Feb 22, 2021
In episode 23 of Fire Code Tech, we speak with Michael Kilby the Associate Director for Fire Protection at the Smithsonian Institution. We discuss high-value asset fire protection and some of the unique challenges that Michael and the team of fire protection engineers at the Smithsonian Institution tackle for the more than 600 facilities under the organization’s jurisdiction.
Tell us a little bit about your background? 2:38
What is your role at the Smithsonian Institution? 5:42
What do you do on a day to day basis for provide fire and life safety compliance for the Smithsonian? 12:55
How does the Smithsonian handle documentation for the numerous construction projects? 15:12
How does the Smithsonian deal with management of change and rotating the exhibit? 19:42
What are some insights on protecting high value cultural assets? 23:19
Would you speak a little more about storage and how the Smithsonian tackles the challenge? 29:00
What is your take on the Preaction sprinkler system versus traditional wet pipe sprinkler system? 35:43
How have you been involved with the codes and standards process? 42:42
What do you see as a trend in the industry? 50:14
Where do you go to find solid resources for fire and life safety? 54:10
Hello, all welcome to the show. I'm Gus Gagliardi, and this is fire code tech on fire code tech. We interview fire protection professionals from all different careers and backgrounds in order to provide insight and a resource for those in the field. My goal is to help you become a more informed fire protection.
Professional fire code tech has interviews with engineers and researchers, fire marshals, and insurance professionals, and highlights topics like codes and standards, engineering systems, professional development, and trending topics in the industry. So if you're someone who wants to know more about fire protection or the fascinating stories of those who are in the.
You're in the right place. Hello. All welcome to episode 23 of fire code tech. In this episode, we have Michael Kilby. Michael is the associate director for fire protection at this Smithsonian Institute. In this episode, we talk about fire protection for museum occupancies and collection storage. This episode is really fascinat.
Um, Michael talks about his career and some of the really unique challenges that he deals with, uh, being in, uh, corporate fire protection for the Smithsonian Institute. There's some great information, uh, learning about that. The Smithsonian Institute, not only houses, uh, museum facilities, but also, uh, numerous amounts of research, uh, occupancies and different.
Laboratories this interview is about museum and storage collections, but I think that this interview is applicable for anybody who wants to protect high value assets. Michael gives some great insight to some misconceptions about fire suppression and how we can tackle this public education piece for building owners and for everybody involved in fire and life safety.
Also, Michael talks to us. Codes and standards. He sits on the committee for NFPA 9 0 9 and nine 14, uh, both museum related and FPA standards. Don't forget to subscribe. So you never miss an episode and follow us on social media. Let's dive in. Hello, Michael. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Well, thanks, Gus. Really pleased to be. Awesome. Well, I wanted to get started with, um, telling the listeners a little bit about, um, your background and how you got into, um, working at fire and life safety. Would you mind telling us a little bit about that? Okay. Yeah, sure. Um, well I think like a lot of people, my career field is happened somewhat by chance.
Um, I wasn't going school for mechanical engineering. And just through a family friend, I found out about, uh, university of Maryland's fire protection engineering program. And I said, wow, that sounds a lot more interesting to me. Um, you know, they had classes like biometrics of materials and fire dynamics, uh, which just sounded fascinating and.
So I went to into the department, talked to the chair for about an hour, found out, you know, the whole mission of fire protection is, you know, it's all about saving lives and saving property, which really struck a chord with me. And, um, so I switched over into fire protection engineering. Um, got my degree from university of Maryland and, um, you know, pursued my career in, in fire, fire protection, man, what a beautiful program to stumble into the university of me, Maryland.
Arguably one of the, you know, the foremost in the nation. You know, if not the most, one of the most foremost fire protection engineering programs in the nation. So that's incredible that you got your start, uh, somewhat by a happenstance. Uh, yeah, it's, it's not, uh, an uncommon story I found in fire protection to, um, find yourself in, uh, in the field, um, out of, uh, not, maybe not pre-designed, but.
I found that it usually sticks, sticks to the ribs once people, uh, get into the field. So that's fascinating. I'm happy to hear about that. Yeah. And I, I noticed that, you know, in, when I was a student in fire protection, probably between a third and half the class, um, had some firefighting background. So you had some that were just engineers that switched over into fire protection, and then you had another group of students.
We're already in fire, a fire protection field. They were either professional or volunteer firefighters that, um, you know, wanted to get a technical degree and do something in fire protection. Yeah, I think you're right. I've, uh, spoken with the number of people who have either family members or people in their life that.
We're in the fire service or some inkling that they would like to be in engineering and then kind of, um, found their way into it in that, in that regard. But I wanted to, uh, uh, speak a little bit more about, um, you know, your career and kind of, um, how you found yourself at the, at the Smithsonian, or maybe, uh, speak a little bit about the.
