Summary

The Panel on Building and Fire Research, a panel of experts appointed by the National Research Council (NRC), has assessed the scientific and technical work of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The panel visited the laboratory on March 9-11, 2010, and reviewed its activities. As requested by the Director of NIST, the panel assessed the following: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory’s budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. Following is a summary of the panel’s conclusions addressing its charge.

TECHNICAL MERIT RELATIVE TO STATE OF THE ART

Overall, the technical merit of the programs within the BFRL is excellent and at the state of the art, although progress is sometimes hampered by factors beyond NIST’s control. The BFRL’s ability to stimulate new scientific and technological advances in high-performance buildings is constrained by major uncertainties about policy changes or by the presence of conflicting policies at the national, state, or local level. For example, countries with building energy performance standards more stringent than those in the United States have assumed leadership in this area, a position governed more by policy than by advances in technology or metrology. Barring this exception, the BFRL’s Strategic Priority Areas are well aligned with the NIST mission to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness through the development of measurement science, standards, and technology. Members of the BFRL staff are internationally recognized and are the recipients of prestigious awards within NIST, nationally, and internationally. The BFRL is conducting groundbreaking research in critical areas.

The BFRL researchers generally have long-standing and active relationships with other research facilities and organizations around the world. The ties to the external community are extensive and uniformly strong with industry and other-agency partners. Industrial engagement is through a deliberate organization of forums and workshops. BFRL staff is, with some exceptions, well informed with respect to work taking place in other national laboratories, at universities, in private industry, and in other nations. The BFRL does an excellent job of interacting with customers, and its staff participate actively in professional and trade committees on codes and standards.

The BFRL has performed a major roadmapping activity during the past 2 years, part of which involved preparing planned outcomes for the near term (within 3 years), medium term (3 to 8 years), and long term (beyond 8 years). Further, the BFRL balances the need for measurement science to support short-term labeling and prescriptive standards with the longer-term goal of anticipating the transition to performance-based codes and standards.



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Summary The Panel on Building and Fire Research, a panel of experts appointed by the National Research Council (NRC), has assessed the scientific and technical work of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The panel visited the laboratory on March 9-11, 2010, and reviewed its activities. As requested by the Director of NIST, the panel assessed the following: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the- art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory’s budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. Following is a summary of the panel’s conclusions addressing its charge. TECHNICAL MERIT RELATIVE TO STATE OF THE ART Overall, the technical merit of the programs within the BFRL is excellent and at the state of the art, although progress is sometimes hampered by factors beyond NIST’s control. The BFRL’s ability to stimulate new scientific and technological advances in high-performance buildings is constrained by major uncertainties about policy changes or by the presence of conflicting policies at the national, state, or local level. For example, countries with building energy performance standards more stringent than those in the United States have assumed leadership in this area, a position governed more by policy than by advances in technology or metrology. Barring this exception, the BFRL’s Strategic Priority Areas are well aligned with the NIST mission to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness through the development of measurement science, standards, and technology. Members of the BFRL staff are internationally recognized and are the recipients of prestigious awards within NIST, nationally, and internationally. The BFRL is conducting groundbreaking research in critical areas. The BFRL researchers generally have long-standing and active relationships with other research facilities and organizations around the world. The ties to the external community are extensive and uniformly strong with industry and other-agency partners. Industrial engagement is through a deliberate organization of forums and workshops. BFRL staff is, with some exceptions, well informed with respect to work taking place in other national laboratories, at universities, in private industry, and in other nations. The BFRL does an excellent job of interacting with customers, and its staff participate actively in professional and trade committees on codes and standards. The BFRL has performed a major roadmapping activity during the past 2 years, part of which involved preparing planned outcomes for the near term (within 3 years), medium term (3 to 8 years), and long term (beyond 8 years). Further, the BFRL balances the need for measurement science to support short-term labeling and prescriptive standards with the longer-term goal of anticipating the transition to performance-based codes and standards. 1

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ADEQUACY OF INFRASTRUCTURE The equipment and facilities of the BFRL are generally excellent. Specific equipment deficiencies have been largely resolved with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding (Public Law 111-5; ARRA, or stimulus, funds), and plans for the addition of two major new facilities are well underway. The National Structural Fire Resistance Laboratory (NSFRL) has been designed, and construction is planned for the fall of 2010. The NSFRL fills an important gap in the fire test facilities at the BFRL. Also coming to the NIST site is a new residential test facility for evaluating methods of design and construction targeted at achieving net-zero energy buildings. This facility will allow the BFRL to measure the performance of various energy conservation technologies and techniques and that of local energy generation technologies. The facility will allow reconfiguration of many of its component parts to facilitate the installation of new technologies and test protocols as they are developed. There has been a long-term area of competence in fire at NIST, and the activities in fire-resistant structural design have accelerated in the years since the World Trade Center (WTC) investigations. With the plans for the construction of the NSFRL, the activities are now at the point of making the BFRL a unique international resource in this area. The technical caliber of the research being performed is exceptionally high, highly relevant to national needs in the area of risk mitigation, and interdisciplinary. It provides the general public and decision makers with highly favorable exposure to NIST research, generating enthusiastic support for the role of NIST in building technology. Moreover, the expansion of the laboratories will have a major impact on the entire BFRL program. However, this expansion will require considerable new managerial resources and a business plan for the operation of the facility over the next several years. Additional resources are also needed to support the wind program. Although recognized internationally, this program continues to be handicapped by the lack of a wind tunnel. The BFRL professional and support staff are highly qualified and motivated. Since the previous panel review 2 years ago, the BFRL has been successful in filling vacant positions with well-qualified individuals through extensive informational and recruiting activities. Since 2006, the full-time staff additions (36) have exceeded the departures (29). Concerns remain about the recruiting and retaining of staff for future projects. Difficulties are exacerbated by the requirement to hire U.S. citizens and the difficulty of finding candidates with the necessary interdisciplinary skills for the Office of Applied Economics. Outreach and partnerships with universities (e.g., internships, contract research) could increase the pool of potential new talent for needed competencies. A number of the key personnel in high-visibility programs are likely to retire within the next 3 to 5 years. To the extent that certain of these programs are strongly dependent on the capabilities and leadership of single individuals, it is imperative to develop a plan for maintaining the momentum of the affected programs. BFRL management should consider developing a formal succession planning program for technical staff in key programmatic areas. On the plus side, there are leadership training and staff development programs in place to develop new technical expertise and technical 2

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managers. The hiring of a new manager of codes and standards will fill an important gap in the organization and staffing of the BFRL. The current budget plan appears to be adequate for immediate facility, equipment, and programmatic needs. Recent budget increases provide opportunities for benchmarking BFRL facilities and equipment against international facilities and for carefully choosing investments in facilities and equipment in order for the BFRL to remain in a leadership position internationally. Across the BFRL, the balance of funding provided from in-house work and work for other agencies is well aligned with that for NIST as a whole, although some more-applied programs understandably have a higher portion of support from work for others. The ratio of the support for work from other agencies to the in-house funds (Science and Technology Research Services, or STRS, funds) for the BFRL and NIST as a whole is about the same ($10.5 million and $37.3 million for the BFRL and $101.5 million and $504.5 million for NIST in 2010). Discussions with staff indicated strong support for having a relatively large fraction of external funding in some programs because of the interactions with clients that this fosters. A question is raised in Chapter 5 on whether the future funding of research in the National Structural Fire Resistance Laboratory would be a problem. The budget and effort devoted to a safety upgrade of facilities were provided and conducted thoroughly, with strong leadership and support from the BFRL management. ACHIEVEMENT OF OBJECTIVES AND IMPACT Since the panel review in 2008, the roadmap planning process has led to increased consistency and cohesion across the BFRL (see discussions on the application of the Stage-Gate process in Chapter 7). It has also assisted in the targeting of resources toward a focus on high-impact areas. The most evident roadmapping process was that of goal setting to prioritize work. The roadmap process is still in a state of rollout, and several areas should be considered as next steps. The roadmap presented by the BFRL did not include clear milestones with specific time frames. The BFRL has implemented a Stage- Gate process for project planning.1 The staff should continue to manage and prioritize projects using this tool. The staff should also refine the metrics of the tool based on experience with project outcomes and should do postmortem analyses of projects to learn from the use of the process. A major impact of the research of the BFRL is in guiding the development of codes and standards. The BFRL has been very active in setting up workshops with all stakeholder groups—industry, and standards and codes organizations—both for establishing national standards and for discussing how industry can use standards to advantage to compete globally. These workshops have played an important role, both in the setting up of roadmaps and in the development of measurement science in support of national efforts on codes and standards. A noteworthy accomplishment of the BFRL effort is the far-reaching safety improvements resulting from the adoption of recommendations of the World Trade Center investigation in modifying key building and fire codes and standards. The building program would benefit from the development of new measurement science in construction at both the component and the systems level. 1 Additional information about the Stage-Gate process can be found at http://www.stage- gate.com/knowledge_pipwhat.php. Accessed August 19, 2010. 3

