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Fire Risk Reduction in Buildings Program


The objective of the Fire Risk Reduction in Buildings Program is to develop and deploy advances in measurement science to increase the safety of building occupants and the performance of structures and their contents by enabling innovative, cost-effective fire protection technologies.


The total cost of fire in the United States in 2008, as defined by NFPA, is estimated at $310 B, or roughly 2 % of U.S. gross domestic product. Structure fires and fire protection account for $170 B.  To reduce the U.S. fire burden, the Fire Risk Reduction in Buildings program focuses on the development and application of measurement science and standards directly on the two largest components of the structure fire problem: a reduction in the cost of installed fire protection through performance-based design ($63 B) and a reduction in residential fire losses ($31 B), which includes deaths, injuries, and property loss, through science-based prevention and mitigation.  

This program directly supports the Engineering Laboratory's (EL) mission and vision and is consistent with the National Institute of Standards and Technology Act, which directs NIST to conduct basic and applied fire research into the behavior of fires in buildings and design concepts for providing increased fire safety. This work is directly aligned with EL’s strategic priority goal on Measurement Science for Disaster-Resilient Buildings, Infrastructure, and Communities and leverages EL’s core competency on Fire protection and fire dynamics within buildings and communities.  NIST is uniquely qualified to lead this effort, having the technical expertise, infrastructure, and experimental facilities to address key topics in fire protection measurement science. Individual companies do not have the resources to develop the facilities and expertise needed to be successful. The responsibility for ensuring that these tools are accurate and maintained will, by necessity, fall largely on governmental fire research organizations.

Major Accomplishments:

Some recent accomplishments in the Fire Risk Reduction in Buildings Program include:

  • Performance Engineering: The Program is advancing the underlying basis of performance-based engineering.  The fire modeling project continues to support the practice of fire protection engineering and roughly 10,000 registered users through the publication of validated, numerically efficient fire models (Fire Dynamics Simulator - FDS, CFAST, and SmokeView).  Recent outcomes include ASTM and ISO V&V standard development and engineering design guides. The utility of FDS in performance based design has been demonstrated in many highly visible applications including the Columbus Hilton (consultant saved client over $3,700 k in smoke control expenses using FDS analysis), Ohio University’s Scripps College (consultant saved client over $800 k using FDS analysis), the Air and Space Museum’s Dulles extension, as well as a number of historically sensitive applications such the newly refurbished Treasury Building and the Library of Congress. Through use of FDS, architects are able to minimize disruption of the original architectural design without sacrificing fire protection safety.  
  • Egress: The egress project has published complete datasets for five building evacuations on NIST website with hundreds of registered users in October 2010. Video-based observations of 14 unique fire drill evacuations have been completed with data published for five of these.  While the research portion of the toxicity project is complete, follow-up standards work will continue to support the standards process including shepherding the standards documents through ISO and looking for opportunities for domestic standards engagement on this topic.
  • Measurement Science: The Program has significantly advanced measurement science which will enable a substantial reduction in residential fire losses.  First, the nanoparticle foam project has developed several new measurement capabilities, including the ability to use carbon nanotubes and nanofibers in the LbL process, a foam smoldering assessment device and protocol that quantifies smoldering performance, and developed a UV-VIS spectroscopy method to quantify carbon nanotubes at concentrations an order of magnitude lower than any previously reported method. The pyrolysis project developed and validated a new measurement method to capture the broad-band IR absorption of polymers subjected to radiant heating, so that this parameter can be accurately used in pyrolysis modeling.  Additionally, the project published a database of broadband IR absorbance and reflectance measurements of typical commodity polymers which is now actively used by researchers in numerical pyrolysis model development.  The advanced detection project recently led the development of an improved nuisance source standard for smoke alarms (UL 0217).


fire fighter ventilating a building
A fire fighter conducts a second-story ventilation during a fire fighter safety and resource deployment study funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and led by NIST. (Photo credit: IAFF)

Start Date:

October 1, 2011

Lead Organizational Unit: