiveness in an increasingly global market would be enhanced. There could also be significant public benefit from facilitating the access of U.S. businesses and homeowners to new technologies with improved safety and sustainability features. Standards and codes determine how building design and construction are done in this country. To ensure that its technical results will have a broad impact on U.S. industry and quality of life, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory understands how and where codes are limiting progress (or not limiting progress) and then must plan strategically. Surveying the status of standards and codes in a variety of areas would help the laboratory to pinpoint areas in which increasing the access to and quality of scientific information might make a significant difference and to identify individuals who might be champions for change in their respective areas. This analysis of the current status of standards and codes would help the laboratory to select projects with the greatest likelihood of impact and, if potential partners are identified early, would help staff to build relationships with advocates from the beginning of a project. By reaching out to members from the design and construction industries whose views and activities carry weight in the codes- and standards-setting processes, NIST could convince key players of the benefits of change. The laboratory would then be responsible for providing the technical results and tools needed to support scientific approaches to updating old standards and setting new ones. While it is important for NIST to have a realistic view of the obstacles to changing codes and standards, it is also essential that the Building and Fire Research Laboratory provide U.S. industry with the technical leadership it needs to implement modern technologies effectively. Partnering with others might also be a useful approach to expanding the reach of some of the laboratory’s more fundamental research projects. BFRL might consider exploring cross-laboratory alliances within NIST. Certain laboratory programs, such as the information technology-related work and the MEMS efforts, are in cutting-edge fields that have been receiving a great deal of attention lately in industry and the media. Yet because of the laboratory’s focus on the construction and fire communities, which do not have a tradition of embracing new technologies, the laboratory is not being recognized for its contributions to these cutting-edge areas. Working with other NIST laboratories on product development and joint strategies to ensure that NIST work has an impact on larger communities may be a way to expand the reach and reputation of the Building and Fire Research Laboratories efforts in these areas. Laboratory Resources Funding sources for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory are shown in Table 7.1. As of January 2001, staffing for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory included 150 full-time permanent positions, of which 126 were for technical professionals. There were also 26 nonpermanent or supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and temporary or part-time workers. The Building and Fire Research Laboratory receives a significant amount of funding from external
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 TABLE 7.1 Sources of Funding for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (in millions of dollars), FY 1998 to FY 2001 Source of Funding Fiscal Year 1998 (actual) Fiscal Year 1999 (actual) Fiscal Year 2000 (actual) Fiscal Year 2001 (estimated) NIST-STRS, excluding Competence 16.3 16.4 16.6 19.2 Competence 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.2 STRS, nonbase 2.5 1.8 1.5 1.7 ATP 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 MEPa 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.0 Measurement Services (SRM production) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 OA/NFG/CRADA 8.9 9.2 11.2 11.4 Other Reimbursable 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 Total 28.9 28.7 30.5 33.4 Full-time permanent staff (total)b 161 157 157 150 NOTE: Funding for the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories comes from a variety of sources. The laboratories receive appropriations from Congress, known as Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) funding. Competence funding also comes from NIST’s congressional appropriations but is allocated by the NIST director’s office in multiyear grants for projects that advance NIST’s capabilities in new and emerging areas of measurement science. Advanced Technology Program (ATP) funding reflects support from NIST’s ATP for work done at the NIST laboratories in collaboration with or in support of ATP projects. Funding to support production of Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) is tied to the use of such products and is classified as Measurement Services. NIST laboratories also receive funding through grants or contracts from other government agencies (OA), from nonfederal government (NFG) agencies, and from industry in the form of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). All other laboratory funding, including that for Calibration Services, is grouped under “Other Reimbursable.” aManufacturing Extension Partnership. bThe number of full-time permanent staff is as of January of that fiscal year. sources. The panel considered the appropriateness of this situation in light of how it affects the laboratory’s overall balance of programs between projects that aim to provide products immediately and longer-term efforts. It is certainly important for the laboratory to have a mix of activities, but decisions about what the balance should be and which areas are most appropriate for short- and long-term work ought to be made by NIST and based on overall laboratory goals. The balance should not be determined directly by the requests of other agencies or even industry for projects for which they are willing to pay. As the percentage of the laboratory’s budget derived from external organizations continues to grow (from 29 percent in fiscal year 1997 to 37 percent in fiscal year 2000), the laboratory is in danger of becoming a collection of researchers whose priorities are set by the needs of their funding sources. In fiscal year 1997, BFRL’s internal funding (STRS) was $20.1 million and the number of full-time permanent staff was 177. In fiscal year 1998, the internal funding was cut to $16.3 million. The panel recognizes that this cutback has put the laboratory in a difficult situation, and the past several years have been characterized by increasing pressure to secure money from outside NIST to maintain programs and especially to cover the salaries of permanent staff members. The crisis seems to have eased somewhat
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 this year, with a $2.6 million increase in STRS funding (this includes about $1.2 million specifically designated for fire-related activities). Also, since fiscal year 1997, the number of full-time permanent staff has dropped 15 percent, to 150, which also reduces the pressure to find external support. The situation no longer appears to be desperate, so the panel believes that it is an ideal time for the laboratory to systematically consider the issues related to external funding in BFRL and determine a policy that will strengthen the laboratory’s programs and perhaps prevent future crises. Outside money has benefits (such as the guarantee of intellectual buy-in to NIST results by the companies and other agencies supporting the work) and costs (such as the loss of control that occurs when the laboratory accepts projects peripheral to its mission), and the laboratory must find an appropriate balance. One key step is setting criteria to determine whether an opportunity for external support should be pursued. Several questions might be asked. What will be the impact of the work on the agency or organization providing the funding? Will the results produced have scientific value and impact BFRL’s broader customer communities? Are important and challenging intellectual questions being asked? Would the project build critical technical expertise in the staff? Does it support the laboratory mission and goals? How large is the project and the funding? Currently, the panel is concerned because it appears that decisions about external money are largely based