Future buildings—especially tall structures—should be increasingly resistant to fire, more easily evacuated in emergencies, and safer overall thanks to 23 major and far-reaching building and fire code changes approved recently by the International Code Council (ICC) based on recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The recommendations were part of NIST's investigation of the collapses of New York City's World Trade Center (WTC) towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
The changes, adopted at the ICC hearings held Sept. 15-21, 2008, in Minneapolis, Minn., will be incorporated into the 2009 edition of the ICC's I-Codes (specifically the International Building Code, or IBC, and the International Fire Code, or IFC), a state-of-the-art model code used as the basis for building and fire regulations promulgated and enforced by U.S. state and local jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions have the option of incorporating some or all of the code's provisions but generally adopt most provisions.
"We applaud this historic action by the ICC—and the tremendous effort by NIST and its WTC investigation team that led to it," said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. "The lessons learned from the tragic events of 9/11 have yielded stronger building and fire codes for a new generation of safer, more robust buildings across the nation."
The new codes address areas such as increasing structural resistance to building collapse from fire and other incidents; requiring a third exit stairway for tall buildings; increasing the width of all stairways by 50 percent in new high-rises; strengthening criteria for the bonding, proper installation and inspection of sprayed fire-resistive materials (commonly known as "fireproofing"); improving the reliability of active fire protection systems (i.e., automatic sprinklers); requiring a new class of robust elevators for access by emergency responders in lieu of an additional stairway; making exit path markings more prevalent and more visible, and ensuring effective coverage throughout a building for emergency responder radio communications.
Nine additional code change proposals based on the NIST WTC recommendations were not approved for the 2009 edition of the I-Codes.
These proposals address areas such as designing structures to mitigate disproportionate progressive collapse, mandating the use of a nationally accepted standard for conducting wind tunnel tests (routinely used for determining wind loads in the design of tall buildings), limiting the length of horizontal transfer corridors in stairways, installing stairway communication and monitoring systems on specific floors of tall buildings, and requiring risk assessments for buildings with substantial hazard (such as buildings more than 420 feet high with occupant loads exceeding 5,000 persons).
For more information and details on the code revisions, see "Safer Buildings are Goal of New Code Changes Based on Recommendations from NIST World Trade Center Investigation" A chart tracking the progress toward implementing all of the NIST WTC recommendations, may be found at http://wtc.nist.gov.