How Climate Change will affect Museums: a book about Indoor Risks

Managing Indoor Climate Risks in Museums – Bart Ankersmit • Marc H.L. Stappers – Springer

Climate change, presumably, will affect the way buildings will be designed and managed. Also museums are challenged by such risk and a new kind of approach needs to be studied.

Among the wealth of websites and papers that the internet web allows to read about the climate change issue, Managing Indoor Climate Risks in Museums has the gift of explaining the big picture and, at the same time, giving practical tips to the many professionals that need to be supported in studying and applying real-world solution to a new problem.

Continue reading “How Climate Change will affect Museums: a book about Indoor Risks”

Historic Underground Premises and Visitors Safety

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During the international conference on safety issues of rescue operations in underground structures, held in Rome (Italy) on march 3rd, 2011, the argument of visitors’s safety of  secret wartime tunnels in Dover  has been discussed.

The presentation, made by Mr Steve Emery (English Heritage) has focused the attention on how fire safety engineering can be used to improve safety in historical buildings. In particular, the premise are underground. The first tunnels under Dover Castle were constructed in the Middle Ages to provide a protected line of communication for the soldiers. During the Napoleonic Wars, this system of tunnels was expanded to fortify the Castle. Seven tunnels were dug as barracks for the soldiers and officers. These were capable of accommodating up to 2,000 troops.

In May 1940 the tunnels became the nerve centre for ‘Operation Dynamo’ – the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French troops from Dunkirk’s beaches. In the Cold War the tunnels were further expanded to form a Regional Centre of Government in the event of nuclear war.

The presentation, taken from the Conference proceedings, shows how fire simulations have guided in developing a correct safety management for visitors:

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Historic Buildings Fire Risk Assessment Tools

Assessing fire risk in historic or heritage buildings is a defying task for every fire safety professional, as well as for every architect concerned with the problems of updating such buildings to new uses. Normally, fire risk assessment is carried out on the basis of check of compliance to the relevant fire safety standards. New office buildings, shops, schools, museums and many other occupancies are covered by codes in the most of countries. Thus, assessing the risk is a rather easy job.
In other cases, when standards are not available, guidelines or general criteria give the necessary hints to develop a good level fire risk assessment. But, when the building to be assessed has an historical value, the problems which arise do not always find a satisfying answer in the general principles or codes of fire protection. How to deal an important museums which is supposed to be extremely crowded if stairs to not meet fire standards? Which alarm system fits complex structure wooden roof? How to fight fire when water cannot be easily provided?
In order to give adequate answers to questions like

1Assessing fire risk in historic or heritage buildings is a defying task for every fire safety professional, as well as for every architect concerned with the problems of updating such buildings to new uses. In general, fire risk assessment in the case of a normal building is carried out on checking the compliance of the building to the relevant fire safety standards. New office buildings, shops, schools, museums and many other occupancies are covered by codes in the most of countries. Thus, assessing the risk is a rather easy job.

In other cases, when standards are not available, guidelines or general criteria give the necessary hints to develop a good level fire risk assessment. But, when the building to be assessed has an historical value, the problems which arise do not always find a satisfying answer in the general principles or codes of fire protection.

How to deal an important museums which is supposed to be extremely crowded if stairs to not meet fire standards? Which alarm system fits complex structure wooden roof? How to fight fire when water cannot be easily provided?

In order to give adequate answers to such questions, there are few tools which actually allow to assess fire risk and develop a correct protection strategy. One of the most interesting documents concerning the problem is the NPFA 914 Standard (Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures), which addresses fundamental arguments as:

  • security
  • prescriptive and performance-based options
  • management
  • addition, alteration and rehabilitation works, and fire precautions during construction, repair and alteration works
  • special events
  • inspection, testing and maintenance
  • survey forms for conducting arson vulnerability assessments
  • guidance on the implementation of operational controls
  • Provisions for the use of arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) to protect electrical circuits
  • wildfire protection criteria
  • criteria for determining contractor qualifications
  • inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements for premises security systems
  • criteria for special event protection and security

Another tool available, quoted also in the NFPA 914 code but not dealt as a single topic by specific standards, is the performance-based approach, which is developed through the fire safety engineering instruments. Such approach implies that the objectives of the risk analysis are shared among the stakeholders and, consequently, that fire safety scenarios are selected using the expert judgement and verified through simulations of fire. The most significant part of such analysis is the scenario selection, since the results will show the adequacy or non adequacy of fire safety strategy respect to the selected fires.

At the moment, the main obstacle to be removed in using  fire safety engineering to cultural and historical building fire safety is a relative lack of data about fire behavior of historical material. Few data are available about fire damages or extinguishing agents damages to i.e. old canvas or papers (actually, historic or archaic materials cover a very wide range, from metal to almost every organic material object). An  extensive research in such field needs to be developed. An important step towards such goal has been recently undertook by the Fire Research Foundation in order to collect such kind of data.

Sprinkler Corrosion and Fire Safety Issues in Historic Buildings

1Ageing firefighting installations can cause severe reliability problems in historic buildings.

We publish the link to an interesting article  (Corrosion Process Inside Steel Fire Sprinkler Piping, by Bruce W. Christ, Ph.D) published on the Fire Protection Engineering website, based on a review of the engineering and scientific literature pertaining to biological and nonbiological metal corrosion processes.

The review indicates that several metal corrosion processes can occur inside pressurized, water-based, metal fire sprinkler piping. The scientific literature of electrochemistry is rich with examples of corrosion processes other than MIC that can deteriorate metals. For example, “oxygen corrosion” is a nonbiological process that can corrode certain metals. Moreover, “acid-oxygen corrosion” is a nonbiological process that can corrode certain metals even faster than oxygen corrosion.

The article discusses also nonbiological corrosion processes that are spontaneous under the conditions of temperature and pressure that prevail in pressurized, water-based, metal fire sprinkler piping systems:

http://www.fpemag.com/archives/article.asp?issue_id=27&i=176

A small example of fire risk assessment in a heritage building

historic_windowDeveloping a fire risk assessment about a cultural heritage building it is not a common task even if, in many cases, the problems aren’t so different from ordinary buildings.

One of the most frequent issue to be considered during the assessment concerns the problem of matching fire safety rules with the special limits which the fabric of the building and its architectural features pose. For example, steep stairs or narrow doors cannot be modified in an historic building.

Sometimes, also windows cannot be involved in a upgrading project, so also ventilation issues have to be solved with special solutions, since creating holes in historical walls cannot always be considered as a possible solution. An example of fire risk assessment can consider the case of an archive room (for example, in a library) which cannot be provided with ventilation openings asked by many fire standards in normal libraries in order to let fire smokes flow outside the archives. Continue reading “A small example of fire risk assessment in a heritage building”

Scottish Historic Buildings national Fire database – Risk evaluation

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In an attempt to try to evaluate and reduce the different level of risk in heritage building, in Scotland, a unique approach under the project title of the Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database (SHBNFD) was developed. This provided a different kind of insight and approach to historic buildings at risk. The SHBNFD project is an ongoing partnership between Historic Scotland and the eight Scottish Fire and Rescue Services. Initially covering the 3,500 Category A Listed Buildings across the country, the project’s overall aims are: • to improve the effectiveness of fire-fighting operations in historic buildings by making available relevantinformation in a format suitable for use by fire crews attending an incident at these properties • to facilitate the improved reporting and gathering of statistics on fires in Scottish historic buildings • to inform Historic Scotland’s Technical Conservation, Research and Education Group’s future researchprogramme from the feedback material The database has been developed as a ‘living document’. It provides an exchange of information between Historic Scotland (who hold reference details on listed buildings), the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) –located with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (who hold a survey, drawing and photographic archive of sites and buildings) – and the eight Scottish Fire and Rescue Services (who hold fire inspection information on buildings). Combining all of this material for each of the listed sites provides a unique insight into the location, quality and relevance for fire fighting crews.