on each year’s budget situation rather than on fundamental criteria. Which types of external money are good or which types are bad does not seem to have been communicated to the staff; instead there is just a sense of urgency and fiscal uncertainty. If clear criteria for externally supported projects could be established and realistic targets for percentage of external support set for various laboratory programs, laboratory staff would be in a better position to seek out and utilize appropriate external funding. One of the most serious potential downsides to external money is its unreliability, the inherently short-term nature of most of the grants and contracts the laboratory receives. Given this characteristic, it is very dangerous to fund permanent staff from these sources or have achieving core laboratory goals and milestones entirely dependent on them. Once the laboratory has determined how much external support it can reasonably allow and for which sort of activities these funds will be used, then management should seek out more flexible approaches to allocating resources and supporting programs across BFRL. If laboratory-level management is in a position to provide internal support to tide projects and personnel over between external funding opportunities, then individual divisions or groups will not have to seek and accept external funds indiscriminately to cover short-term shortfalls. Another important element that would help the Building and Fire Research Laboratory control the type and amount of external funds accepted is the ability to adjust staffing levels in response to temporary fluctuations in total laboratory funding. Using guest researchers from industry and other agencies, postdoctoral associates, interns, students, term researchers, and other temporary appointments has several benefits. One is obviously the flexibility: All of these people can bring new expertise to the laboratory and can fill specific needs associated with individual projects without putting long-term pressure on the laboratory’s budget. Another benefit is that having people spend time at NIST is an important and effective recruiting tool for the laboratory. Familiarity with the people, work environment, and facilities often is a key factor in people’s decisions to come to NIST on a more permanent basis because the salaries offered by the U.S. government are often not competitive with industrial or even academic offers. Term appointments may also be the most efficient way to utilize non-American citizens with the expertise needed for some understaffed but essential laboratory programs, such as the work on construction automation and integration. As discussed in last year’s report, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory is exploring the establishment of a formal and permanent relationship with the Federal Emergency Management
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 Agency (FEMA), in which NIST would officially be responsible (and funded) for providing research elements to support FEMA’s activities. Progress on this effort was delayed due to the change in administration, and the panel strongly encourages the laboratory to persist in its efforts to establish an expanded and formal relationship with FEMA. If such a partnership could be put into place, it would provide the laboratory with a steady source of funding for activities that are clearly consistent with NIST’s mission. In addition, FEMA’s disaster mitigation mission is such that working on programs in support of that agency might help the laboratory bridge the gap between its building and fire programs. The facilities situation in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory continues to improve, but key issues remain. Specific questions related to the large-scale testing machine managed by the Structures Division, the large environmental chamber used by the Building Environment Division, and the large fire testing facility run by the Fire Research Division are discussed in detail in the divisional reports that follow. However, one significant problem related to the maintenance and operation of existing equipment was observed throughout the laboratory: The number of technicians is decreasing, owing to the laboratory’s tendency to replace departing technicians with professional staff. As a result, many jobs that should be done by technicians are falling to junior technical staff, coops, or interns, and this approach is not effective. In the long term, the equipment would run more smoothly and the time of professional staff would be used more effectively and efficiently if qualified people were hired to run the instruments. During its visit to the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, the panel spoke with staff members without management present in “skip-level” meetings. A number of points were raised that the panel felt should be brought to management’s attention. First is that morale and mentoring deserve to be the focus of efforts throughout the laboratory. For example, mentoring of junior staff could productively include sharing of information about staff development opportunities and communication about how the laboratory and NIST function. Junior staff felt that established personnel could be more welcoming and inclusive; the panel noticed that this was a particular issue for women staff members as the senior staff and management are entirely men. Involving the newer personnel in laboratory decisionmaking processes, perhaps through a junior staff advisory board, might increase their understanding of how the laboratory works and provide a different perspective for management. Their input might be particularly valuable on one of the laboratory’s key challenges discussed earlier: establishing a unified culture within the laboratory and creating an environment in which strong informal relationships between staff from different divisions can grow and flourish, particularly across the building/ fire divide. Staff at all levels noticed that members of management were endeavoring to improve their communications skills, and the panel commends the laboratory for providing training and support for such efforts. There is still room for improvement in this area; past issues, such as last year’s planned reductions in force (RIFs) in the Structures Division, still significantly affect current morale. Management should recognize that some work is still needed to rebuild confidence and a sense of security among laboratory personnel. Although no RIFs were scheduled for this year, the number one concern of staff members continues to be financial stability. While they realize that external support is necessary to allow the laboratory to engage in a broad array of activities, they are still made uneasy by a sense that the quality and general relevance of some of the contract work that has been taken on is a step below that of the usual NIST efforts. Even with (and perhaps because) of the externally funded work, laboratory personnel are stretched very thin, and they have little time to consider larger programmatic questions and think about the future of their fields at NIST and in general.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 DIVISIONAL REVIEWS Structures Division Technical Merit According to division documentation, the mission of the Structures Division is to promote construction productivity and structural safety by providing measurement and standards to support the design, construction, and serviceability of constructed facilities. Consistent with this mission, the Structures Division is responsible for the BFRL’s work on Advanced Construction Technology, which comprises two elements: structural performance prediction and construction integration and automation. The panel is pleased to report that the division is tightening its focus and appears to be in the process of realigning projects and resources to better support overall laboratory objectives. The number of projects is being reduced. In the spring of 2001, the panel was presented with a series of objectives for the laboratory’s work in Advanced Construction Technology. While the objectives were in appropriate areas, such as the reduction of life-cycle costs, the panel believed that the role of the Structures Division in meeting these objectives was not clear and that quantifiable overall targets either were not cited or were unrealistic. Management should review the