Fire Research and Safety News

No.1, December 1998


Activities to Date
Summary of Results to Date
Resolutions of 14th Joint Panel Meeting
Collaborative Research Proposal
Fire Safety in the Context of Internationalization
Buildings and Fire Issues in Fire-Safety Testing
Kansai Airport
Building Materials
Fire-Safety Systems
Development of Fire-Safety Performance Evaluation Testing Techniques


The US-Japan Cooperative Program in Natural Resources (UJNR) came out of a proposal offered by the United States during the third meeting of the Bilateral Committee on Trade and Economic Affairs in January 1964 for "government-level exchanges of technology specialists and research results in the area of human and natural resources that would benefit both countries." It held its first meeting in May, 1964 for the avowed purpose of "utilizing cooperation between Japan and the United States so that both countries can learn from each other to the maximum extent possible means of effectively utilizing and conserving the world's natural resources and solving problems in human housing environments."

Today the UJNR consists of eighteen "panels." Those under the Ministry of Construction deal with: "Fire Research and Safety," "Wind and Seismic Effects," and "Earthquake Research."

The Fire Research and Safety Panel was established by the Eighth Administrative Meeting of the UJNR in November ,1975 and held its first bilateral meeting in Washington DC in May, 1976. It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Construction, and its secretariat is located in the Building Research Institute. The chairman of the Building Research Institute serves as the panel chairman on the Japanese side. Similarly, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is the lead organization f or the United States, and the Manager of the Fire Research Program at NIST serves as the chairman of the U.S. side.

The purpose of the UJNR Fire Research and Safety Panel is to encourage the exchange of information and data in the areas of fire safety and science, and to promote cooperative research. The principal means of exchanging technical information has been the periodical joint panel meetings. These meetings consist of technical sessions for reporting and discussing the most active and interesting topics at the time. There have also been a number of technical staff from each country who have performed collaborative research in the other country. This has enabled staff to maximize the strengths of each country's laboratory facilities. The panel has advanced fire science and technology in such areas as fire smoke toxicity; fire detection; microgravity combustion; smoke yields from pool fires; smoke flow in buildings; and building-fire modeling. The Panel countries have been consistent leaders in fire safety research worldwide.

Activities to Date

The Panel has met a total of fourteen times since its first meeting in the United States in April, 1976. During meetings, the Panel selects priority areas for joint research based on the findings of the previous meeting, moving forward with joint bilateral research and reporting on findings during the next meetings.

Record of Panel Meetings

1st Apr. 1976 Washington
2nd Oct. 1976 Tokyo
3rd Mar. 1978 Washington
4th Feb. 1979 Tokyo
5th Oct. 1980 Washington
6th May 1981 Tokyo/Tsukuba
7th Oct. 1983 Washington
8th May 1985 Tsukuba
9th May 1987 Boston
10th June 1988 Tsukuba
11th Oct. 1989 Berkeley
12th Oct.1992 Tsukuba/Mitaka
13th Mar. 1996 Washington
14th May1998Tsukuba/Mitaka


Summary of Results to Date

(1) Summary of previous meeting

The fourteenth Meeting of the Fire Research and Safety Panel was held at Building Research Institute and National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster from May 28 to June 3, 1998. In attendance were eighteen people from the U.S. (of which eight were from BFRL/NIST) and more than fifty from the Japan.

(2) Specific results

The meeting consisted primarily of workshops on the latest topics in fire-prevention and safety. In this meeting, six technical sessions were held. These topics were shown below.

Technical Sessions

 Performance Based Design
 Fire Safety Engineering Tools
 Performance-Based Fire Tests of Materials
 Fire during/after Earthquake
 Detection/Suppression
 Open Technical

It provided an opportunity for specialists from both countries to learn about current fire research in the other country and to reexamine the directions taken in its own fire research. Valuable information was obtained by all participants.


