New Tool Helps Prioritize Remediation of Buildings with Combustible Facades

EFFECT™, an Exterior Facade Fire Evaluation Comparison Tool, was needed because enforcement authorities and those responsible for managing large portfolios of high-rise buildings have lacked a tool to assess and prioritize remediation work, according to NFPA.

The National Fire Protection Association announced Feb. 5 that it has created a new tool to help building owners, facility managers, and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) proactively assess risk in high-rise buildings with combustible facades. Named EFFECT™, an Exterior Facade Fire Evaluation Comparison Tool, it was needed because enforcement authorities and those responsible for managing large portfolios of high-rise buildings have lacked a tool to assess and prioritize remediation work, according to NFPA.

The association's announcement said fires in high-rise buildings with combustible exterior wall assemblies "have occurred in cities from Berlin to Las Vegas to Dubai to London" -- the last referring to the Grenfell Tower disaster, where at least 80 people died in a June 14, 2017, fire at a London high-rise residential tower.

"In response to concern around the world," the announcement says, NFPA sponsored research by Arup, a global firm of engineering consultants, designers, and planners, to develop a risk assessment methodology to enable prioritization of mitigation work. The Fire Protection Research Foundation facilitated a detailed review of the project with input from an international panel including Jensen Hughes as technical peer reviewer and Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants of Dubai as advisors on facade systems fire testing; the research "takes into account the building envelope; potential ignition sources; building characteristics; and existing fire safety measures such as means of warning, containment, and extinguishment," it says, and the result is the EFFECT tool.

"High-rise fires, where combustible facades are present, tend to move swiftly and can cause tremendous loss of life and property," NFPA Director of Applied Research Birgitte Messerschmidt said. "We have seen news footage of fully engulfed high-rise buildings and heard from concerned stakeholders looking to get out in front of facade fire and life safety problems. Arup's thorough research allowed us to create EFFECT so that authorities can now prioritize inspection and remediation efforts in their jurisdiction."

"Keeping communities safe is at the heart of our work and it has become increasingly clear that there is a significant need to help building owners and authorities to risk-assess buildings with combustible facade systems in their portfolios and where necessary, prioritize remediation work," said Arup Fire Engineering Leader Dr. Susan Lamont.

It says the tool uses a two-tiered risk assessment process:

  • Tier 1 asks the AHJ, building owner, or facility manager a small number of questions with clearly pre-defined answers to inform the ranking of buildings within their portfolio. Some of these questions concern the combustibility of the insulation and facade cladding; the presence of sprinklers; potential ignition sources; and the type of alarm system.
  • Tier 2 has the user complete a deeper fire risk assessment evaluation of buildings deemed at risk in Tier 1. On-site inspection; as-built information; maintenance records; samplings; and laboratory testing of unknown facade materials are considered in this part.

EFFECT is free to access and comes with a user's guide that describes the methodology. "In some instances, EFFECT will highlight the need for a more detailed risk assessment by a qualified team of facade and fire engineers," NFPA explained. "The tool can be used in any geographic area; and currently applies to residential (hotel, apartments) or business (office) type occupancies that are over 18m high. This height is measured as the vertical distance from the fire department access level to the uppermost occupied floor of the building. EFFECT assesses risk in existing buildings and has not been created for use in new building design."

NFPA created a different resource last year to help designers and architects navigate code requirements for exterior wall assemblies containing combustible components. For more information, visit nfpa.org/exteriorwalls.

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