objectives of this program with the aim of defining realistic, achievable goals and determining what reasonable steps NIST should be taking in order to meet these goals. Having clear, tangible objectives that depend on the division realizing a series of feasibly attainable results would have two benefits. First, within NIST, it would provide focus for the projects and would increase understanding by both NIST-level management and by the technical staff of the laboratory’s overall strategy in this area. Second, presentations with realistic goals and deliverables would increase NIST’s credibility in external communities. The division is organized into three groups: Structural Evaluation and Standards, Structural Systems and Design, and Construction Metrology and Automation. The first two support the structural performance prediction element of the laboratory’s work in Advanced Construction Technology, while the last group is responsible for the construction integration and automation element. Overall, the panel finds that the technical merit of the programs and projects remains consistently high. Below, each group is discussed. The Structural Evaluation and Standards Group is focused on four projects in innovative construction systems, including work on high-performance concrete (HPC) and fiber-reinforced polymer composites. The panel was particularly impressed by the progress that has been made in the concrete area; ongoing efforts include looking at the fire performance of this type of material and investigating its use in residential and low-rise construction. In the specific area of curing of HPC, the panel believes that the division’s efforts should be wrapped up; the important remaining step is to find a way to disseminate NIST results in this area as a product that industry can use. The Structural Systems and Design Group works on a wide variety of projects contributing to the division’s study of structural safety under extreme loads. The division’s collaborative work with Texas Tech University on building envelope testing under extreme artificial winds and on next-generation standards for wind loads is managed within this group, and the panel is pleased to see progress on the wind engineering efforts. A concern is the resources and focus of work related to structural performance of housing systems. As the status of the Standard and Codes Services unit of the laboratory office has been uncertain since the departure of the key staff member in mid-2000, the direction for this project has become unclear and funding has been reduced. To have an impact, the group should focus on next-generation housing systems.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 The Construction Metrology and Automation Group consists of four coordinated projects in support of construction integration and automation technology. The strategy is to develop products like performance measures, information protocols, and measurement-based performance criteria to reduce cycle times and life-cycle costs for construction projects. The objectives and the projects of the group are ambitious and are largely derived from the past experiences and technical strengths of the staff. The ongoing projects are intertwined, with some overlap in terms of the technical personnel involved and the core technologies being explored and integrated. A major accomplishment of the past year was the group’s success in increasing ties with external organizations, as discussed further in the next section. The work in this group is closely related to the efforts of the Computer-Integrated Construction Group in the Building Environment Division. This group’s projects on developing standard protocols for transmission of construction metrology data and integrating and automating project information are key elements of the Construction Metrology and Automation Group’s work on reduced cycle time for construction. The objectives of these groups coincide, and the panel has observed considerable, although not entirely seamless, coordination of efforts to produce the key deliverables. The panel continues to be deeply concerned that two groups whose technical research is so closely related continue to operate within different divisions. The only apparent reason for this separation is the traditional internal structure of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. The interdisciplinary nature of this work requires that human and fiscal resources be able to move freely to areas in which they are most needed and that the correct expertise can be efficiently assigned to tackle the various relevant problems. Currently, both groups are severely understaffed, which jeopardizes timely delivery of some of the technical products. Program Relevance and Effectiveness The primary customer of the Structures Division is the construction industry. This diverse collection of companies has a wide array of sometimes conflicting goals and certainly has more needs than the division, with its limited resources and reach, can possibly hope to address comprehensively. Therefore, it is critical for the division to make careful decisions about the issues it does choose to tackle and to plan carefully how to maximize the impact of its results. While the industry has produced a number of roadmaps and other documents outlining various long-term goals and objectives, these are not necessarily the best materials for the division to rely on when making tough choices. Direct contact, perhaps through workshops, with people from construction companies and their suppliers is probably the most effective way to gather input. These contacts are useful not only when deciding on new areas of endeavor but also for keeping everyone up to date on current programs and for disseminating results. Another option is establishing a standing advisory committee with industrial representatives to provide guidance to the division. The overall relevance of the division’s portfolio of projects is improving, but, in general, the panel believed that further definition and enhancement of the mechanisms for communicating NIST findings and products and encouraging industrial implementation of NIST results are needed. The building industry is heavily affected by codes and standards, so a key element of Building and Fire Research Laboratory activities is technical work in support of the development of and compliance with codes and standards as well as participation in the committees and projects of codes and standards organizations. The panel recognizes that NIST staff are not responsible for determining what the codes and standards will be, as the industry controls this process. However, the laboratory is in a position to provide the measurement methods and data needed to support a scientific approach to developing and using modern codes and standards. When selecting and beginning projects, the Structures Division
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 Division staff have outlined several reasons why maintaining this unique facility is important. It is currently the only NIST chamber capable of operating at low temperatures and of performing tests that involve flammable refrigerants. Its size (24×48×14 ft) is also unusual; it is sometimes called the “truck chamber” because an entire truck can be driven into it. In addition to its relevance for applications in the Building Environment Division, it also has capabilities that other NIST groups (the Fire Research Division and the Highway Technology Evaluation Center) have either used or expressed interest in using. While clearly the chamber will be used if it is repaired, the panel cautions that the division must assess whether the need for the facility’s capabilities is compelling when it decides if resources should be spent to overhaul or replace the chamber and its control systems. At the other end of the facilities spectrum is the work on a new facility for testing the thermal conductivity of insulation materials at high temperatures (900 K). This facility will be an important addition to U.S. capabilities in this area, but currently the division does not have enough funding to complete construction, which is two-thirds done. Completion of this facility should have the highest priority, so additional support needs to be found. Fire Research Division Technical Merit According to division documentation, the mission of the Fire Research Division is to develop, verify, and