Recent serious fire incidents in Australia and the UK demonstrate that a new approach needs to be undertaken to professionalise Fire Safety Engineering. This year The Warren Centre has undertaken a major project examining Fire Safety Engineering in Australia. Below is a summary and excerpt from report thee of this series: The Method Report.
This third report in the series on Fire Safety Engineering examines several methods, guidelines and practice notes used by professional engineers to undertake their designs. The Methods Report discusses the utility and benefit of the International Fire Engineering Guidelines, fire safety verification methods (FSVM) and practice guides issued by the various professional bodies.
The role of all of these supporting materials in fire safety engineering design is considered alongside an assessment of adequacy of the various methods and materials.
The design process, exercised by a professional engineer in response to a design brief, balances constraints and drivers associated with a project to develop detailed specifications. Drivers are defined by the stakeholders of a project and include sustainability, cost, and safety drivers. Constraints are defined by the external world and may include for example material performance or soft constraints related to the limits of knowledge and technical ability.
The outcome of the design process represents an optimised balance between these drivers and constraints so that the design delivers the required functionality.
The report’s authors note that verification is a separate process from the design process, undertaken by a verifier. The verifier may be, but does not have to be, a separate individual or entity to the designer. The purpose of verification is to demonstrate based on available evidence that specific drivers or constraints have been respected. In the case of engineering, verification is typically applied to codified requirements and is used to prove that the artefact specifications resulting from the design process meet these requirements.
A Glimpse into the NASA Process
The report draws examples of design verification from NASA’s space engineering methods and Transport for NSW’s Authorised Engineering Organisation program to demonstrate broader themes in engineering that differentiate the verification process from the true design process.
NASA uses the Systems Engineering (SE) engine to drive the design process. The SE engine consists of three main components: system design processes, technical management processes and product realisation processes. System design processes define the expectations, generate technical requirements, and develop a technical solution capable of meeting the specified requirements.
Technical management processes are used to advance the design process, assess progress, and aid in decision-making processes. Product realisation processes are used to implement a design and verify and validate attainment of stakeholder requirements. Verification and validation methods fall under product realisation processes and are typically defined in the early stages of the design process. It is important to highlight that within NASA, verification and validation do not mean the same. Verification is meant to show compliance with requirements, whereas validation is meant to demonstrate effectiveness and suitability under realistic conditions. In essence, verification ensures that a design process addressing the stakeholders’ expectation and requirements was carried out correctly. NASA identifies four types of methods of verification: analysis, demonstration, inspection and test.
In order to conduct any sort of verification, it is important to define a verification program which includes the procedures to be followed and the reporting to be conducted. A verification program may include verifications at different levels, ranging from individual components all the way up to the systems level. Outputs of the verification processes are typically recorded in requirements compliance/ verification matrices that allow tracing compliance from the individual component all the way to the systems level.
In fire safety engineering for buildings, the product of the design process is the specification for a building that conforms to the drivers and constraints specific to the project, including an agreed level of safety. The specifications for this design artefact must then be verified to meet these levels of safety in a separate process.
At this point, however, the practice of design and verification in fire safety engineering becomes confused in Australia and in many other countries.
To see the full report and its conclusions, download the Fire Safety Engineering Methods Report for free here.