Executive Summary

The world watched in horror as the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, demonstrating yet again the devastating destructive power of uncontrolled fire. On February 20, 2003, a nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, left 99 people dead and more than 150 injured. Not since the 70-year period from 1871 to 1941, during which the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the center of the world market for grain, livestock, and lumber and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire killed hundreds, has the ability of fire to cause damage and harm figured so prominently in the national consciousness. However, to those involved in fire safety, the recent horrific events only reinforce the knowledge that fire is a dangerous and relentless foe, and one that is not fully understood or controllable despite years of effort and countless billions spent on prevention, mitigation, and response.

In 1968 Congress passed the Fire Research and Safety Act, which mandated creation of a National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control (NCFPC) to study the nation’s fire problem. The commission conducted an in-depth study, held hearings throughout the country, and in 1973 submitted its report, America Burning, to the President and Congress. The first page of the report stated as follows: “Appallingly, the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world [the United States] leads all the major industrialized countries in per capita deaths and property loss from fire” (NCFPC, 1973).

In response to the America Burning report, Congress passed the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, which created what is now the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy, currently located within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This legislation also established the Fire Research Center at the National Bureau of Standards—now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—thereby providing the basis for the existing program at NIST. As a result of concerted efforts to improve fire safety (particularly the advent of an affordable home smoke detector), residential deaths in the United States have declined since then, but this country continues to sustain unnecessarily high levels of fire-related death and destruction. As part of its strategy to improve fire safety, NCFPC recommended in America Burning that federal funding of fire research be increased by $26 million per year ($113 million in today’s dollars). That recommendation was not implemented.

In the early 1970s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) supported fire research at a level of approximately $2.2 million every year ($9.6 million in today’s dollars) through a program known as Research Applied to National Needs (RANN). The RANN program was terminated in 1977. Subsequently, a fire research grants program at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) was funded at about $2 million annually ($8.7 million in today’s dollars). However, by 2002, the NIST fire research grants program had declined to only $1.4 million, a decrease of 85 percent from the 1973 level when adjusted for inflation. As a consequence of the limited funding that has been made available, the scope and breadth of university fire research in the United States have declined dramatically over the past 30 years.

As in any technical field, the production of advanced degree scholars with specialized expertise and career paths in fire science and engineering is critical to both conducting the needed research and training the next generation of investigators, teachers, and practitioners. Unfortunately, reduced research funding over the past three decades has caused U.S. production



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Executive Summary The world watched in horror as the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, demonstrating yet again the devastating destructive power of uncontrolled fire. On February 20, 2003, a nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, left 99 people dead and more than 150 injured. Not since the 70-year period from 1871 to 1941, during which the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the center of the world market for grain, livestock, and lumber and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire killed hundreds, has the ability of fire to cause damage and harm figured so prominently in the national consciousness. However, to those involved in fire safety, the recent horrific events only reinforce the knowledge that fire is a dangerous and relentless foe, and one that is not fully understood or controllable despite years of effort and countless billions spent on prevention, mitigation, and response. In 1968 Congress passed the Fire Research and Safety Act, which mandated creation of a National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control (NCFPC) to study the nation’s fire problem. The commission conducted an in-depth study, held hearings throughout the country, and in 1973 submitted its report, America Burning, to the President and Congress. The first page of the report stated as follows: “Appallingly, the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world [the United States] leads all the major industrialized countries in per capita deaths and property loss from fire” (NCFPC, 1973). In response to the America Burning report, Congress passed the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, which created what is now the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy, currently located within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This legislation also established the Fire Research Center at the National Bureau of Standards—now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—thereby providing the basis for the existing program at NIST. As a result of concerted efforts to improve fire safety (particularly the advent of an affordable home smoke detector), residential deaths in the United States have declined since then, but this country continues to sustain unnecessarily high levels of fire-related death and destruction. As part of its strategy to improve fire safety, NCFPC recommended in America Burning that federal funding of fire research be increased by $26 million per year ($113 million in today’s dollars). That recommendation was not implemented. In the early 1970s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) supported fire research at a level of approximately $2.2 million every year ($9.6 million in today’s dollars) through a program known as Research Applied to National Needs (RANN). The RANN program was terminated in 1977. Subsequently, a fire research grants program at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) was funded at about $2 million annually ($8.7 million in today’s dollars). However, by 2002, the NIST fire research grants program had declined to only $1.4 million, a decrease of 85 percent from the 1973 level when adjusted for inflation. As a consequence of the limited funding that has been made available, the scope and breadth of university fire research in the United States have declined dramatically over the past 30 years. As in any technical field, the production of advanced degree scholars with specialized expertise and career paths in fire science and engineering is critical to both conducting the needed research and training the next generation of investigators, teachers, and practitioners. Unfortunately, reduced research funding over the past three decades has caused U.S. production