utilize measurements and predictive methods to quantify the behavior of fire and the means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property, and the environment. The Fire Research Division is the result of a Building and Fire Research Laboratory reorganization in which two divisions (Fire Safety Engineering and Fire Science) were merged. The panel believes the reorganization was necessary and appropriate, is pleased to report that communication and cooperation among division personnel have improved, and expects the new structure to allow the laboratory to meet its overall goals more effectively and efficiently. The reorganization process is moving along but is not complete. Remaining issues include the need for more clearly defined goals for the division, for a more concrete link between the division mission and the activities of the various groups within it, for further alignment between funding sources and relevant programs, and for increasing intra- and interdivisional activities, including both formal collaborations and informal relationships. The divisions that merged to form the new Fire Research Division have a history of doing world-class research in the measurement, modeling, and prediction of fire behavior. Therefore, it is natural that this division is responsible for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory’s effort on Fire Loss Reduction, which is supported through work in three areas—Advanced Fire Service Technologies (AFST), Advanced Measurement & Prediction Methods (AM&PM), and Reduced Risk of Flashover (RRF)—and whose ultimate purpose is to enable the engineering of fire safety for people, products, facilities, and first responders. The overall laboratory focus on Fire Loss Reduction was new in 2000, and the three supporting areas were defined during the reorganization. Perhaps because the division and its recently defined programmatic focuses are relatively young, the panel felt that the objectives presented in the spring of 2001 were still a work in progress (see below for the objectives of the three supporting areas). The objectives need to be rewritten to be clearer and more concise, and the achievements expected of division staff should be better quantified. In addition to reworking the current objectives, the Fire Research Division should consider adding an objective: supporting the life safety goals defined by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The panel believes that improvements in the laboratory’s focus in the fire area have occurred over
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 the past year, and, as a whole, division efforts seem more structured and streamlined. Small projects whose purpose, in the past, was unclear to the panel have now been incorporated into major programs, so the larger objectives of NIST work in those areas are beginning to be defined. However, the panel believes there is still much progress to be made. To mold the division’s work into a coherent whole, the division mission statement, the overall objectives, and the focus of individual projects need to be closely aligned and should mutually support and reinforce one another. In its site visits to the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, the panel found that the Fire Research Division has excellent people performing high-quality work. A brief list of the useful and impressive projects under way would include research on protective clothing, contributions to advances in aids for fire-fighting training, assisting in investigations of incidents where firefighters died, the program on fire reconstruction modeling, work on smart zone fire alarm systems, improved involvement with codes and standards efforts, the study of nanocomposites, and the development of fire simulations. The quality of the division’s programs is a direct result of the excellence of the people on the staff. This past year, two individuals were recognized for their contributions. One member of the Fire Research Division was elected to the National Academy of Engineering “for developing and implementing broadly applicable analytical models and numerical tools for understanding and mitigating fire phenomena.” Another staff member was awarded the Department of Commerce Gold Medal “for leading the transformation of materials flammability from a field dominated by prediction uncertainties so large that they were of little value to manufacturers and regulators, to a field based on scientific understanding and sound engineering.” Below the panel discusses the three main areas of research in the division by describing the laboratory’s official goals in each area and some of the projects under way. According to the division, the objective of the AFST program is to enhance, through research, firefighter safety and effectiveness that will help to achieve a 50 percent reduction in line-of-duty fatalities and burn injuries in the United States by 2012. The strategy employed by NIST is to make advances in measurement and prediction that would help provide more reliable, accurate, and timely information for fire-fighting incident command, fire investigation, and training, which in turn is expected to result in a safer fire-fighting environment. The AFST program produces advanced concepts and tools that can, in many cases, reduce direct and indirect fire-related costs, reduce fatalities among firefighters, improve international competitiveness, and facilitate regulatory improvements and reform. Examples of projects delivering these sorts of results include the research on ways to measure the performance of protective clothing for firefighters, using models developed at NIST to reconstruct fire events; development of a prototype fire alarm panel that uses informational displays to assist firefighters responding to events in large buildings; research on what information command officers need at the scene of an emergency; and the production of a fire service research bulletin, which is designed to keep the fire service up to date on national and international research. These projects are very useful, but the panel notes that the division’s efforts in this area might productively be supplemented by work in behavioral science. Much of what occurs at the frontlines of the fire service may be attributable to the behavior of people in an emergency, but NIST is not conducting any research in this area. According to the division, the objective of the AM&PM program is to continue to be the principal supplier to the world of the basic measurement and prediction methods that underpin the goal of reducing fire losses. The strategy for accomplishing this objective includes providing the science to enable other laboratory programs; maintaining specialized facilities at critical scales; compiling, evaluating, archiving, and distributing fire data and information; and, finally, acting as a technical source and neutral facilitator on key codes and standards issues. In the AM&PM area, staff use a number of different approaches to modeling direct numerical
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 simulation to evaluate selected properties of flame behavior and extinction. Large-eddy simulations are used in the fire dynamics simulator (FDS). A number of zone models are used in other projects. Because the levels of detail and validity in each of these modeling approaches are different, the various models may be used synergistically in fire research. An example of the sort of modeling being done in the AM&PM area at this time is the work to develop an accurate model of heat and mass transport that can be used to simulate fire phenomena—for example, the ignition and burning of real materials such as furnishings or structures. Because heat transfer drives fire spread and growth, an analytical framework for an improved convective heat transfer algorithm has been developed and will be deployed as Version 2 of the FDS. In addition to the modeling efforts, Fire Research Division staff are also engaged in developing and using advanced measurement methods. Nearly all of the techniques currently used for fire characterization in industry have been in practice for several decades and generally do not incorporate the great strides that have made in instrumentation and data acquisition abilities. NIST is actively seeking to develop new, more accurate approaches that fully utilize up-to-date technologies. Areas of interest