The, uh, transition from your education to your role at the Smithsonian. Okay. Yeah, sure. Um, well, let's see, I graduated from university of Maryland back in 1988. So it's been a, and I've been with the Smithsonian ever since. Um, just coming as a new engineering student coming outta school. I wasn't really sure where I was.
Ended up working. Um, but it was a good time back then, you know, for looking for a job. And I got multiple job offers with, you know, different government agencies, private sector oil industry. Um, but when I had my interview with the Smithsonian, I think I knew that's where I wanted to go. It was just, um, you know, such an place.
Uh, you know, for our listeners, you know, if you've been to the Smithsonian as a, you know, as a school age kid, you, I think most kids are really enthralled with the exhibits. Um, and I've remembered that from when I was a school age kid, I was like, wow, this is a really cool place. I wanna, I wanna work here.
Um, and I've really liked the mission of the Smithsonian, which was their mission is the increase in diffusion of knowledge. And, uh, I said, wow, that's, that's something I could work for and, and try to protect, you know, that mission. So right outta school, I ended up landing a job at this Smithsonian as a, uh, sort of entry level fire protection engineer.
And, uh, fortunately when I started, um, I was working with, they had like four other fire protection engineers working at the institution. So, um, you know, Definitely had experienced people to, to learn from that's nice that you had some mentorship and some people who you could, you know, learn the craft from.
Yeah. I could understand that this Smithsonian would be, you know, I mean, pretty much. Uh it's uh, yeah, I don't know. I feel like it's an extremely well known Institute in the, in the us, I mean, and probably the world at large. Um, I mean, it's incredible. I had the opportunity to go as a, as a young man, as a couple of the Smithsonian museums in, and I feel like, uh, it's a place of, of wonder for a lot of people who get to enter it and be a part of it.
So yeah, I could understand why you would be drawn to such an organization and, uh, you know, a pursuit like. Yeah. There's and there's just so much going on, um, that, you know, so I've been there 30, I guess this is my 32nd year. And, uh, I've never gotten bored. There's always new challenges. Um, I think what a lot of people don't, you know, everyone knows the Smithsonian as, you know, the forts museums, but, um, I think a lot of people don't realize.
That it's actually a really large research organization. So we have nine 19 museums and research centers. And while most of them are in the Washington DC area, we have, um, other museums and research centers scattered around the country and even outside the country. Uh, we have, you know, mu two museums up in New York, in New York city, uh, an American Indian.
American Indian museum and the, uh, Cooper Hewitt national design museum. And we have observator in Boston, Arizona, and in Hawaii. And we have, uh, Environmental research centers in, in Maryland and down in Panama, multiple sites in Panama. So there's, there's a lot to keep you busy and a lot of variety, man.
That's incredible. I did not know about all the research pursuits that the Smithsonians involved with. That's pretty, that's pretty fascinating that man. Yeah. I, I have no clue about the. Diversity of the range of, uh, you know, different facilities that you're involved with. That must be, you know, I knew I was just thinking, you know, just with the, um, complex hazards and, you know, valuable assets that you're protecting and in, uh, you know, the main locations with the museums, that's plenty of, you know, um, challenge and.
Interesting fire protection systems in itself, but outside of the, I mean, in Panama and other places, you know, that's pretty incredible. I'm sure that you have, uh, a wide variety of fire protection systems and codes and standards that, uh, you have to navigate in order to. Provide, um, life safety solutions for these facilities.
Yeah. It's kind of interesting because you know, we are working in different jurisdictions, you know, different states, even different countries sometimes. And so, you know, we had to work with other, um, fire marshals, you know, other governments. Um, but we, because the Smithsonian is a federal entity. Generally, um, my office serves as the, basically the fire marshal for the Smithsonian or the code official for the Smithsonian.
Um, but we still, you know, have to work with the lo local jurisdictions to make sure, um, you know, cause we depend on their fire departments to save us if we do have a problem. So we wanna make sure that, uh, we're cooperating with. Wow. That's an extremely interesting position that you know, that to be the authority, having jurisdiction for, uh, you know, an international, you know, a program that has international reach and scope and, you know, um, probably it sounds like dozens of buildings, um, that you're.
Um, in involved with, from a fire protection and life safety standpoint. That's pretty incredible. Yeah. I think, um, overall I think we have about six, 600 buildings. Wow. And it's 16 million square feet of space, um, Mo moley. So yeah, it's uh, anyway, some of those buildings. You know, a small shed somewhere and the other ones are buildings like the natural history museum, which is a 1.5 million square feet.
So a real wide variety of, uh, spaces and, and types of occupancies. So with the, with, with the scope, that's that, um, wide and, you know, just a range of facilities. What does it look like for you to provide fire protection and life safety for these facilities? What are you doing on a data day to day basis essentially to, um, um, review, uh, uh, you know, documentation or, um, whatever it is, you know, to provide, um, compliant, life safety for these buildings?
