SLUG: 7-35271 World Trade Center & Fire Safety
TYPE=English Programs Feature
TITLE= World Trade Center & Fire Safety (Interview)
Attention: Interview with David Lucht, Director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Center for Fire Safety Studies
INTRO: The twin towers of the World Trade Center were built to withstand a hurricane, but not the intense fire that led to their collapse after they were hit by two separate jetliners on Tuesday. The Towers had multiple mechanical, electrical and structural systems designed to protect the buildings and the people who worked in them. They had sprinkler systems to fight fires, smoke warning systems, exit systems for escape, emergency smoke control systems and emergency elevators for fire fighters.
David Lucht is the director of the Center for Fire Safety Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In a telephone interview with VOA's Rosanne Skirble, he described the security and fire protection standards common to skyscrapers like those in the World Trade Center complex.
LUCHT: "In a high rise building, normal would be assuming a fire in an office setting or a storage room where the copy paper is stored or (with) all combustible things you would typically find in an office space. And, we pretty much know as engineers how that kind of fire is going to grow and what kind of thermal and smoke exposure that is going to create. We (also) know that if we put a certain type of sprinkler system in that building it will react when that fire that we expect to have is fairly small and spray water on the fire. The situation is sort of controlled right away. Then we assume that if the sprinkler system should fail there are escape routes. There are automatic smoke handling systems that detect the fire while it's still fairly small and get the fire department on its way. That would be a normal scenario.
SKIRBLE: "But, the World Trade Center catastrophe not a normal scenario.
LUCHT: "Far from normal for sure."
SKIRBLE: "Could there be anything built into the building to withstand the force of an airplane flying into the building?"
LUCHT: "Yes, the steel members could have been encased in a foot or two thick concrete and made into a bunker, a high rise bunker that could have possibly sustained a fire of that magnitude. But whether we would want to live and work in that building or whether we could afford it is another question."
SKIRBLE: "Do you expect the tragedies in New York and in Washington will change the way we think about fire security and protection?"
LUCHT: "I run a fire protection engineering academic program, and we have research going on all the time looking for better ways to protect buildings at lower cost. And, I think that we are always going to find opportunities for that to happen. I also think that as time goes on in response to the tragedies that we've had here that engineers will probably be thinking more about security as a design function than they have in the past. I know that from my own experience that the engineering of security in buildings has taken on a life of its own in recent years in response to some of the terrorist threats, and I'm sure as time goes on that practicing engineers and architects will be giving even more thought to that part of the building function."
SKIRBLE: "People may be thinking that their apartment buildings are not safe. Are they right in thinking that?"
LUCHT: "I'm glad you asked that because when we see these horrific images on television it makes us a little scared of living and thinking of ourselves living and working in a high rise building. And, I can only say that statistically, the performance of high rises has been exceptionally good, and your chances of dying in a fire in a high rise building are probably a lot lower than in your own (single family) home. There are so many extra systems placed in the high rise. The materials of construction are so much more fire resistant. I would express a sense of safety for that situation."
"And, there are so many things that we can do to protect ourselves like making sure that we have smoke detectors in good operating condition, making sure that we know what to do if there is a fire in our home, making sure that everybody gets out and meets in a safe place outside, making sure that we know what the evacuation plan is if we are in a high rise building, making sure that the management of the building take the evacuation procedures seriously, and making sure that we know what to do."
SKIRBLE: "Do you have any other comments about the World Trade Center tragedy or our own protection in the buildings where we live?"
LUCHT: "Of course I share everyone's sense of loss as a result of this tragedy, and I do think that it will effect in some way the way we design buildings in the future.
SKIRBLE: "Thank you very much. Thank you for speaking with us."
LUCHT: "You're quite welcome. Thank you."
SKIRBLE: "David Lucht is the director of the Worcester Polytechnic Center for Fire Protection Studies and an expert on fire safety and fire protection. He spoke with us from his office in Worcester, Massachusetts."
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