include heat-release rates, heat flux, spray effects and behavior, and the flows induced by fires. The measurements are valuable in part because they are being employed to validate the zone and field models for predicting fire behavior. The strength of the division’s efforts in measurement technologies is due to the core competencies maintained in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory over the years and capabilities provided by legacy and externally funded programs. Diagnostics already investigated by the division include thermocouples, a new type of smoke meter, and the furniture calorimeter to measure heat-release rates. These earlier studies are winding down to logical points for conclusion, and a new effort on heat flux measurement is ramping up. This work will be coordinated with that of several international fire laboratories working under the auspices of the Forum for International Cooperation in Fire Research. According to the division, the objective of the RRF program is to accelerate the development and implementation of technologies that will reduce by 50 percent the cost to eliminate flashover in residential buildings by 2011. The strategy for accomplishing this goal is to develop measurements and predictive methods that will help researchers better understand conditions leading to flashover, enable fire and environment sensing, apply advanced fire suppression technologies, and utilize new and improved materials whose fire resistance does not negatively impact performance or the environment and does not increase costs. Reducing the likelihood that a fire will develop to the point of flashover is a new theme for the Fire Research Division; the program includes a wide range of activities, such as the investigation of ignition resistance and slow fire growth in fire-safe materials and the study of ways to predict fire growth, fire suppression, and fire detection. Since many of the projects contributing to the RRF program are new projects or established projects beginning new phases of work, they vary widely in focus and sophistication, although, overall, the panel found that the work had high technical merit. One key element of the RRF program is the significant effort to improve the predictability of fire growth, and there is substantial overlap between this work and the activities under way in the AM&PM program. Relevant projects in the RRF area include the investigation of solid-phase fuel decomposition as well as of the gas-phase processes responsible for heating the fuel, and these projects are complemented by the work on predicting heat transfer in preflashover being pursued in connection with the development of Version 2 of the FDS, as described above. Other RRF projects include the implementation and testing of improved combustion and radiation models and work on the solid-phase portion of the problem that comprises efforts to better predict material burning rates and to produce materials that use novel fire retardants to enhance their fire properties. Finally, doorway flows are being studied
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 experimentally, and this fundamental work is valuable for its validation of new and existing fire growth models. However, the panel is divided on whether the project can produce any notable improvements in fire safety. Over the past 20 years, smoke detection became an integral part of residential construction and has been responsible for a marked reduction in fire deaths. However, a new look at the performance of smoke detectors and the evolution of hazardous conditions in buildings is needed, and the division is tackling this problem with funding from HUD, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Underwriters Laboratory, USFA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The NIST project aims to provide modern data on smoke detector performance to gather the important fire signature data needed to further refine smoke detectors. The panel was pleased to see that this work is being conducted in close coordination with the laboratory office’s project on the sublethal effects of smoke on people, as the natural and effective linkage between these projects will enhance both of them. Overall, the new Fire Research Division is moving forward, but the reorganization is not complete. As the new portfolio of programs is established, it will be important to build strong intradivisional relationships and projects and to find the synergies within the new division. It is also essential to cultivate interactions with the other divisions in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. Since the Fire Research Division is located in a separate building, ways of promoting informal interactions should be found. An example of a potential interdivisional collaboration would be a project on fire-testing under load, which would combine work from the Structures Division and the Fire Research Division. Another key element of the Fire Research Division’s programs should be fundamental research. Special attention should be paid to ensuring that enough such research is performed to lay the groundwork for future improvements in models and diagnostics; fundamental research could include work on fluid algorithms and physical submodels for fire simulations. There is often pressure to make every project fit neatly into explicit areas in support of goals with immediate applications, but occasionally taking the risk of working on some unconventional ideas is an important part of a complete research effort. Staff and divisional management should be encouraged to consider what sort of projects might fall into this category, and they should set up a process by which scientists can use some fraction of their time to initiate new work on small creative activities. Program Relevance and Effectiveness NIST’s work on fire-related issues has been internationally recognized for its many important scientific contributions over the years. Staff have a great deal of expertise and experience in this area that allow them to focus on fire safety through their mandate to develop basic fire measurements and predictive tools that can be used by both the building industry and fire-fighting personnel. The annual cost of fire, including losses due to fire, the application of building and fire codes, the cost of suppressing fires, and the cost of insurance, exceeds $128 billion per year in the United States. Therefore, Fire Research Division projects aimed at reducing fire losses clearly have the potential to impact the U.S. economy and many of its industries. To achieve this potential, division staff are reaching out to the various users of NIST results through a variety of mechanisms, including publications, presentations, the distribution of software products, and participation in codes and standards activities. Overall, the division’s activities with code agencies will continue to have a positive impact. An important element of this work is maintaining involvement with international groups such as ISO, and this involvement should be strengthened to support the development of commonality among the standards of different countries. International efforts will also ensure that the new standards that emerge do not act as de facto trade barriers detrimental to U.S. commerce. Types of codes and standards efforts