Yeah, that's a great question. Um, you know, from day to day, I'd say. And, and let me say also, it's not just me. Of course. I got, um, right. We have seven right now we have seven fire protection engineers, um, plus myself, um, working at Smithsonian. So I'd say, you know, as a group, we probably spend about 70% of our time when reviewing projects, you know, reviewing designs and providing construction over.
To make sure, you know, these projects are built according to the, you know, our standards. Um, and then we've probably spent about 20% of our time just doing facility inspections, you know, going out and. Working with each individual, the management and others staff at each of these facilities to make sure we understand what the processes are that are happening in that, in that facility.
And that, you know, all the fire prevention and fire protection, um, requirements are being met. And then the, the last 10% we're providing staff training, um, you know, whether it's on things like hot work or. How to protect your collections, those type of things, um, and developing policy for the, for the Smithson.
That's very interesting. Yeah. It, it makes sense that you would spend a, a large portion of your time verifying that, um, any of the number of, you know, uh, new construction or existing construction work was being done to the standard of the Smithsonian. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense, but yeah, I wanted to touch on, you know, uh, for.
An entity that protects 600 facilities. I mean, how do you, how does the Smithsonian tackle like, uh, documentation or, you know, verifying that these, um, very critical facilities stay up to date on, um, you know, just, uh, this state and the compliance of their fire protection and life safety systems. Oh, yeah.
Okay. So yeah, it does take an organized approach to be able to do that. Um, fortunately Smithsonian has a sort of an established process for all new construction. You know, whether it's a small remodel or it's building a, you know, a new wing on a building. And so we have a process in place. Just starting from scope, you know, uh, scope of work all the way through to construction, uh, all stakeholders and, you know, fire protection being one, but there's lots of other people have, are interested in what's happening with.
With these projects, um, whether it's accessibility or it's, you know, electrical or mechanical, you know, all, all the other fields that need to be, uh, reviewed during, uh, design are involved. So there's a set process and it's a sort of a stepwise process where you start from scope of work and you go to, you know, 35% design, 65% design, a hundred percent design, and each step.
All the reviewers get to, you know, review the drawings and specifications, make comments, get those resolved. Um, you know, until you have, you have a final sign off when the design and, um, one of the people have to sign off when those final drawings and then it moves to construction. Um, And then we're involved in, in reviewing all the construction submittals and, you know, do all the acceptance testing for new new systems, uh, final inspections.
And then fi finally it ends with us issuing, issuing a, uh, certificate of occupancy for that new space, all that information. You know, every comment that everyone makes during the design, uh, all the construction submittals are captured in a database. So that we have a record of it. Um, yeah. Is it perfect? I would say no, it's not perfect, but, um, it's pretty thorough.
Yeah. I mean, no, no. Uh, nobody's perfect. And no documentation process is perfect, but yeah. I just know that, you know, for any, um, facility owner, that's a big challenge. So yeah, I just wanted to talk about that because I know that for, you know, I deal with owners all the time and. You know, it's one of the hardest things to do is have a set of construction documents or, you know, specifications from when the building was built or when, um, different changes within the building has happened over the years of, uh, you know, 50.
You know, 60, 70, a hundred years, you know, buildings can be around for us. So yeah, that's kind of the reason why I was prob in that direction. Yeah. That, yeah, you're absolutely right. GU and um, I mean, I guess the one advantage we have is that generally our properties aren't changing hands. You know, they, they belong to the Smithsonian and they stay in the Smithsonian.
So we ha we basically have, you know, our hands on those records. Uh, for the, you know, for the life of the building, whereas in, you know, say a commercial property, it might, you know, over a hundred year time, it may change hands five to 10 times. And you never know if those documents are gonna get forward it to the next owner.
Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah, I guess it doesn't change hands. So that would help the standardization of the. Keeping the data in the right place. Oh yeah. Yeah. So in this, in a similar vein of, you know, uh, documentation and just kind of, uh, the, uh, management of facilities I wanted to talk about, um, how does, you know, the Smithsonian.
Uh, deal with like management of change. You know, I, when I think of this Smithsonian, like you said, I kind of think of the museums and exhibits and, you know, like I just, you know, was wondering about, you know, when you do have a new exhibit or, you know, a new collection come into place, you know, how are you.
Or how does this Smithsonian like, keep up with the, with the ever changing, uh, you know, fire protection and life safety complications of kind of rotating these different, um, exhibits around. That's a great question. And it is a challenge. Um, well, one, you know, just having that review process does help us.
So no matter how. Small project. It still goes through this review process. So we get a chance to see it. Um, you know, even like when we change out an exhibit, it still goes through that review process. But, um, there are other changes that are real, a little bit harder to catch, you know, it could be, um, for example, you know, we have a collection storage space somewhere and they decide that they need to change all the shelving.
and, you know, sometimes it's just, uh, an awareness like, oh, well that might actually affect how you protect the, the collections. Um, you know, you might change the shelving and now you need indirect sprinklers or, or you're blocking the sprinklers with the new shelving. Um, so that just takes trying to raise awareness with all our.
