The previous chapters have presented detailed conclusions and recommendations for each program reviewed. This chapter presents conclusions and recommendations that apply to two or more of the programs reviewed, first, in general and second, by the factors considered by this panel (i.e., technical merit of the programs; portfolio of expertise; adequacy of budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources; and effectiveness of dissemination of program outputs).
GENERAL CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The seven NIST programs reviewed—Community Resilience Program (CRP); Structural Performance Under Multi-hazards (SPUMH) Program; Earthquake Risk Reduction in Buildings and Infrastructure (ERR) Program, Engineered Materials for Resilient Infrastructure Program; Fire Research Programs, Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program; and Embedded Intelligence in Buildings (EIB) Program)—have contributed major advancements in measurement science, standards, and technology over the past decade, which have strongly advanced U.S. competitiveness and innovations. Current national conditions, including the international COVID-19 pandemic, major wildfires throughout the western United States, a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin, and numerous other recent high-hazard events have heightened awareness of an urgent need for NIST’s work in these specific areas. For example, the Net Zero Energy High Performance Buildings Program quickly incorporated the CONTAMX engine in the FaTIMA tool to assist in evaluating risk due to COVID-19 transmission in buildings. The Fire Risk Reduction in Communities Program rapidly developed and disseminated its current fire assessment and prediction models and is actively working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and other on-the-ground wildland-urban interface (WUI) firefighters. These contributions and others are of increasingly high value to the United States, both in ensuring health and safety of communities as well as enabling production and commerce.
Several common themes arise across these programs. As the complexity of current extreme conditions increase, explicit collaboration and coordination across these seven NIST programs and the NIST community as a whole, as well as with external organizations, will be critical to achieve significant advancements in the future. Multidisciplinary and multi-organizational teams can effectively pursue long-term, highly interdependent research roadmaps aligned with NIST’s mission to enhance economic security and improve the quality of life.
While the demands of the nation on these divisions increase, and as NIST’s research agenda expands in response, NIST staff reported that the personnel, equipment, and facilities have not substantially increased over time and that these programs are stretched thin in expertise and resources to meet growing needs. NIST staff also reported that critical equipment and campus infrastructure are now constraining necessary facility and equipment upgrades. Internationally recognized experts within these seven programs possess unique capabilities, but as needs evolve and as staff retire, NIST’s preeminence in these fields may be jeopardized without strategic human resource planning, including recruiting, mentoring, and retaining diverse engineering and technical personnel.
While these seven programs contribute to new standards and codes, new measurement methods and standards, and new computer models and equipment, the effective dissemination and implementation of these important advancements is hindered by a lack of coordinated outreach. Accelerating the co-development and diffusion of results through employing advanced communications and marketing approaches, particularly targeting end users, could save lives, protect the economy, and improve the quality of life in the United States. Measuring the outcomes of the work by these seven programs, focusing on demonstrated benefits to safety, quality of life, and economic security, could further ensure NIST’s future contributions in these fields through apprising the U.S. public and industry of this critical and important resource. In addition, the necessary remote collaboration and outreach brought on by the pandemic response provides an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of NIST in the eyes of the public by making it possible for more stakeholders to participate in and observe the activities at NIST.
TECHNICAL MERIT OF THE PROGRAMS
NIST EL has a long and distinguished record of technological leadership, innovation, and experience in providing analysis and solutions to large and small problems. EL research quality is exemplified by the programs’ science-based tools and outputs. The EL programs show an evolution over the past few years, which indicates a positive attitude toward adaptation to evolving needs. However, in response to these evolving needs, outside collaborations should be sought if expertise does not exist within NIST. In addition, insularity may at times be a risk.
Additionally, emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, machine learning, and increases in computational capabilities) are likely to impact these programs, and it is important to maintain continuous assessment of the applicability of such technologies to EL programs. Except for the Fire Research Division, there appears to be a research focus on the structural resilience of concrete, steel, and polymer building materials. However, wood-frame buildings are also subject to damage or collapse from hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, and so it would be worthwhile to address the resilience characteristics of wood as a building material.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should establish formal procedures to assure interaction with practicing professionals and researchers at other institutions, including federal agencies and universities, to assure that the program does not become overly insular.
The NIST EL programs demonstrate global leadership in measurement science and its application. While successful outcomes from the individual projects advance the mission and vision of the EL, strategic thinking and planning to support long-term efforts is critical and essential.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should articulate and plan more activities around a long-term strategic research plan, developed with input from independent outside advisory panels.