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 under way in the division are particularly apparent in the AM&PM program, where staff are actively facilitating their development and adoption. With the ASTM, the division is working on fire standards and protective clothing. With the National Fire Protection Association, the focus is on development of specifications for residential sprinkler systems; the chair of the relevant committee is a NIST staff member. With the Construction Industry Board and the International Code Council, activities are related to performance-based building codes and standards affecting rail transport. The panel believes that the importance of the Fire Research Division’s work in codes and standards lies in its potential to provide scientific knowledge and tools relevant to the codes and standards development process. Today, new codes are often based on the experiences of a group of professionals who have been assembled to write and promulgate the standards in a particular area. This process, especially as used to produce NFPA standards, does not guarantee that the ultimate code or standard will have a firm scientific basis. In order to have an impact in this area, the division needs not only to provide scientific research that is relevant for industry standards at the national, state, or local levels, but also to develop a strategy to insert the use of scientific knowledge and tools from that research into codes and standards development processes. To do so will require additional funding and personnel for research and dissemination. The panel acknowledges that the culture and political clout of the industries that are affected by and active in codes and standards activities will be an obstacle to the adoption of modern, scientific approaches, but the laboratory should use its experience to select the areas where NIST efforts are most likely to be able to stimulate changes. Staff should take advantage of NIST’s reputation for providing unbiased technical advice when they reach out to potential allies and advocates in industry to begin to promote changes in attitudes toward and development of standards and codes. Another area in which the technical results and experience of the Fire Research Division can play a critical role is support of the fire service industry. This community is migrating from an intuitive approach based on experiential learning toward an approach based on scientific data and prediction tools. However, the efforts of NIST go widely unnoticed in this community. In a good first step, staff from the AFST program conducted several workshops to determine what issues the fire service considers important and how NIST can help in the transition to more scientific approaches. However, additional outreach is still needed, and dissemination efforts should be expanded and should include presentations at major fire conferences throughout the United States. The numerous journal articles and book chapters, NIST reports, and papers and presentations at conferences that were produced by the AFST program in the past year have built a strong awareness of NIST capabilities in the industrial and scientific communities, so outreach specifically to fire service groups will be the next big step. In addition to providing technical expertise and guidance, the division is a prime source of high-quality scientific results of value to various industries. For example, in the AM&PM program, measurements and quantification of material flammability are contributing to the development of polymer nanocomposites that could be used to make new fire-retarding materials. The goal is to develop tools that will reduce the development time for new synthetic polymers, thereby lowering costs. Current efforts focus on modifying the combinatorial chemistry techniques used in the pharmaceutical sector so they can be used to investigate the parallel synthesis of multicomponent polymer nanocomposites. In other projects, the fire growth prediction capabilities of the FDS will benefit product developers and fire protection engineers by helping them understand what factors contribute to fire spread. In the RRF area, there is every reason to believe, based on the resources available and the capabilities of the laboratory, that significant improvements in fire safety will be enabled by the work under way. Efforts to increase the understanding of how materials burn and to improve the fire properties of
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 materials will have long-range implications and payoffs. More awareness of how materials behave when incorporated into final products will enhance the product development cycle and will spur innovation. In projects directed toward shorter-term goals, the work on smoke detection is certainly relevant to NIST customers and the nation at large, and the division’s efforts could improve the use of existing technologies and spur the development of next-generation smoke-detecting techniques. The investigation of sublethal effects of smoke is a significant project whose results could affect material developers as well as fire safety designers. Finally, all of these large projects are supplemented by smaller efforts on pragmatic approaches to enhancing residential fire safety. While individually these efforts are modest, collectively they could substantially reduce the loss of life. Division Resources Funding sources for the Fire Research Division are shown in Table 7.5. As of January 2001, staffing for the Fire Research Division included 52 full-time permanent positions, of which 44 were for technical professionals. There were also 10 nonpermanent or supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and temporary or part-time workers. The consolidation of the Fire Safety Engineering and Fire Science Divisions has significantly improved the morale of the staff in the new division. The reorganization is not yet complete and the gains in morale have been uneven, but the overall difference from last year is quite noticeable. One factor is a sense that the funding situation has recovered; no RIFs were scheduled, and the division’s resources were bolstered with a fiscal year 2001 congressional add-on of approximately $1.2 million TABLE 7.5 Sources of Funding for the Fire Research Division (in millions of dollars), FY 1998 to FY 2001 Source of Funding Fiscal Year 1998a (actual) Fiscal Year 1999a (actual) Fiscal Year 2000a (actual) Fiscal Year 2001b (estimated) NIST-STRS, excluding Competence 4.2 5.2 4.7 4.9 Competence 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.0 STRS, nonbase 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.7 ATP 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2 OA/NFG/CRADA 3.7 3.6 3.9 5.2 Other Reimbursable 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.0 Total 8.9 9.7 9.4 11.0 Full-time permanent staff (total)c 56 56 57 52 NOTE: Sources of funding are as described in the note accompanying Table 7.1. aThe funding and staff totals for fiscal years 1998 to fiscal year 2000 are the sums of the numbers from the Fire Safety Engineering Division and the Fire Science Division, which were combined at the end of fiscal year 2000 to form the new Fire Research Division. bThese numbers do not reflect a fiscal year 2001 congressional add-on of roughly $1.2 million for fire-related activities at NIST. cThe number of full-time permanent staff is as of January of that fiscal year.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 specifically designated for fire-related activities at NIST. The number of full-time permanent staff declined over the past year, but if stable resources are available to support new personnel, the panel supports the division’s efforts to recruit new staff and add expertise. As work on the reorganization continues, a key step will be building a uniform culture among the division’s groups. The dependence on external funding continues to be relatively high in the new division. Including the congressional add-on, which is considered internal funding, 43 percent of the Fire Research Division’s estimated fiscal year 2001 funding comes from external sources; this percentage is the highest among the Building and Fire Research Laboratory divisions in fiscal year 2001. In each program area of the Fire Research Division, the forces driving the level of outside support are different. In the AM&PM program, the majority of funding comes from NIST core resources, as is appropriate given the long-term focus of many of the projects in this area. Nonetheless, the more fundamental work continues to be supplemented by significant efforts dedicated to small contracts from other agencies. These outside projects represent an opportunity to sustain skills and capabilities and keep the staff familiar with the needs of government agencies working in these areas. While they might dilute efforts directed at fulfilling the mission of the division, some projects of this type are certainly needed, and the fact that the laboratory is awarded these grants does testify to the technical merit of the NIST programs. The RRF program has the highest level of external support, and the panel believes that this should be viewed as a testament to the interest of the other government agencies that are NIST’s customers in this area. In the AFST program, the panel notes that current funding appears to be insufficient to meet the objectives laid out for this program. Given that the emphasis of this program is on meeting short-term customer