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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 7 Overarching Issues Several areas cut across the five Strategic Priority Areas, impacting all aspects of BFRL’s work, as discussed in this chapter. OFFICE OF APPLIED ECONOMICS’ SUPPORT OF AND INTEGRATION WITH LABORATORY INITIATIVES Staff from the Office of Applied Economics at the BFRL have traditionally worked on projects led by other groups in the laboratory, both to help identify and to rank proposed projects and to facilitate the likelihood of implementing successful outcomes by accounting for human interaction and response to evolving technologies. The promulgation of measures and standards for the use and application of emerging science is only as successful as they are understood and used effectively. Historically, when BFRL activities were organized according to disciplinary unit, this crosscutting responsibility of OAE staff led to an awkward review and reporting process. Now, with the implementation of laboratory-wide strategic goals that are supported by multidisciplinary teams, most units within the BFRL function in this interdisciplinary mode. A unique feature of the staff in the OAE is that most staff members have multidisciplinary backgrounds and/or experience. Many hold advanced degrees in economics, but with academic or industrial experience in engineering or the physical or natural sciences. Identifying potential staff candidates with these combinations of expertise is difficult because few institutions or universities are organized to facilitate cross-disciplinary activity. However, since the review 2 years ago, the OAE has been successful in filling four vacant positions with well-qualified individuals through extensive informational and recruiting activities. Since the primary assets for OAE’s activities are the number and caliber of its staff, supported by adequate computational tools and informational access, this group has sustained a high degree of technical merit, given its recent hires and the ongoing training of existing staff. Currently, the OAE budget seems adequate to achieve the stated goals, but with additional resources there might be much more that the OAE could do to further BFRL’s objectives. At the highest level, since the ultimate objective of many activities at the BFRL is to establish measures of performance and standards for the evaluation of alternatives that facilitate the economical introduction of evolving technologies, it would be useful to establish criteria for when, why, and how such standards are to be promulgated. Competing considerations include how a new measure and/or standard might speed the commercialization and widespread adoption of a new technology, material, or system versus how the premature adoption of a standard might inhibit further technological innovation. A second consideration is the likelihood that, in the absence of an industry standard, an individual firm might define that standard implicitly with its own unique product in order to monopolize the industry. Thus while the prospect of gaining market
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 power may provide a powerful incentive to innovate, once a single firm is in control, particularly when it has a unique grip on an essential link to other aspects of the industry, additional incremental innovations may be stifled. These are threshold issues that set the context for performing a cost-benefit evaluation of the desirability of developing a new standard. Since the focus at the BFRL has been on establishing and implementing performance-based (rather than prescriptive) standards, the OAE staff has been particularly valuable in devising methodologies for evaluating the merits of trade-off technologies and/or techniques. Examples abound in methods for selecting least-cost, safe, and environmentally benign building methods and materials as applied to the zero-net-energy-building goal. The staff not only identifies methods for estimating the value of each measure of a desirable outcome, they do so in a conformable manner so that the evaluation of trade-offs is facilitated. The standards prepared by the OAE staff typically are of a decision-making procedure or process that is intended to help potential users make their own evaluations, and state-of-the-art methodologies are typically employed as long as they can be set up in a user-friendly manner. An added step that should be implemented in the future, now that a number of these evaluation standards have been in place for a number of years, is to compare actual performance and outcomes with those estimated using these methodological evaluation standards. A systematic ex post validation process might reveal differences between the predicted and actual performance of systems and components resulting from both technological deterioration and unanticipated human intervention and performance. Those disparities might then be anticipated and incorporated into the establishment of subsequent standards. One illustration might be the use of “real-options” decision-making processes to augment life-cycle-costing methodologies. Another area warranting additional attention is in devising measures of construction productivity. The key is the proper identification and measurement of what is wanted as society moves into an age of sustainability. Life-cycle cost per unit area may simply be inadequate unless all other attributes that are valued by users and society can be measured in terms of dollars. As an example: are different measures required for constructing new space as compared to rehabilitating existing space, and is the trade-off between the two evaluated in a way that accounts for the environmental consequences? If society is to enhance its anticipation of unintended consequences that might arise from the implementation of a particular measure, procedure, or standard, it helps if individuals with diverse training and experience are deployed to work on the goal. Therefore, in order to sustain the desired talent pool of multidisciplinary individuals at the BFRL, it is essential to continue to overcome disciplinary-based institutional barriers to hiring new staff. CODES AND STANDARDS In this section the role of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory in the development of codes and standards is described, supplementing coverage in the chapters on the individual priority areas. Assessment Criterion: The technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 Relative Technical Caliber: The work of the BFRL reviewed during the panel’s visit is of the highest technical caliber. It compares very favorably with work being done by others around the world. The search by the BFRL for a codes and standards manager is to be commended. The management of codes and standards activities will coordinate the efforts of the programs in the BFRL. It will also further the implementation in building codes of the measurement science improvements for fire and life safety of the type that evolved from BFRL’s involvement in the analysis of the World Trade Center disaster. The WTC effort gained much positive recognition for the BFRL, and having a manager for codes and standards in place will allow the BFRL to continue its leadership role in the development of measurement science that leads to improved codes and standards. Relevance: The BFRL has the role of identifying needs for new measurement science to help in the later development of standards. Thus the work of the BFRL is by its nature ahead of the adopted codes and standards in the construction industry. This is the proper role for the BFRL to play. By aspiring to create new measurement standards, the BFRL creates “proto-standards,” which lead in turn to widely used codes and standards. BFRL staff is well informed of work taking place in other national laboratories, at universities, in private industry, and in other nations. The staff has long-standing and active relationships with other research facilities and organizations around the world. Balance: Although the BFRL does much of its work in groundbreaking