All the staff at the Smithsonian as to, you know, what kind of changes might impact fire protection or life safety, and then making sure that they contact our office, uh, to let us know when they are making those kind of changes. Um, and then also, you know, we have our. Facility inspections that we do. And we do those annually for, you know, all the buildings across the Smithsonian.
So there are times where something gets missed and then, you know, we're out doing a facility inspection and then we catch it at that point. Uh, but certainly our preference is to catch it ahead ahead of time. Sure that makes sense. Yeah. I understand, uh, about the education piece of, you know, helping, uh, people know when, you know, what things imply, fire and life safety, um, consequences.
And so, yeah, I often joke about, um, wanting to create. Like a frequently asked questions for, you know, called like how, you know, when you need to involve fire protection, you know, working for a firm that does architectural and engineering design, um, you know, it could be, you know, somebody in interior finishes is you designing shelving, like you were kind of talking about and, you know, it's, if you have solid shelving over X height, you know, you might need fire protection or, you know, those sort of things.
So I understand kind of the. The, uh, education piece that you were speaking of, maybe that could be your next endeavor yeah, the, that would be good. Yeah. But, um, yeah, so. Wanted to talk a little bit more about, you know, I found you through, um, a great presentation you did about museum and, uh, you know, fire protection for museum and collections.
And, you know, I just wanted to speak a little bit about some of the great stuff you talked about in that presentation. Um, just a little bit of a high level overview of, you know, What are some good strategies for, you know, fire protection for these high value occupancies, where you have these assets that are, um, historically and culturally, um, extremely valuable, you know, how does this.
Differ from, uh, a standard, a more standard occupancy if, uh, that's not too nebulous of a question. No, I think that's a great question. Um, and that certainly is one of our, I guess you could call specialties is, you know, protecting collections, um, you know, for, for our mission, our division's mission. Yo I think certainly life safety is always the highest priority.
And then right behind that is protecting collections. Because, you know, if we don't have collections, there really isn't us Smithsonian. So, um, and certainly we put a lot of focus on collection storage areas, protecting collection storage areas, because, you know, that's where we have the highest density density of collections.
And that's where we have the potential for greatest loss is in our collection storage spaces. Um, and. I'd say we take sort of a, like, like to call a multi-prong approach to, uh, protecting collections. Um, you know, we use, you know, fire rated construction to isolate our, our collection spaces from adjacent spaces, you know, using, you know, fire and smoke barriers.
And then, um, you know, We almost almost a hundred percent use, you know, automatic sprinklers for fire suppression. Um, in some specialized collection spaces, we also have, you know, gassiest, total flooding, gassiest suppression systems, like, like FM 200 or Egen. Um, and then, um, you know, we always provide fire detection.
Typically it's either spot type smoke detectors or, um, more recently we're, we've begun using a lot of, uh, air sampling, smoke detection in those collection spaces. And then on the other side of the coin is, you know, we try to really have strict fire prevention protocols in place for all our collection storage spaces.
And then that's where we have to work with our collection staff and provide training. And, um, you know, make sure they're aware of, you know, don't bring extra combustibles into the collection storage spaces, you know? Try to have them do all, all their conservation work and other types of work outside of the collection storage space, and really have those collection storage spaces dedicated just for storage.
Um, and of course, you know, these are very secure spaces, so. Which, you know, works in favor of fire protection as well, because you have the less staff you have going into these spaces. The, the less likely, you know, something's gonna happen. Some type of accident's gonna happen. That's gonna start a fire.
That's an interesting point about a housekeeping note about, you know, I think of, you know, housekeeping in the, in the regard of, you know, keeping the aisles clear and you know, like a combustible dust and things, but I haven't, you know, thought about, um, the note as much about housekeeping and not, you know, loading up a space with, um, extra.
Uh, extraneous combustibles, but I could see how that could become a concern, uh, fairly quickly with the, the amount of collection work and the, you know, the, just the, um, you know, the value of the collection work that you're doing. That's, that's an interesting note. Yeah, there's a lot of just awareness training.
I think that we, we try to do with our, our collections collection management staff. No, we might go into a collection space and perhaps there was a single roof leak somewhere. So then, um, you know, very well meaning they went and covered all the collection shelving with, with polyethylene cheating, right.
To protect it from a roof leak, you know, any future roof leaks. And we're like, well, one, if you have a fire that, that stuff's gonna burn and it's gonna melt onto your collections. And two, it's gonna shield, um, the, the collections from getting wet, which will prevent the sprinklers from doing their job. So, you know, it's raising awareness about things like that, so that, um, you know, they make careful decisions that don't, uh, detract from, from fire protection.