needs, the panel worries that the insufficiency of funding for these projects may signal that the connections to the relevant communities are not as strong as they could be. The key facility-related activity in the Fire Research Division is the modification and repair of the Large Fire Facility. This facility is being equipped with an improved emission control system to provide fire measurement capabilities in a safe and efficient manner. The panel is somewhat concerned that the performance of the new exhaust system, while understood in a steady-state case, has not been adequately analyzed in the transient modes in which it will be used in the facility. The panel will be pleased to see this facility operational again, as it will provide large fire measurement capabilities that are required to meet the needs of NIST customers from industry and government. The division also maintains other experimental systems, such as the transient application, recirculating pool fire suppression facility, which is used to evaluate fire suppression systems and materials. Office of Applied Economics and Standards and Codes Services The Office of Applied Economics (OAE) is located in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory Office. Until the middle of last year, the laboratory’s efforts in Standards and Codes Services were also directed out of the laboratory office by a key principal investigator. When that individual left, the standards and codes activities under way were divided up among various division and OAE staff members. This section reviews the OAE and comments on some of the laboratory’s standards- and codes-related activities. Technical Merit According to laboratory documentation, the mission of OAE is to provide economic products and services through research and consulting to industry and government agencies in support of productivity enhancement, economic growth, and international competitiveness, with a focus on improving the lifecycle quality and economy of constructed facilities.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 The work in OAE has the ultimate goal of facilitating cost-effective decision making. The products of the office incorporate technical results from the other units in the laboratory and generally are tools to help the construction industry understand when adopting new technologies and materials is a safe and efficient option. The programs under way are comprehensive, and the technical merit of the work is first rate. Products incorporate the latest available economic concepts, statistical tools, and behavioral analyses, and the staff provide excellent analytic decision-making tools packaged in user-friendly software. In the standards and codes area, the goals are evolving. In the past, the focus was specifically on performance-based standards, but the overall objective was and is to work for the implementation of codes and standards that increase opportunities for innovation and enhance competitiveness. Most recently, the laboratory worked closely with HUD on two HUD initiatives: the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) and the Healthy Homes Initiative (HHI). As the laboratory moves forward with current projects related to these past efforts, the biggest challenge will be mapping out a clear, long-term strategy for its involvement in codes and standards activities. If the technical results from the various divisions on new measurement technologies and advanced materials are to have the maximum impact on the construction industry, the laboratory must understand how the results could be used to develop codes and standards and must define the mechanisms for achieving NIST’s goal of changing the structure of codes and regulations to accommodate evolving technologies. In the OAE and the standards and codes area, there are a number of projects recently completed, under way, or planned. The Benefits from Best Practices Applied to Construction Safety project looked at various construction practices and their impact on worker safety, specifically demonstrating how using more expensive practices could produce savings by reducing the costs associated with accidents. The long-term Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) project continues and is expanding its reach into the relevant building communities. Below the panel discusses a few other highlights. Several years ago, laboratory staff developed Alternative Life-Safety Analysis for Retrofit-cost Minimization (ALARM), which is a true performance standard designed for use in health care facilities. The heart of the effort is a software tool to help facility managers and design professionals achieve cost-effective compliance with the codes and safety standards that regulate special-use occupancies. The software allows the user to determine if an existing facility is in compliance and, if it is not, quickly finds the least expensive compliance strategy and estimates construction cost. Since this tool has been so successful for health care facilities applications, this project has been rejuvenated and expanded. Laboratory staff are partnering with the National Institute of Justice and the NIST Office of Law Enforcement Standards to adapt the system so it can analyze the plans of correctional facilities with respect to the special codes and standards that regulate such buildings. The new package for the corrections community will soon be rolled out, and staff are already making contact with prospective partners in other communities that have buildings with specialized regulatory requirements. A new initiative in OAE is developing paradigms to systematically assess the likelihood of a given emerging technology being adopted by a specific industry. This effort, under way for the NIST ATP, focuses on the technologies and industries that have been supported by this program. If OAE is successful in this endeavor, it will lay the groundwork for the related (but opposite) question: Given the needs of business and industry, what types of technological innovations should be targeted, that is, which potential new capabilities offer the greatest probability of becoming commercial successes? The ability to answer this question systematically would be a key element of cost-effectively identifying and assigning priority to research and development efforts in a variety of fields. In addition to learning about ongoing work, the panel was told about a newly proposed activity for the standards and codes area. The idea is for BFRL to partner with a major research center to develop
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 a system of quality metrics for housing. Such a system would aim to enable home buyers to evaluate and compare the performance of houses on the market or would help them to compare various designs for a customized house. Similar systems are already in use in Japan and Spain, but the system proposed by BFRL would be much more broadly applicable. Program Relevance and Effectiveness OAE and the Standards and Codes Services activities are located in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory office because both activities are essential for the laboratory’s overall effort to facilitate the effective use of the laboratory’s results by its customers. In many instances, the divisions’ projects focus on measuring or analyzing advanced materials or methods to show how they are more reliable, more durable, or safer than existing options. Since these new approaches are often more expensive than current practices (or just different from them), the adoption of new technologies by builders and owners may hinge on the availability of easy-to-use tools to help them weigh complex trade-offs and determine whether (and why) a change might be desirable in a given situation. Also, the laboratory must be aware of the codes and standards environment in which new materials and methods will be applied; implementation may require demonstrating how new approaches are consistent with current regulations, or expanding existing standards, or even developing new codes. The OAE’s decision-making tools have been adopted widely and in some cases are established as de facto national standards for effective evaluation of building construction options, as happened with the Building Life-Cycle Costing methodology, which is commonly used by DOE and the construction industry. The procedures that underlie the software packages allow users