Resolutions of 14th Joint Panel Meeting

The members of the United States-Japan Conference on Development of Natural ResourcesĠ Panel on Fire Research and Safety are pleased with the results of the 14th Joint panel, held in Tsukuba and Tokyo, Japan, May 28-June 3, 1998. We Wish to thank the Building Research Institute and the National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster for their hospitality. The U.S. delegation also appreciates the NRIFD scheduling their 50th Anniversary Symposium to coincide with this UJNR meeting so that the U.S. members could attend and participate.

This Panel continues to facilitate the exchange of important research ideas between two of the worldĠs leading fire research communities. We are pleased to have been able to gather at this meeting the best minds in fire research and safety from both the United States and Japan. The revised format for this meeting included eliminating parallel sessions and adding a general discussion period after each session. During these discussion periods, important areas for future research were identified. The high quality of the interactions occurring these discussion periods exceeded even our high expectations and encourages us to continue them in future meetings of the Panel.

Group Photograph at the hall of Urban Disaster Prevention Center in BRI.

The following resolutions summarize the consensus for the next meeting. It is hereby resolved that:

1. The objectives of the meetings of this Panel are to:

a. Exchange particularly interesting technical information regarding our latest research;

b. Promote cooperative research on focused areas within fire safety science, such as: fires after earthquakes, quantitative test methods or fire safety design, performance-based fire codes and design, fire detection, fire suppression, fire physics, fire chemistry, fire measurements, burning behavior of furnishings and interior finish, large-scale test, and risk and hazard analyses.

2. The next (15th) meeting of the UJNR Panel on Fire Research and Safety will be held in March , 2000 in San Antonio, Texas or in June, 2000 in Northbrook, Illinois.

3. To facilitate communications between meetings, NIST, BRI and NRIFD will institute ƒUJNR fire Research and Safety News.ƒ‚ Using e-mail, this will keep participants in the Panel meetings informed on plans for the next meeting and new research in the above areas. ƒUJNR Fire Research and Safety Newsƒ‚ will be produced at least every 4 months.

4. In the general discussion periods during the 14th meeting, a number of topics were proposed as being especially important for collaborative research in the near future. Within 4 months, a list of these will be compiled and distributed via ƒUJNR Fire Research and Safety News.ƒ‚ Meeting participants are invited to identify topics to which they wish to contribute. Within 8 months, the coordinators from the two countries will post the list of collaborative projects and the researchers for each.

5. At he 6th meeting of the International Association for Fire Safety Science, to be held in Poitiers, France in July, 1999, the coordinators of the 15th UJNR meeting will meet to confirm areas of strong mutual interest to be he focal points of the 15th meeting and will appoint coordinators in each country for each topic. These topics will be the focus of the progress reports and technical papers at the 15th meeting.

6. Recent United States-Japan joint research has had great success. We are pleased with the collaborations between BRI and NIST on egress modeling, between NRIFD and NIST on large-scale fire tests and modeling, and among NRIFD, BRI and NIST on planning for studies of fires following earthquakes, the last being coordinated with the program designated in the Common Agenda. The Panel proposes to continue such highly productive interactions.

7. Panel members are encouraged to exchange information regarding performance-based codes, modeling and experimental research, and database development with the purpose of soliciting useful comments. New technical information and new research reports issued in each country should be sent to all Panel members as soon as they are available. We encourage informal communications among panel members by electronic media. It is important that all the relevant reports for the next meeting be sent in time to be received in the other country at least two months before the 15th meeting.

Collaborative Research Proposal

Following theme are proposed for collaborative research from Japanese and the U.S. side. Joint Panel Meeting participants are invited to identify topics to which they wish to contribute. Before the end of February 1999, the coordinators from the two countries will post the list of collaborative projects and the researchers for each by using the second News letter.

Physical and Effective Application and Limitation of Water Mist Technology
Dr. Hiroaki Suzuki (Yamato Protec Corp.)

Development of a post earthquake fire spread model

Mr. Tatsuya Iwami and
Dr. Yoshihiko Hayashi (BRI)

To develop scientifically based fire spreading model for uncontrolled post-earthquake fire.

Methodologies for estimating potential loss by post earthquake fire

Dr. Ichiro Nakaya (BRI)

To develop methodologies for estimating potential damages of existing cities as a function magnitude of ground motion, season and time of occurrence, weather conditions.

Building and urban planning for mitigation of post earthquake fire losses

Mr. Naohiko Iida (BRI)

To investigate methodologies for planning and control of buildings, urban facilities and vegetation for mitigating damages of cities due to post-earthquake fires.

Development of Fire Risk Evaluation Model of Post-earthquake Fires

Dr. Ai Sekizawa (NRIFD) and Dr. J. Hall (NFPA)

To develop fire risk evaluation model of post-earthquake fires which consists of prediction / evaluation models of ignition risk and fire spread risk in a building taking damages potential of fire protection systems into consideration, based on statistical analyses using the database of post-earthquake fires and other damages to fire protection system in buildings such as malfunction of sprinkler system, detector, and fire doors.


Develop and Internationally Acceptable set of Icons for First Responders

Dr. Walter Jones (NIST)

In order to improve the use of smart detection and alarm, a commonly acceptable way of communicating information related to extreme events is needed. NRIFD studied the set of icons used by their alarm panel manufacturers and consolidated the list into a couple of dozen which were deemed common and clear. We have embarked on a similar project with our fire service to develop a common display paradigm which the our panel manufacturers can use for improved utilization of fire alarm panels. The proposed collaborative project would be to develop a prototype of, perhaps, 2 dozen icons whose meaning could be agreed upon, and used in the development of future graphics displays. A common set of internationally recognizable icons would be of benefit to the public as well as the fire service. It builds on the lighting and signage agreements which are gaining international acceptance.

Potential Japanese partner: Dr. T. Yamada, NRIFD. This has not yet been discussed with Dr. Yamada.


Studies of Propagation of Conflagrations after Earthquakes

Joint experimental and theoretical work on the mechanisms controlling post-earthquake fire growth will be undertaken by Professor Patrick Pagni at the University of California at Berkeley and Professor Takeyoshi Tanaka at Kyoto University. Professor Tanaka is visiting NIST and UC Berkeley in November 1998 to initiate this activity and define the complimentary tasks which will be performed at each institution. Progress will be reported jointly at the next UJNR meeting.


The following article is reproduced and translated from Epistula, BRI News Vol.7, 1/95.


Fire Safety in the Context of Internationalization

Construction activities are rooted deeply in local conditions, but we are seeing greater international exchanges of personnel and information in this area. One example is the new, attractive space shown in this photograph. The designs for this space were the product of international exchange.

Each country and region has organized and codified rules on the materials, structures, and execution methods to be used in construction. These codes and standards are based on local experiences and conditions. In order to ensure fire safety, only materials and structures that have passed set tests are allowed. As long as materials were produced and used locally, there was little problem in this.

However, as industries develop, industrial goods tend to be distributed far beyond the borders of their home countries. This trend can be seen in the construction industry as well. The materials used in buildings are consumed not just at their place of origin but may also be in demand and distribution in many other countries and regions.

Unfortunately, each country has its own methods for testing the fire-safety of building materials, and none is willing to accept foreign products without first testing them. At times, this can be a cause of trade friction, and the only solution to the problem is to formulate common standards. Rather than seek a uniformity of testing methods, however, what is needed are rational testing methods based on clearly-defined performance standards.

The testing methods in use so far have imposed limits on the materials and structures that could be used. Were there testing methods available that were able to accurately evaluate required fire-safety performance, it would promote the development and use of new materials and structures. The use of engineering-oriented fire-safety design methods would also enable more rational fire-prevention measures to be put into place, which would make it possible to design buildings with more flexibility and freedom.