Oh, that's interesting. So they're unintentionally, uh, like encapsulating the, the storage arrangements. Yeah. I could see how a well, meaning, you know, something like that could cause fire protection complications. But, um, yeah, so I wanted to get into a little bit more of, yeah, I love the seems like storage is a huge topic in the, in the industry.
Um, just as a overall design hazard and, uh, just a, it's a really big problem. And I think that a lot of people have, uh, misunderstanding about. and just, uh, how to adequately, um, deal with storage, you know, um, of the high powered variety, but also just the, you know, of the miscellaneous, um, sort. So, yeah, I just wanted to, you know, talk to you about, um, some of the, you know, I know you spoke about the different.
Strategies of multiprong fire protection for these collection spaces. But yeah, I just wanted to pick your brain a little bit more about, um, storage and how the Smithsonian deals with storage, if you had any more, um, food for thought on that subject. Yeah. Um, another thing is just the choice is made for storage equipment, you know, shelving cabinetry, and those type of things can go a long way.
Either protecting the collections or, or making them more vulnerable. Um, certainly we encourage our collection staff, uh, when they're making decisions about, about storage to, to look at using closed cabinetry, you know, metal cabinets that are actually closed. Um, so, you know, we have some clutch and storage spaces where everything is in a closed metal cabinet and, you know, it's.
Very difficult to even imagine a fire spreading through a space like that, where everything's in enclosed metal cabinet. Um, so that's a great fire protection measure. Um, and then we know we have other areas where everything's on open rack shelf, say, say it's furniture collections on, on open rack shells with, uh, with like a metal mesh shelving.
Uh, and then, you know, We find that the, the collections staff are putting in solid plywood on top of the metal mesh, so that the feet of the chairs don't go through the mesh, you know, you have something to hold the furniture up. And then that creates a whole issue, right? With, uh, distribution of the sprinkler water.
So we try to work really closely with the staff so that, um, You know, we make good decisions, right from the beginning about, you know, how to store store the, um, the collections. Um, and then I notice, you know, the past 10 to 15 years, there's been a real move to use compact shelving, you know, the mobile, mobile shelving, um, because you can store more.
Collections in a smaller space with this compact shelving, but that also, you know, creates challenges for, for protect for sprinkler protection. Um, you know, you have to make sure that the compact shelving has adequate space between the units so that the sprinkle border can get down between the shelving and prevent a fire from spreading from, from shelving unit to shelving unit.
Yeah, I, that's a definite challenge. I've seen, you know, uh, mobile rack storage or not rack storage, but mobile storage. And then, you know, automated storage now is I've seen in a couple facilities. Um, but it's hard to know what to do with those. Cause I mean, uh, you know, if you're dealing with something like a vertical carousel, you know, that's stationary, um, but is a, you know, a more, uh, compact.
Um, concealed sort of storage. Um, you can put a sprinkler in it, but with these, you know, mobile storage, um, configurations. Yeah. You can't really put a sprinkler pipe in a moving storage cabinet. So it's interesting hearing you talk about, uh, this spacing being the critical factor yeah. In, um, you know, NFPA 13, the code for.
Sprinkler protection, um, provides some guidance on mobile shelving, but it's interesting cuz then if you look at, um, the code for protecting cultural resource properties, NFP 9, 9 0 9, they give different guidance on how to protect compact shelving. And the reason it's different is because the goal was D.
With NFPA 13, the goal is no prevent your building from burning down with the N F P 9 0 9. The goal is to minimize the damage to your collections. So you, you want to have, uh, more robust protection for your collections so that your, you know, your goal isn't. Keep your building from burning down it's to contain a fire as quickly as possible.
And, and for in this case with mobile shelving it's to contain the fire to a single shelving unit so that you minimize your loss of collections. Wow. That's a great note about the nuances between the different NFPA documents. Yeah. I, uh, I really like that. It's, it's really fascinating for me to, to hear about, you know, you get to see a line of text in one of these NFPA codes, but some of the best information from the people who were involved with the codes and standards processes, the getting to hear the logic behind.
Why that, you know, we do some of the things that we do and you know, what the Genesis of some of these provisions in the, in the codes are. So, yeah, I, that's a great note on, um, you know, the, those, uh, differences in the standards, codes and standards. Yeah. When you, when you're working with the codes a lot, you realize sometimes you just need to talk to the people who actually develop the code.
For sure. Without a doubt. So yeah, on the, on the similar topic of suppression, you know, um, for the project I was working with, I was dealing with the, uh, museum occupancy. When I was looking for the information that led me to your work. Um, I was dealing with the museum occupancy and I was struggling with the topic of, you know, that the owner had, um, suggested that they had wanted a, um, they said the email that I received said dry pipe, but it was actually a pre-action system.