There are frequently good communications with technical peers and standards groups. At the same time, EL staff did not present a clear consensus understanding of the EL’s policy on the importance of publications of various types (e.g., peer-reviewed, technical notes, training documents, and conference proceedings). However, where publications are encouraged, it should be clear to the researchers whether they are measured by the number of publications or the number of citations from their publications.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should communicate to staff clear goals for the rate of annual publications of various types.
PORTFOLIO OF EXPERTISE
The high quality of the EL portfolio of expertise is evident in its impact on national and international codes and standards and its strong industry reputation. As programs evolve and new programs are introduced, additional areas of expertise will be needed to enable significant EL contributions and thought leadership. NIST EL contributions address a full range of issues directed to improved human productivity, safety, and quality of life, and the EL portfolio of expertise could be enriched to explicitly incorporate those competencies. For example, the areas of human behavior and health in residential and community settings do not appear to receive the same attention as other technical aspects of programs.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should assess gaps in its expertise and add new competencies as needed, such as adding social scientists and medical scientists to the technical staff.
ADEQUACY OF RESOURCES
In some areas, the resources of programs seem to be stretched very thin. The prospect of future retirements suggests a challenge for ensuring the longevity of programs.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should ensure longevity of programs through succession planning to ensure areas of expertise are not lost within NIST.
The EL resources also have challenges related to its relatively limited size and the expanding, diverse demands on its program areas. Because of the imbalance between potential demands and available resources, it is difficult to have a profound effect on the industry.
RECOMMENDATION: The budget, human resources, facilities, and equipment resources required for both continuity and growth of these programs should be reviewed, and adequate resources should be provided to ensure they continues to develop.
A diverse staff often yields insights and perspectives that enhance the quality of research.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should ensure an appropriate level of diversity of qualified researchers and managers as older members retire and new talent is brought on board.
The EL has long been the industry leader in the metrication and standardization materials, equipment, systems, and processes. To maintain this leadership position, the research and testing facilities need to be maintained and upgraded to match the innovation occurring in the industry.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should seek adequate funding of facilities maintenance to ensure that NIST can continue its industry leadership position in measurement and standardization.
EFFECTIVENESS OF DISSEMINATION OF OUTPUTS
Greater awareness of the programs’ products outside of NIST and its immediate stakeholders would significantly benefit the recognition of the value of the products and the awareness of the important
role NIST can play nationally and globally. Working more directly with stakeholders and end users would provide valuable feedback to NIST’s efforts, which can be used iteratively to improve the NIST EL outputs and products.
The lack of a clear Internet communications strategy for the NIST programs is a serious one that needs to be addressed. This includes information about the programs, their roles, the impact they have had and intend, and opportunities for industry and academics to engage the programs. There is also a need for a strategy for using social media.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should develop and actively promote a Stakeholder Engagement and Dissemination Strategic Plan that makes use of a broad range of traditional and emergent media to report and interpret results and solicit user input.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should consider establishing a primary point of contact for outreach and dissemination to its diverse stakeholders, including companies, professional organizations, communities, regional and state agencies, and universities and community colleges.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should consider an enterprise evaluation system that would promote a holistic approach toward product development, implementation, and user feedback and would promote community engagement early and throughout the process of design through dissemination.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should consider developing programs and tools that are user-driven, not developer-driven.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should develop stronger relationships with diverse portions of industry, such as design firms, utilities, manufacturing firms, facility owners, local governments, and other agencies, to help ensure that its products are responding to the needs and cultures of different types of organizations.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should distribute its products directly to actual and potential users, and the outcomes of these dissemination efforts should be evaluated.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should increase its development of partnerships with international organizations.
Dissemination of critical outcomes, best practices for building systems, guidance about preventative maintenance, and other information is critical to the success of the program and for greater impact. Given the massive, installed base of residential buildings, homeowners and other occupants can play a critical role in intelligent building operation.
RECOMMENDATION: The Engineering Laboratory should work toward broader interface with homeowners and other end users to collect and review requirements, disseminate information from its programs, influence improved user interfaces, and help end users get the best results in building operations.
This is best done in coordination with other federal agencies (e.g., the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are active in this area also). Without coordination, the end result would duplicate work done in different ways.