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Benefits and Costs of Research: A Case Study of Fire Dynamics Simulation



Barbara C. Lippiatt


The Fire Dynamics Simulation (FDS) research program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has produced software that simulates fire spread and the response of a given sprinkler system. At the request of warehouse property owners, the NIST Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) applied FDS to the science of fire protection device interactions in warehouses. Three fire protection devices were required in warehouses by the Uniform Fire Code (UFC), a prescriptive model code serving over one-third of the Nation: sprinklers, draft curtains, and roof vents. Property owners considered these multiple requirements to be outdated, overly conservative, and costly. Yet the traditionally-accepted way to evaluate the validity of proposed code changes involves an extensive series of expensive, time-consuming, full-scale tests. BFRL instead ran FDS simulations before each of a limited series of full-scale tests to help design the tests to returen the most information possible. The simulation/testing approach proved successful. It yielded enough scientific evidence to convince UFC code officials to remove draft curtain requirements from sprinklered warehouse facilities. A benefit-cost analysis shows BFRL's contribution yielded a Present Value Net Savings of $377.0 million, a Savings-to-Investment Ratio of 100.61, and an Adjusted Internal Rate of 100.61, and an Adjusted Internal Rage of Return of 28.7%. The three economic measures of worth indicate that the FDS application was an economically worthwhile effort.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 6582
Report Number


building economics, economic analysis, fire protection, fire simulation, impact evaluation, life-cycle costing, safety, warehouse facilities


Lippiatt, B. (2017), Benefits and Costs of Research: A Case Study of Fire Dynamics Simulation, NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD (Accessed June 20, 2024)


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Created February 19, 2017