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of career-directed young men and women who will make and implement the important fire safety discoveries of the future to all but dry up. In recognition of the slow pace of advancement in the fire safety field, the paucity of basic research, and the small number of universities offering research and training opportunities, NSF asked the National Research Council (NRC) to help it determine how to align its programs and resources to advance fire safety in the United States. The Committee to Identify Innovative Research Needs to Foster Improved Fire Safety in the United States was appointed to plan and conduct a workshop that would survey and assess the current state of knowledge, research, education and training, technology transfer, and deployment of practices and products in the fire safety field. The committee also set out to help define how NSF could marshal the intellectual, financial, and institutional resources of the United States to develop the knowledge necessary to save lives and reduce injuries and property loss from fire. The workshop was held on April 15 and 16, 2002, and attended by more than 50 national and international experts from various disciplines involved in fire safety. During the course of the workshop, many themes emerged from the perspectives of the different disciplines represented. However, the committee’s overarching conclusion is that there are significant gaps in our knowledge of fire safety science and fire loss mitigation strategies. As a result, the threat posed by fire to people, property, and economic activity is neither well understood nor fully appreciated. The ramifications of these gaps manifest themselves in many ways. For example, the need for a sound and complete knowledge base has never been greater in light of the recent emergence of performance-based codes published by the International Code Council (ICC, 2001) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, 2003) and performance-based design practices such as those released by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE, 2000). Performance-based codes and design practices provide a real opportunity to make buildings safer at less cost and further open the doors to innovative building systems, devices, and materials. However, current knowledge gaps force engineers and regulatory officials to apply performance-based practices in a climate of significant uncertainty: For instance, could other buildings suffer catastrophic failures like those that occurred on September 11, 2001, at New York’s World Trade Center? In other words, substantial amounts of money continue to be invested in building fire safety features without the benefit of scientifically informed expectations of the resulting safety performance. As a result of the workshop presentations and discussions and its own subsequent deliberations, the committee found significant knowledge gaps in eight topical areas: Fire and explosion fundamentals. Behavior of fire in buildings where the fire itself has induced changes in compartment geometry and venting; improved prediction from first principles of flame spread and extinction over condensed-phase fuels; explosion phenomena. Materials and retardants. Coatings, catalysts, additives; smoke and toxicity; melt, flow, and dripping; pyrolysis and flammability; high-temperature performance. Fire protection systems. Chemical and physical suppression and extinction phenomena; smart suppression; multiple signature detection. Engineering tools. Modeling fire growth, detection, and suppression system performance; hazard analysis and probabilistic risk assessment methodologies; uncertainty analysis; fire scenario definition and quantification.

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Structural fire performance. Fuel loads; fire severity and fire-induced changes in geometry and venting; high-temperature properties of materials; performance of structural connections; development and verification of analytical methods. Human behavior. Evacuation modeling and data; stair flows and counter flows; group dynamics and decision making; post-9/11 human perceptions and behaviors; effects of toxic products; human factors. Public policy. Decision-making methods and validation; quantification of fire severity and frequency; public safety goals; relationship between public policy and technical risk analysis. Data. Fuel load, distribution of building contents; explosion losses; thermodynamic, thermophysical, and thermochemical material property data; quantification of model uncertainty; human behavior data for building evacuation models; cost/loss metrics. Identifying priorities among such a wide range of research needs is a significant challenge and beyond the scope of a single workshop. As noted by the various workshop presenters, almost all areas connected with fire safety will benefit from additional resources and intellectual effort. Because NSF has traditionally served as an incubator for coordinated, interdisciplinary research programs for hazard reduction that involve the university research community, government agencies, and the private sector, the committee identified NSF as the most logical agency to support a new university grants program in fire research, not only to help advance the state of knowledge but also to support the production of young scholars—the human capital so badly needed for the future of U.S. fire safety science and engineering. At the same time, the committee believes that NSF has an opportunity to act as a catalyst for a well- coordinated program of improved fire safety. The committee’s findings and recommendations are presented as a path forward for NSF to expand its role in making the nation safe from fire. FINDINGS The High Cost of Fire. Unwanted and preventable fire in the United States continues to exact an unacceptably high cost in terms of human suffering and economic losses. The threat to people, property, and economic activity is neither well understood nor fully appreciated by policy makers and the public at large. Benefits of Performance-Based Practices. Performance-based building codes, which are now available in the United States for adoption by state and local governments, offer real promise for regulators and public officials to institute regulations that reflect a better understanding of risks and improved safety performance for buildings in their communities. However, performance- based codes depend on the ability of engineers to predict how buildings will perform under fire conditions. There are significant gaps in the data and knowledge base needed to support performance-based codes, engineering tools, predictive models, and risk assessment. Insufficient Funding. The current funding levels and organizational infrastructure for fire research in the United States are inadequate to address even the most fundamental research needs that were raised at the workshop and subsequently discussed by the committee. The documented