Buildings and Fire Issues in Fire-Safety Testing

Urban fires used to occur almost annually in Japan, but we have learned how to prevent them and how to take measures to counteract the building fires that would otherwise take a heavy toll in lives. The fire-safety standards that have been built up as the product of these efforts are now being overhauled from the new perspectives of internationalization. In this article we consider what direction internationally-oriented fire-safety standards will take and the impact that will have on buildings and on everyday life.


Kansai Airport

A good example of the new internationalization is the Kansai Airport that opened last fall. Not only is Kansai one of the new gateways to Japan, it has a terminal building that was designed by a non-Japanese architect chosen in an international competition. The construction itself included non-Japanese firms. In that, it seemed to herald a new more international age.

The terminal building is known for its striking and dynamic lines of movement, and one of the hidden factors that made this bold design possible was the Disaster Prevention Plan, which was based on the latest in fire forecasting technology. The enormous space of the main building--some four stories high--was designed using the "cabin concept," a technique that prevents fires from expanding even if they should start. This Disaster Prevention Plan was only possible with the special approval of the Minister of Construction himself and would at first glance seem to represent a broad departure from the ordinary rules laid out in the current Building Standards Law. Internationally as well, there would appear to be no building standards anywhere that are able to deal with this kind of Disaster Prevention Plan, so the building and the plan have raised interest among disaster specialists around the world.

You might recall that it was only in the eighties that atriums and other unusual spaces began popping up in buildings around the world. Today, atriums are fairly commonplace in large hotels and office buildings, but skyscraper fires have repeatedly shown that unless proper disaster-prevention measures are taken, these atriums can form a route by which smoke spreads throughout the entire building. Fortunately, new methods have been developed to forecast smoke dynamics and design safe, comfortable atriums. While it would seem that there might be great differences in the fire-safety measures taken by different countries, there is indeed a high degree of overlap, at least when it comes to more advanced areas. The concepts that underlay safety evaluations are gradually becoming common to all countries, and the disaster-prevention techniques used in the Kansai Airport are an extension of that trend.


Building Materials

In a slightly different area from design, fire-safety testing methods for building materials are another aspect of construction in which there is need for and interest in internationalization. As you are probably aware, Japan and North America are now discussing fire-safety and other standards for lumber. Meanwhile, Europe is taking market integration as an opportunity to integrate and standardize the fire-safety testing methods that currently differ from country to country. Thus, international harmonization of the fire-safety testing methods used for building materials is an important issue not just for Japan but the entire world.

Why so much emphasis on internationalization harmonization of testing methods? The graph below shows that there are many materials that are given high marks by one country only to be graded poorly by others. Whether a building material is recognized as being "fireproof" will produce vast differences in market competitiveness, so companies try to design their products so that they will be able to pass fire-safety testing. But when there are vast differences in the evaluations that different countries give to the same material, it becomes almost impossible to distribute it on international markets. That is why Europe is moving ahead on research and development that aims to standardize the testing methods used to judge fireproofing and fire-resistance. As building structures become more varied and designs more advanced, the same sorts of issues are being raised for structures and equipment as well as materials.

Let's consider what internationally-harmonized fire-safety testing methods might be like. The reason that results will differ so widely from one testing method to another is that none of the testing methods used by any country are sufficiently able to explain what happens in real fires. As a matter of fact, the testing methods used by most countries today were introduced in the fifties as industrially-produced construction materials--what we refer to as "new building materials"--began to be used. As new building materials came into widespread use, countries needed some way to test and rank their fire-safety performance, and this led to the development of the predecessors of the tests used today. At the time, there were rapid rises in the amount of damage caused by fires, so interest tended to focus on reducing risks. The scientific understanding of fire was not, however, very developed. Because of these constraints, countries developed their testing methods separately and independently, and this is what has given us the plethora of methods that are in use today. For today's world, however, it is becoming more important to develop testing methods that are able to explain the kinds of fires that could actually occur in buildings--and not just because doing so would lower non-tariff barriers to trade.