research into new fields, such as sustainable materials and fire research, it also provides input into the development of codes and standards for immediate use. The active participation of the BFRL in the development of new building code requirements based on the experiences gained in the WTC failure analysis have resulted in revisions that are now in place in the International Building Code. The BFRL also maintains active participation with standards development organizations such as the ASTM, the ISO, and the National Fire Protection Association, where laboratory staff serves on committees that develop new standards for use in the construction industry and also leads the measurement science efforts to identify needs for potential upcoming standards. The BFRL balances the short-term development of new standards for use in prescriptive design with the longer-term goal of providing a good basis for the future development of performance-based codes and standards. Assessment Criterion: The adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs. Available Tools: The National Structural Fire Resistance Laboratory that has been designed and on which construction will start in the fall of 2010 will fill an important gap in the fire test facilities at the BFRL. Also coming to the NIST site is a new test house for use in studying methods for achieving net-zero-energy buildings. This facility will allow the BFRL
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 to measure the performance of various energy conservation technologies and techniques and that of local energy generation technologies. The Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility will allow the reconfiguration of many of its component parts to facilitate installation of new technologies and test protocols as they are developed. Critical Mass: As noted above, the hiring of a new manager of codes and standards will fill an important gap in the organization and staffing of the laboratory. The various groups working at the BFRL have been making contributions to the codes and standards developments discussed above, but this new overall manager will coordinate the efforts of the various groups. The BFRL has adequate funding for the efforts that it has underway and that are planned for the immediate future. It is hoped that the recent level of funding for the laboratory can be maintained or even increased. Agility: The BFRL has done an excellent job in responding to the increasing demand for measurement science associated with several fields of research directly related to codes and standards development. One of these is sustainable design. The demand for “green” technologies and materials is growing rapidly. There is a great need for assessment techniques and measurements to benchmark the use of various materials and technologies. The BFRL is among the leaders in identifying measurement science needs for these initiatives. The BFRL has also responded to the need for a reduction in the use of materials and processes with global-warming potential. The BFRL has been pioneering new efforts to move toward the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings that have a net-zero-energy-use budget. The BFRL is meeting the needs curve for net-zero buildings by helping to create measurement science techniques to close the technology gap that currently prevents the widespread construction of such buildings. Further, the BFRL has been doing outstanding work in the field of fire science for fires in the wildland-urban interface. Through partnerships with various fire protection organizations such as NFPA, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and other laboratories, the BFRL has created test equipment to duplicate burning brands that often spread wildfires in urbanized areas. Assessment Criterion: The degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. Technical Planning: The implementation of Stage-Gate project planning and review techniques puts in place an ongoing improvement process for project and laboratory management. The stated goal of producing performance-based codes and standards is admirable and proper for the BFRL. This goal is ahead of the capabilities of the construction industry to implement widely at this time, but it is nonetheless the right thing for the BFRL to be doing—leading by example.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 Dissemination: The construction industry is very fragmented, with many small component parts. The BFRL does a good job of informing this diverse audience. The participation of the laboratory in the codes and standards development processes exposes other participants in those processes to the work of the BFRL. Impact: BFRL’s participation has historically been very good in standards development. Starting with the World Trade Center review, the BFRL is now moving into the building code development process as well. There is a need for new measurement science at both component and systems levels in construction. Since buildings are typically one-of-a-kind and built on-site, designers need information about the performance of subsystem components as well as ways of determining the performance of complex systems after they are assembled. The BFRL has the means and programs in place to contribute to addressing these needs. The BFRL has a mission to foster the development of new measurement science for new materials and techniques. The BFRL can also improve assessment methodologies for existing materials, as they are doing with research into such widely used materials as Portland cement. Responsiveness: The BFRL demonstrated great abilities to respond to a new need when it rose to the challenge of the WTC failure analysis. This brought the BFRL into the public eye in a very beneficial way and brought the laboratory into the code development process. The creation of the new post of manager of codes and standards will position the BFRL to have an ongoing impact in both the codes and standards arenas. COMMENTS ON MANAGEMENT Management at the BFRL has several levels. The primary level is that for projects, the intermediate level is management of the various divisions, and the top management level is for the laboratory as a whole. A number of the key personnel in management positions at all levels are likely to retire within the next 3 to 5 years. To the extent that certain programs are strongly dependent on the capabilities and leadership of a single individual, it is imperative to develop a plan to identify new managers, either from within the existing laboratory staff or through active outside recruitment. BFRL management should consider developing a formal succession planning program for technical staff in key management areas. Also, leadership training and staff development programs currently in place to develop new technical expertise and technical managers should be continued. The implementation of Stage-Gate project planning and review techniques put in place an ongoing improvement process for project and laboratory management. The process is still in a state of rollout, and several areas should be considered as next steps. The review team did not see inclusion of clear milestones with specific time frames. The use of the Stage-Gate process to move the programs toward transition would benefit from receiving more precision by project leaders. The impact of results has been good in many cases, but without independent review, some major projects may not achieve their potential impact. Cross-programmatic reviews by nonproject personnel and the development of laboratory-wide review material and templates should be considered.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 The Stage-Gate process has also led to increased consistency and cohesion across the BFRL. It has also assisted in the targeting of resources toward a focus on high-impact areas. The staff should continue to manage and prioritize projects using this tool. The staff should also refine the metrics of the tool based on experience with project outcomes and do postmortem analyses of projects to learn from the use of the process.