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costs of unwanted fire, in both human and economic terms, justify substantial investment in fire safety research and the development and deployment of the products of that research. The public at large, businesses, institutions, and government agencies can all benefit from better safety at less cost. Coordination and Cooperation. Improving fire safety in the United States depends on the combined efforts of a range of disciplines and communities, from fire researchers and academics to the fire services, public officials, codes and standards groups, private industry, government agencies, and professional societies. There is a need for better communication, cooperation, and integration of national fire safety efforts. Important Role for Universities. University-based fire research has all but evaporated in the United States over the past three decades. In addition to choking off new scientific discovery, this turn of events has all but eliminated the production of young scholars with a career commitment to inquiry and teaching in the fire safety sciences. Role of the National Science Foundation. The NSF has traditionally served as an incubator for coordinated, interdisciplinary research programs for hazard reduction that involve the university research community, government agencies, and the private sector. As compared with more mission-oriented agencies, an NSF commitment can be particularly beneficial in areas of basic research that will improve our understanding of the nature of fire; its detection, suppression, and control; technology applications (e.g., next-generation residential smoke detectors, material coatings, and intrinsically safe home appliances); human behavior; and interdisciplinary studies to better inform building codes, design, and regulatory/public policy processes. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Model. Through NEHRP, the U.S. government has aggressively pursued such an integrated approach for addressing the earthquake hazard. Its approach has resulted in greatly improved building performance and reduced levels of injury and death. RECOMMENDATIONS 1. NSF should reestablish and fund a program in basic fire research and interdisciplinary fire studies. Funding of approximately $10 million per year is recommended to begin this effort. This initial funding level would restore the NSF investment in fire research to its 1973 level (in today’s dollars). It should be reconsidered once a robust research infrastructure is in place. The level of fire research at U.S. universities has declined greatly since the RANN program was terminated at NSF. Given NSF’s charter to support basic research and education, the committee believes that NSF is the appropriate agency for administering a reinvigorated and robust university grants program in fire research. Funding of university principal investigators and graduate students needs to be emphasized, both to accomplish research goals and to invest in the nation’s next generation of investigators and teachers—the human capital so necessary for continuous improvement in fire safety. There are many on-going initiatives and programs within

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NSF (e.g., nanotechnology, sensors, high-performance materials, surface chemistry, human and social factors in hazard mitigation, structural system performance) that could provide a logical nexus (not to speak of existing funding) for reestablishing a comprehensive and interdisciplinary focus on fire safety within NSF. This report makes no attempt to suggest a national research agenda or to identify fire research priorities for the nation. Such prescription was beyond the scope of this effort. The committee believes that work previously done by others, such as the SFPE Research Agenda 2000, the United States Fire Administration (USFA), and the Joint Fire Science Project (JFSP), along with the discussion of topical areas found in this report, will serve as a valuable resource for evaluating initial research proposals. In the short term, NSF can make use of this report and recent work by others to evaluate research proposals. The committee believes that the recommended funding level of $10 million annually would be an appropriate starting point for supporting multiple investigators in the physical, social, and behavioral sciences and engineering, with an emphasis on fostering interdisciplinary activities. In the longer term, NSF should coordinate its efforts with other agencies to build an integrated and robust research infrastructure for fire safety. Once such an infrastructure is in place, higher funding levels (such as those recommended in America Burning—approximately $113 million in today’s dollars) should be considered. The committee would note that significant resources are already available through the multiplicity of mission-directed fire safety activities currently under way in federal agencies. Better coordination of existing fire safety planning, research, and implementation and their integration under a renewed initiative by NSF could create significant opportunities to leverage research dollars, increase technology transfer, and speed deployment of new methods and products. 2. A coordinated national attack to increase fire research and improve fire safety practices should be launched. The committee recommends that NSF support exploratory activities to determine if a model such as NEHRP or any other model that combines integration, cooperation, stakeholder involvement, and collaboration in research could hasten the development and deployment of improved fire safety practices through more coordinated, better targeted, and significantly increased levels of fire research in the United States. Many workshop participants emphasized that, in addition to addressing the paucity of basic research, there also needed to be better coordination, cooperation, and communication among the stakeholders in national fire safety. The United States lacks an adequately funded and well-coordinated national fire research program such as that for earthquake engineering embodied in the NEHRP. Most federally funded fire research is mission-focused and conducted by user agencies, which show little interest in leveraging the research investment, supporting graduate students, or transferring technology. Given the emergence of performance-based design and regulatory practices, the fire safety field is desperately in need of integrated research findings targeted to the priority needs of practice. A number of possible national strategies for achieving this goal were discussed at the workshop. The committee believes that a national attack on the U.S. fire problem requires interdisciplinary communication, cooperation, and coordination supported by adequate funding. The earthquake safety movement, which began in the 1970s and has evolved into the successful NEHRP is an excellent model for the fire safety community to consider. An effort modeled on the NEHRP could engage all federal agencies

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currently involved with fire safety and, at a minimum, should link a reinvigorated NSF university grants program with the valuable efforts currently under way at other agencies, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Fire Administration. REFERENCES International Code Council (ICC). 2001. ICC Performance Code for Buildings and Facilities, December. Falls Church, Va.: International Code Council. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 2003. Building Construction and Safety Code, NFPA 5000, 2003 edition. Quincy, Mass.: National Fire Protection Association. Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). 2000. SFPE Engineering Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection. Bethesda, Md.: Society of Fire Protection Engineers.