And, um, I was struggling with, uh, you know, kind of, um, some of my knowledge about, you know, the differences between. Um, what and pre action systems and which one I would prefer from a engineering and, um, reliability standpoint. But yeah, I just, um, wanted to speak with you a little bit about, you know, suppression and.
Um, what you see as the, the pros and cons for, you know, pre action system, um, contrasting to, um, what pipe sprinklers for, you know, high value assets. I mean, it doesn't just have to be in the context of this Smithsonian, but in just property protection in, in general. Well, that's a, that's a great question.
Especially in the museum world, that's a that's. Big question and, and a sensitive question. There's a lot, you know, across museums, you know, at least in this country. And I think elsewhere, um, the, I, even the idea of sprinklers, um, worries, a lot of museum professionals. When you talk to museum professionals, um, a lot of 'em are more worried about water than they are fire.
Um, so, you know, wet pipe versus pre action is a big question. Um, for the Smithsonian, I'd say probably nine out of 10 of our sprinkler systems are wet pipe. I'd say certainly the majority of our building spaces are protected with wet pipe sprinklers. Um, but we do have pre action systems as well. Um, you know, and you're right.
Each one has their pros and cons. Uh, certainly wet pipe is the simplest type of Sprinklr system. Right. And, um, and the most reliable. It's it's, you know, it's a beautiful thing. It's so simple, you know, you just put pressurized water up into a sprinkler system and you wait for a head to, uh, fuse and, and the system's working.
Um, but we have used pre action systems and some are more sensitive areas. Um, you know, some collection storage spaces, um, Some, um, like it server rooms, we, we ha use pre-action systems. And actually right now we're, we're doing a survey of all of our, um, art collection storage areas, where, where we have like, uh, paintings on open racks.
Because that's a really vulnerable type of arrangement for, for collections, uh, where they could be impacted by, you know, an accidental sprinkler discharge. So we're, we're surveying all those spaces to, and we're gonna take a look and see, you know, where we might want to switch from wet pipe to reaction for those type of spaces.
That's interesting. Yeah, I could, I would imagine that I know that for the preservation of some of these, uh, paintings, they have to be coded with different, um, chemicals and just different preservatives. So, um, having them stored open, uh, and just in, uh, you know, arrangement like that, I could see how that could be hazardous.
That's interesting that you say that. Uh, you know, if you had one sprinkler leak or one sprinkler discharge over, you know, open racks, it could certainly affect a lot of paintings. Yeah. Yeah. It was, uh, I was kind of like, uh, an eyeopening, uh, moment I was listening to, I think somebody asked a question during your presentation, you know, about bleeding.
Pre action systems or, you know, kind of, um, flushing pre-action systems in order to get the, the water clearer out of the sprinkler systems. And it, and it's as a fire protection professional, I'm just kind of. You know, cringing inside, but I know that, you know, the, the lay person wouldn't know about, you know, why you wouldn't wanna do that, but yeah, I just, uh, how do you, how do you feel about, um, like nitrogen and, you know, the use of, um, that and like, when you do have to use reaction systems, Yeah, that's a good question.
And I think that's something that's really, um, a lot of people are thinking about now. Um, you know, we've certainly had some locations where we've had issues with pipe corrosion, uh, owned both wet pipe and pre-action systems and, um, We've begun looking at using nitrogen systems to, you know, try to slow down that, that corrosion process in our systems.
Um, yeah, actually, in fact, right now we're in the midst of installing a nitrogen system, um, at the national postal museum in, in Washington DC. So, you know, I certainly think there's the nitrogen systems, uh, Have merit, you know, and can help provide longevity to your systems and, and make them more reliable.
So I guess it's really on a case by case basis is, you know, if, if you have systems where you have corrosion issues, then, um, certainly the expense of putting in nitrogen system, you know, maybe worth, maybe worth it. Yeah. I think that's a great point. Uh, you know, as a, somebody who. Design systems or, you know, tries to give guidance to facilities owner I'm constantly straddling the line of, you know, making a, uh, cost effective, you know, code compliant solution, you know, while struggling with the, uh, needs of the owner, as far as, um, you know, uh, asset protection and you know, where they have additional concerns.
So I think that's a great, um, sentiment. If you have known corrosion issues with your water supply, then it might be worth the investment to, um, extend the lifespan of your system. Yeah. You know, and we're always, we're cost conscious too. And you know, we're always battling. The other forces of, uh, you know, we have people who are looking out for, you know, keeping costs down where, you know, we're, our goals are more in line with, you know, protecting the Smithsonian and protecting the collections and also, you know, getting as much longevity out of our systems as possible.
So it's, it's, it's weighing all of those forces and, and seeing which one wins out, I guess. Yeah, for sure. I hear you there. Um, so I wanted to talk about, um, a little bit of your work for work in the, uh, codes and standards process. I'm always fascinated about hearing from individuals who are involved in the process, cuz I, uh, I'm a code nerd myself.
So I, you know, I'm just interested in hearing about the different. Codes and standards that people are in the process of helping, um, promulgate and just be involved with. But yeah, I just wanted to hear you speak a little bit about your work on, um, 9 0 9 and nine 14, if you wouldn't mind. Oh, sure. Okay. So, um, well just for everyone, these two codes probably aren't the most well known codes out there.
Um, But NFPA 9 0 9 is the code for protection of cultural resource properties, museums, libraries, and places of worship. And then NFPA nine 14 is the code for protection of historic structures. I've been on the N F P a cultural resources committee. Um, Over 20 years, I believe. Uh, I think it was in the, in the nineties when I joined.
And so this committee, uh, develops these two codes and, um, know for those that don't know a whole lot about N FPA, um, all their code to me codes are developed, uh, by consensus. So each committee, they try to have a balance. Uh, of people on each committee from different sectors of fire protection. You know, when, when the committee I represent a user, right.
Um, we use the code to, uh, ensure our buildings are safe, but we also have others who are either like a fire marshal, or we ha we have people from the insurance industry. We have all the committee members from, you know, from other museums. Um, I'm trying to think what other groups we have, uh, when the committee special experts, did you say this?
Absolutely you're right. Special experts. People like you, who, you know, are coming from. The architectural engineering side or consulting side installers maintainers, right? Installers maintainers. Thank you, GU, having a brain cramp there. so that's okay. It gets, uh, it gets, it's hard when I'm having you do all the heavy lifting for the whole interview.
You know, I'm just leaning on you for these complex answers. Michael, give us, give us the, you know, the dictionary for all these codes and standards, but I appreciate your exposition. Uh, I mean, I've been, I feel like I've been so lucky to be on this committee, just cuz there's such a wide variety of, of uh, experience and, and depth of expertise on the committee.
Uh, so I've learned so much from, from being on this committee. Um, and so, you know, these, this, this committee develops these two standards and updates them every few years. Um, but really like if, for people in the museum world, um, these codes are, are such a great resource because it, you know, it's just not a set of standards.
There's just a lot of information in these codes. Um, like NFP nine and nine has multiple appendices on a, you know, they have statistics on, on fires in museums. It has. The whole appends on the fire ratings of archaic materials. Um, there's just a lot of very useful information for museum professionals and for, you know, fire protection professionals who are, you know, working in a, in a museum world.
Yeah, I think that, you know, uh, these might be, you know, not as in the, the cultural zeitgeist as, uh, some of the other standards for NFPA, like a 13 or a 1 0 1 or a 72, but you know, when I was working on my project with the museum occupancy, I was taking a look at, I think it was. Um, 9 0 9 and it had a wonderful table on like the pros and cons of different fire protection systems.
And, you know, as far as some of those factors that Michael and I were talking about with reliability and, you know, um, so it was a really great resource that, you know, I didn't even know existed. And so, you know, even though these might not be, um, referenced standards in the building code, Um, I think they're a fabulous resource for, um, individuals and also, uh, just a great, I mean, the, his, you know, there's a lot of, uh, great history in these code books about the codes and standards process and just, uh, fire protection in general.
So, Yeah, I'd say definitely something worth the time to go and take a look at these codes and they have some great insight for fire protection and life safety. Well, I think, you know, that was, I'm really glad you, you found that code when you're working. Um, when you're a museum project and, you know, I think there's a lot.
People out there, a lot of even fire protection professionals that may not even realize that that code exists and is, is a good resource. Um, so, um, you know, we certainly want to raise awareness that these codes are out there and that, um, They are a really good resource and, and they're really written, you know, not just for the fire protection professional, they're also written so that, you know, someone in just the museum world with no fire protection background can, can use them.
Yeah. That's a great note. You know, it's easy for me to get, uh, tonal vision on, you know, providing, uh, you know, fire protection systems, but. It's an important note that these codes and standards are available to the public and, you know, are available to people who are, um, more on the layman side of things, or maybe just less involved with this process than we are.
So that's a great, that's a great point. Yeah. And now they're actually free, right? Because NFPAs, um, you know, put their codes one line and provides free access. Yeah. You can go and take a look at 'em at any time. I've definitely had to Google NFPA documents while I was on site before to try and find something out on my phone, but that's a great, yeah, it's good to know that you can access those whenever.
I didn't know that for a long. Yeah. And it didn't used to be that way. If you know, you go back 10 years, 15 years, if you wanted a code, you had to buy each code individually or buy the entire set. Yeah. Mean that's a pain. , it's hard when they it's hard when they keep changing too. Yeah. Even though they didn't used to be as robust as they are now, but.
Yeah. So I just wanted to, um, kind of end the interview with some professional development topics. Um, but yeah, I just wanted to ask, um, what you saw as a meaningful trend in, you know, fire and life safety right now, I'm sure was somebody who, um, has their finger on the pulse. Um, in regards to fire and life safety, like yourself has some.
Yeah. Ideas of what that could be. Hmm. Okay. That's a, that's a good question. Um, sort of a overarching trend that, you know, I've seen for the past at least 15 years, I guess, is, you know, moving from a, a prescriptive, purely prescriptive approach to fire protection. Just, you know, employing the codes and that's it to, um, you know, looking at things from a more performance based approach, uh, you know, especially with the advancement in, uh, fire modeling, computer fire modeling, um, and actually being able to use different models together to, um, you know, be able to predict what's gonna happen.
In a space, if there's a fire and, and what kind of measures you can take to, um, you know, safeguard the people in the building. So I would say, you know, that's certainly a trend that's gonna happen. I mean, I don't think we're ever gonna go to just pure, uh, performance based approach. At least not in my lifetime, but, um, but there definitely.
And we do use, uh, a performance based approach from time to time. Not, no, certainly not for every situation, but, um, I think that's, you know, if I, if I was a young engineer, I'd certainly would make sure I, um, was up on computer modeling and performance based engineering. Definitely. Yeah, it seems like, uh, as the complexity of, um, buildings keeps increasing and, you know, we get more into the, the digital age.
Um, people are more and more comfortable with computer modeling or of some sort to backup these, um, you know, alternative approaches if you will. But yeah, I think a more flexible, um, you know, we. The performance based approach is when we need additional flexibility. You know, we have some, for example, we have some buildings that some of our museums are in buildings that are over a hundred years old, 150 years old.
And, um, you take a building like that and you try to apply the life safety code you know, of these buildings were built before life safety code was even around. Um, and we, and they're historic. So we can't just, uh, you. Blow holes in the side of the building and put additional exits. So yeah, so we, we, we need to take a more performance based approach and, and find other solutions, um, that don't fit neatly with the, uh, prescriptive code.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that, that, that's a great point. Um, the, the flexibility and approach and when you have, uh, more challenging, um, existing construction and I mean, that's not to mention, you know, uh, like site considerations with historic buildings, I'm sure you're dealing with some extreme, um, site constraints.
As well as, uh, you know, just dealing with historic structures and that sort of thing. So that's a great point. Um, I wanted to end with, um, you know, what kind of resources would you, would you tell people to. Go seek. If they wanted to learn more about, um, fire protection for, uh, museums or collections, or you could just keep it more broad in general, um, if you would like to, but yeah, I just wanted to pick your brain on where you go to, to find good information on those topics.
Well, probably the, the broadest, and if, you know, if you. If you're not a, if you're a fire protection person, but maybe not a fire protection engineer, I would start with the fire that NFPA fire protection handbook, um, you know, the handbook's written for, you know, people with in all different types of fields that have some interest in fire protection and, you know, it has incredible amount of information in, in the handbook.
um, so I think that's a great resource. And then, um, for the, for those in the, in the engineering side, I'd say the, uh, S F P E the society for fire protection engineers. Um, they have a lot of good resources and you can go on their website. Um, certainly their handbook is, uh, I think it's a two volume handbook now.
Um, Has incredible amount of information. And we, we certainly use that, that handbook. Um, you know, certainly, and we talked about NFPA 9 0 9, 9 14. Uh, that's a great resource, uh, for museum fire protection. Um, and then, you know, the, for those who are on sort of the engineering tech side, um, I think, you know, N set has a, a wealth of information and training.
Ed is the, uh, let me see if I get this right national Institute for a certification in engineering technologies. And, um, yeah. So if you're more on the tech side of fire protection is I think NY set is a great resource. Yeah, those are all, those are all great references. Yeah. I think that you can't get, uh, much more of premier fire protections, uh, you know, educational and, you know, just informational resources than SFP and, and FBA.
And. Yeah. As far as installation goes, it definitely seems like, um, N is ubiquitous with, uh, qualifications and just industry standard, um, competency. Yeah, we have, uh, Oh, I was gonna say, just at Smithsonian, we have a, a whole separate division that just maintains all of our fire systems across the institution.
And, uh, I know they, you know, they get nice at certified, uh, whether it's in, you know, fire alarm systems or sprinkler systems or, or, or special suppression systems. So we certainly rely on N. Cool. That's very interesting. Well, Michael, I just wanted to say thank you so much for coming on the show. You, you absolutely made my day for talking to me about the, the Smithsonian and the, and the different, uh, you know, um, the different topics about, um, your career.
I just wanna say, thanks. Well, Gus, thanks you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure talking with you and, um, I'm just thrilled that, uh, you invited. Thanks for listening. Everybody. Be sure to share the episode with a friend, if you enjoyed it, don't forget that fire protection and life safety is serious business.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are by no means a professional consultation or a codes and standards interpretation. Be sure to contact a licensed professional. If you are getting involved with fire protection and or life safety. Thanks again, and we'll see you next time.