Disagreement among test results : The same materials were subject to the fire-safety tests of different European countries and were graded much differently. Note the discrepancies in particular for Nos. 7-13. Some countries gave them marks near the top of the scale, others near the bottom. (From Emmons.)


Fire-Safety Systems

Consider the problem of how to evaluate the fire-safety performance of newly-developed materials and technologies that are extremely functional or able to solve global environmental concerns. Obviously, these materials and technologies must be safe if they are to be used with confidence, but care must also be taken to expand the potential for promising technologies. This means selecting in great detail only those conditions that can be expected to pose real risks and avoiding the imposition of rigid restrictions because of low-risk contingencies. What is more, research into fires has demonstrated that it is possible to mitigate fire risk even for materials like wood that have low fire-safety performance as long as care is taken in where they are used and how they are designed. Buildings for the elderly often try to achieve the conflicting goals of using natural materials and spaces that are easy on the eyes and skin and achieving a high degree of fire-safety. And on top of this, they must also formulate disaster-prevention plans that take into account the reduced ability of the elderly to evacuate. To meet these varied requirements without compromising safety, and to take full advantage of the advances made in fire-safety design requires that testing methods be based on sufficient scientific rationale--that they be grounded in forecasts and evaluations of the kind of fires that are realistically likely to occur.

At present, there are problems with the rationality of the testing methods used by every country, so international harmonization of testing methods is not a question of everyone simply adopting the methods used by a specific country. The efforts of the ISO to standardize fire-safety evaluation techniques have produced a growing international awareness that true international harmonization will require the creation of rational systems suited to the construction and buildings of the future.


Development of Fire-Safety Performance Evaluation Testing Techniques

The "Development of Fire-safety Performance Evaluation Testing Techniques" is taking place in Japan under a General Technology Development Project conducted by the Ministry of Construction under a five-year plan that began in fiscal 1993. The purpose of the project is to develop and systematize techniques for fire-safety testing and evaluation that will give Japan methods and systems that are suitable both to the construction practices of the twenty-first century and to eventual international harmonization.

For building materials, research and development focuses on using current research findings and international cooperation at the ISO and other organizations to formulate testing methods that evaluate the basic factors in the spread of fires in buildings --flammability, ability to transmit fire--on an individual basis. Part of this involves the development of "loaded heating tests" in light of the fact that the load from furniture and other heavy objects may cause the collapse of structures that have been weakened by fire. For building equipment we are researching and developing testing methods that rationally evaluate the potential for moveable equipment to be deformed by the high temperatures that occur during fires, which may cause them to expand the pathways by which smoke and flames travel. Only when other countries are able to accept fire-safety testing data from Japan and Japan fire-safety testing data from other countries will we truly be able to say that we have achieved an international harmonization that eliminates non-tariff barriers to trade. This mutual recognition of testing data is our eventual goal.

Fire-safety tests are a kind of yardstick with which to measure the safety of standardized building materials, structural components, and fixtures. Buildings themselves, however, are not standardized. They will differ according to their location and composition. Fire-safety design is what bridges the gap between standardized building materials and distinctive buildings, it is what cuts the cloth into tailor-made clothing. One of the important facets of this project is to organize and systematize design techniques as well.

Distinctive, functional buildings like the Kansai Airport terminal; facilities with materials and functions that are good for the very old and the very young; materials that are recyclable or otherwise friendly to the environment... The day may not be all that far off when such a wealth of different buildings is taken for granted, all the while maintaining the safety standards formulated out of the bitter experiences of the past with urban and building fires.


This is a first issue of the UJNR Fire Research and Safety News. It will be published three times per year by BRI, NRIFD and BFRL/NIST respectively.

Published by:
Fire Safety Group
Building Research Institute
Ministry of Construction
1 Tachihara, Tsukuba, Ibaraki
305-0802 Japan
phone: +81 298-64-2151
fax: +81 298-64-2989
Contact: Ichiro Hagiwara
Head, Fire Safety Division, BRI


(c) 2002 BRI All Rights Reserved