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The output from the database is an amalgam of historic information from the NMRS and other archives. This material is initially gathered by a historic buildings researcher, and then verified and expanded on by any material gathered on site by a seconded fire officer from each of the eight Scottish Fire and Rescue Services, following a related series of site visits. The initial phase of the project aims to incorporate each of the c3,500 Scottish Category A listed properties in the database. The type of collated information includes architectural descriptions, photographs, plans, access routes and details of water supplies. In addition, priority areas within a property that are of highest historic significance are identified, as are ways in which a building’s structure may adversely affect fire-fighting operations. The following illustrations are copy “screen shots” of the type of data resulting from the amalgamation of information:-

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An immediate benefit of the database is the improved awareness of the location, significance and importance of historic buildings within the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service areas. The longer-term benefit of the project will be in helping to mitigate the devastating effects that fire can and does have on Scotland’s built heritage. Today, the majority of the country’s Category A listed buildings had been included across the eight Fire andRescue Service rural areas and in the smaller towns. Agreement was also reached on how to extend the exercise to include the high proportion of Category A listed buildings that exist within the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database has been well received as a valuable example of collaboration between cultural heritage professionals and the fire and rescue authorities. Used together with relevant statistics on actual fires, the database is considered to present a very effective means of increasing future fire safety in historic buildings. As a result, its recognised value, potential for a much wider application, and clear operational benefits for fire-fighters has been acknowledged. It was also considered that the project approach could be adopted by other countries where similar, or related, datasets of information exist and could have the potential to be integrated. From COST C17 final report – Author :  Mike Coull

Evaluating Physical Interventions as a Function of Hazard and Risk

Because historic structures vary by condition, extent of surviving historic fabric, past and proposed use and other factors, no universal means exists to evaluate inherent fire safety or the impact of potential improvements. Further, buildings have different roles in the ongoing operations of their institutions, ranging from organisations where exhibition of the building is a primary purpose, to those where the primary value is associated with the ability to house the functions required of that organization, eg schools or commercial ventures. Decisions regarding physical interventions should be appropriate to recognised hazards, which may be identified by a building survey or by review of relevant statistics.

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Higher risk hazard occupancies such as residential uses, or higher hazard     operations such as those using flammable materials, warrant higher levels  of intervention than occupancies presenting minimal risk. Each building  warrants an assessment of its unique hazards, as identified.

Fire risk assessments are tools for analysing site-specific hazards, and       ultimately selecting fire safety interventions that will satisfy an    organisationÕs established objectives. For historic buildings, fire risk  assessments consider the hazards in the context of the ability to undertake  architectural improvements, or to install technological systems in a manner    that has an acceptable physical and visual impact, and the approaches  established by building regulations or permitted alternatives.

Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database. Annual Report 2008-2009

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The Minute of Agreement between Historic  Scotland and the Scottish Fire and  Rescue  Services  for the development of The Scottish Historic  Buildings National  Fire Database (SHBNFD)  continues to provide the structure to enable  Scotland to  remain a world leader in the  protection of the built heritage from the  devastating  effects of fire.

Mike Coull of Grampian Fire and Rescue Service  continues to serve in the role  of Heritage Co-  ordinator for the Scottish Fire Services. This post is  considered  crucial in not only delivering the key objectives set out in the Minute of  Agreement, but also to enable further research developing strategies with the Fire S ervice that will contribute to the protection of the built heritage.

The current Minute of Agreement was signed in October 2007 and sets out a wider set of outcomes to reflect the fact that the SHBNFD is much more than a database, it is a project setting out objectives driving forward the protection of the built heritage. To meet those objectives it was vital to ensure effective partnership working, through this it has been possible to establish protocols with each of the eight Scottish fire and rescue services for the exchange of information on Category B-listed buildings.

This Annual Summary Report aims to demonstrate that significant progress has been made in many of the outcomes identified within the Minute of Agreement over the past twelve months. In addition to the agreed outcomes, two significant tasks have been undertaken; a major International conference on ‘Fire Protection of the Built Heritage’ was held at Elphinstone Hall, Aberdeen on 5th May 2009 and a research project involving a series of fire tests on historic doors. Further details of these two initiatives are included within this report.

ANNUAL REP 09

Fire is a constant threat to cultural heritage

Fire has always been a threat to cultural historic valuable buildings and surroundings.

The level of loss is unacceptable, yet most of us instinctively believe that this will not happen to us and, consequently we make, at best, half-hearted attempts to deal with the issue. It is, quite simply, too difficult for many to imagine how easily an accident can happen, and the magnitude of the resulting damage, even when we succeed in preventing the fire from spreading.

Most property owners believe that as long as they comply with current legislation, their buildings will be sufficiently protected. But this is not the case. The primary aim of most current legislation is to save life, not to save buildings. That said, emerging new laws are starting to broaden their remit and improve the standards to some degree. Continue reading “Fire is a constant threat to cultural heritage”