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The dissemination of results to the research and customer community is excellent, occurring through conferences, workshops, NIST technical publications, peer-reviewed papers, and open-source software. The BFRL Web site (http://www.nist.gov/bfrl/) provides excellent access to NIST products. Interest has been shown by industry in commercializing or utilizing testing equipment developed by the BFRL (e.g., the modified cone calorimeter, the integrating sphere weatherability testing equipment, the Virtual Cement and Concrete Test Laboratory). Measurement science at the BFRL is ahead of the adopted codes and standards in the construction, building, and fire industries. This is the proper role for the BFRL to play. By aspiring to create new measurement standards, the BFRL creates “proto-standards,” which lead in turn to widely used codes and standards. RECOMMENDATIONS The recommendations of the panel based on its assessment of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory are as follows:  The BFRL staff should continue to manage and prioritize projects using the Stage-Gate process, to refine the metrics of this tool based on experience with project outcomes, to do postmortem analyses of projects to learn from the use of the process, and to incorporate clear milestones with specific time frames into the resulting roadmap.  Now that some evaluation standards related to codes and standards development have been in place for a number of years, the BFRL should compare actual performance and outcomes with those estimated using these methodological standards.  Efforts should continue to focus on implementing performance-based standards and integrating life-cycle concepts into building design and construction practices.  The BFRL needs to develop a model for sustained operation of the National Structural Fire Resistance Laboratory involving the coordination of in-house and extramural activities, and it needs to develop a protocol for the selection of extramural projects and collaborative activities.  The BFRL should work to ensure that the planning and maintenance of the mandated Disaster and Failure Events Studies and Data Archiving activity do not impair the professional staff’s ability to discharge ongoing programmatic responsibilities in the BFRL effectively.  In the area of staffing, outreach programs to and partnerships with universities should be continued in order to recruit young talent and to provide postdoctoral fellowships to handle the increased workload as well as to increase the pool of potential new talent for the interdisciplinary competencies needed for the Office of Applied Economics. Staffing difficulties are exacerbated by the requirement to hire U.S. citizens.  BFRL management should consider developing a formal succession planning program for technical staff in key programmatic areas. 4

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 The building program would benefit from the development of new measurement science in construction at both the component and the systems levels.  The BFRL should pursue the spectrum of opportunities and potentials available to it, including the following, to expand its scope of inquiry and analysis in building and fire safety: the addition of staff with leadership potential in flame-heat-transfer modeling; the definition of an appropriate role for the BFRL with respect to the growing nuclear power industry; the integration of life-cycle analysis and sustainability into building performance assessment; anticipation of the measurement science needed to support the transition to performance-based standards and the Smart Grid, as well as the multidimensional nature of building performance.  Additional resources are needed to support the wind program; the program continues to be handicapped by the lack of a wind tunnel. Recommendations applicable to each of the BFRL Strategic Priority Areas are presented in their respective chapters. 5