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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 8 Overall Conclusions The work of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory is of the highest technical quality. It compares very favorably with work being done in similar research institutions around the world, with some exceptions. For example, in the High-Performance Buildings Program it is difficult to attain international leadership through “R&D push” alone, while at the same time meeting the needs of an industry whose innovative capacity is being pulled in a different direction by energy pricing and regulatory policies over which NIST has no control. For that reason, the panel strongly endorses recent efforts to adopt a Stage-Gate process and to lay the foundation for, or help the construction industry prepare for possible implementation of, whole-building performance standards. Both of these efforts will position the BFRL to realign its R&D priorities promptly if emphasis shifts to “demand pull” policies of the types being implemented in Europe and Asia: for example, pricing carbon emissions or taxing energy, or whole-building performance standards aimed at forcing industry to develop technologies that may not be cost-effective at prevailing energy prices. The BFRL has an excellent record of publishing in peer-reviewed journals and of collaboration with universities nationally and internationally. The outcome of the BFRL research will advance progress toward achieving a renewal of the nation’s physical infrastructure; better-quality, faster, safer, and less-costly construction; global competitiveness; and the protection of life and property. The BFRL has responded effectively to the 2008 assessment panel recommendation that it adopt project management tools such as those used in industry. The implementation of Stage-Gate project planning and review techniques provides 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 laboratory. For example, in the Strategic Priority Area on Measurement Science for Disaster-Resilient Structures and Communities, the research staff has, in a relatively short period of time, undertaken a broad range of projects, from the so-called ATC Roadmap, intended to bridge the gap between scientific earthquake analysis and engineering practice, to the assessment of first-generation seismic design methods and the development of efficient nonlinear seismic measurement science tools. With the implementation of laboratory-wide strategic goals that all are supported by multidisciplinary teams, most units within the BFRL now function in this interdisciplinary mode. Good use of ARRA funding has been made for both upgrading BFRL facilities and investing in the National Structural Fire Resistance Laboratory and the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility. The demands on staff time and resources to commission the NSFRL raise concerns regarding the need to develop a model for the sustained operation of this significant capital investment, involving coordination of in-house and extramural activities, and to develop a protocol for the selection of extramural projects and collaborative activities. Of equal concern is the impact that the planning and maintenance of the mandated Disaster and Failure Events Studies and Data Archiving
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 initiative will have on the professional staff and its ability to continue, in view of the episodic nature of the failure investigations, to discharge ongoing programmatic responsibilities at the BFRL effectively. The BFRL staff and management have addressed a pressing need to improve safety through upgrading facilities and improving safety management systems. In the area of staffing, the BFRL is currently able to meet existing needs, but as more senior researchers retire, replacing them may be difficult. Not replacing key staff may lead to deficiencies in core competencies. On the plus side, there are leadership training and staff development programs in place to develop new technical expertise and technical managers. The outreach program to students at universities should be continued so as to recruit young talent and to provide postdoctoral fellowships to handle an increased workload. The work of the BFRL’s professional staff has achieved significant recognition in the building codes and standards community and has been successful in moving research products into standards. 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. An added step that might be implemented, 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 standards. 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. Efforts should continue to focus on implementing performance-based standards and integrating life-cycle concepts into building design and construction practices. NIST is well positioned to provide technological leadership and the consequent ability to influence a competitive positioning of the United States in the building and fire-safety industries. As described in this report, the BFRL has a broad spectrum of opportunities and potential to expand its scope of inquiry and analysis. These include adding staff with leadership potential in the modeling of flame heat transfer in order to maintain the BFRL traditional leadership in modeling fire; defining an appropriate role for the BFRL at a time when nuclear power is seeing a rebirth; integrating the concepts of life-cycle analysis and sustainability into building performance assessment; and anticipating the kinds of measurement science needed to support the transition to performance-based standards and the Smart Grid as well as the multidimensional nature of building performance (energy, air quality, comfort, and electronic noise).