to explore trade-offs between one-time capital costs and extended operating and maintenance costs, while taking into account implied long-term benefits from enhanced reliability, greater safety, energy conservation, and less environmental degradation. A key element in the success of OAE is that the staff always maintain a strong focus on their customers, the eventual users of NIST products. In projects, the first step is always developing a feasible mechanism to assist clients in reaching decisions in ways that are meaningful to them. Also, although many activities are part of long-term lines of investigation, work is usually structured in discrete pieces so that OAE can provide a number of useful new or upgraded software packages for its customers each year. OAE recognizes that decision-enhancing tools are of little value if not adopted by decision makers and therefore disseminates its results as computer software (on compact disks and/or as Internet downloads), with skillful visuals, user menus, and instructions. In fact, the software is so user-friendly that a recent prototype of a potential new product, the Durability Doctor, attracted substantial user attention even though the tool has not yet been fully developed. A good example of how OAE effectively serves its customers is its long-term BEES project. Software developed as part of this project computes both economic and environmental indices to help designers weight these factors when choosing materials for construction. The second edition of the BEES software package has been released,7 and NIST staff have traveled around the country to deliver hands-on, interactive presentations to consumers and designers. Use of this tool is spreading in the United States and has begun to gain acceptance in the international building community. Further dissemination to other relevant communities and extension of the software might occur through partnerships with other NIST laboratories, 7 Version 2.0 of the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) software is available online at <http://www.bfrl.nist.gov/oae/software/bees.html>.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 which could promote the tool to their customers and also might provide suggestions and expertise on potential new materials. Currently, the main issue for this activity is which building materials should be included in the NIST software. Originally, the BEES software was developed based on analysis of generic building products and materials (such as plywood and 15 percent fly ash content concrete). However, as the software becomes more widely used, manufacturers have asked NIST to include their products and to list them by brand name. The manufacturers are willing to pay for this privilege, but the question is, Where do appropriate efforts to provide building designers with scientific decision-making tools leave off and inappropriately commercial activities begin? In the standards and codes area, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory could become a leader in reshaping the content of construction codes now in use and influencing the processes used to develop the construction codes and standards of the future. However, for this to occur, it would have to develop a long-range plan and seek out the technological innovations that are needed to support new, science-based approaches to standards and codes. The value of new regulations to the U.S. economy and to society at large hinges on balancing public safety concerns with the need to allow the implementation of new technologies without a lengthy approval process. For effective implementation of new technologies, measures of quality are needed to allow product comparison and substitution and to encourage technological innovation and the expansion of markets. For NIST to help the United States and the world move forward to a modern approach to codes and standards, the BFRL must do more than participate in the processes that set codes and standards; it must also identify and quantify the incentives so that interested parties can be convinced to embrace new approaches and quantum leaps in technology can be accommodated. One example of the direction in which the laboratory might go is the proposed project on a system of quality metrics for housing. A strong proponent of this effort is a staff member who is involved with two organizations that are major players in the writing of international building codes and life safety standards. He is a respected member of committees that write codes and standards and of committees that review and assess codes and standards for incorporation into the construction industry, and he believes that a system of quality metrics for housing would help him bring a scientific approach to those processes. In addition, since the system would be targeted at home buyers, it could give the laboratory international exposure and make NIST a household word. Division Resources Estimated fiscal year 2001 funding for the OAE totals $2.0 million, of which $1.3 million is from external sources. As of January 2001, staffing included 11 full-time permanent positions, of which 10 were for technical professionals. In the standards and codes area, external funding for laboratory activities related to Performance Standards Systems for Housing, PATH, and HHI is roughly $1.09 million. In both OAE and the standards and codes area, significant amounts of funding are from external sources. While this support clearly shows how highly the U.S. government values the skills of the laboratory staff, there are problems associated with this reliance on external support. The biggest problem is in the standards and codes area, where the loss of the principal investigator for a number of HUD grants leaves those programs, which supported work in several divisions, with an uncertain future. In OAE, the staff are overcommitted, and the main resources-related challenge is finding talented, experienced personnel to supplement the current team. The most immediate need is to identify and hire a person versed in operations research and decision-making techniques, but regularly infusing the team with fresh, new talent is also important. Finding freshly minted Ph.D.s with the required combination of
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 economic training and instincts, familiarity with operations research tools, facility in computer simulation, and practical knowledge of the relevant technologies is extremely difficult. The growing use of graduate students as working interns is an effective, if slow, way of building talent. MAJOR OBSERVATIONS The panel presents the following major observations: The panel continues to be impressed with the technical quality of the staff and the projects under way in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. The merger of the two fire divisions to form the new Fire Research Division was a good move, and it is beginning to have a positive effect on morale, focus, and financial stability within the laboratory’s fire-related programs. A strategic plan is needed to define long-term goals for the laboratory and establish a uniform culture across the divisions. Such a plan should raise the understanding of laboratory objectives both inside and outside the laboratory. Increased focus on understanding customer needs and defining dissemination mechanisms early in projects would also enhance the laboratory’s impact. Standards and codes determine how design and construction are done in this country, so to have an impact on building technologies, the laboratory needs to develop a plan for providing industry advocates with the technical tools and results they need to promote the use of scientific information in standards and codes development. Because the laboratory depends on external sources for a significant percentage of its funding, it should have a policy for deciding which external funding opportunities should be pursued. This policy should be clearly communicated to staff and might also be used to help decide what levels of external funding are appropriate for the various laboratory programs. Strong informal relationships among staff from different divisions are an important element of successful interdisciplinary collaborations. Management should explore mechanisms that let staff build familiarity with activities and personnel throughout the laboratory.
Representative terms from entire chapter: