Sep 13, 2021
Welcome to episode 36 of Fire Code Tech. On this episode we have Michael Kinsey. This week we are talking about egress modeling, cognitive bias, and what it means to be a fire protection engineer in China. Michael has a truly fascinating and unique career being one of the only non-native fire engineers in China. Tune in to hear great perspective of fire protection engineering internationally and much more.
Additional Podcast Appearance:
What is your origin story in fire and life safety?
What kind of parallels do you find in computer science and fire engineering?
What egress modeling software are you proficient in?
How did you find your way to Shanghai as a fire engineer?
Would you speak on your expertise in egress modeling?
What are some of the cognitive biases and how do they play a role in fire and life safety?
How common is performance-based design versus prescriptive design in China?
Would you speak about your teaching role?
What trends do you see in fire and life safety?
Where do you like to consume information about professional development?
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. Welcome to episode 36 of fire code tech. On this episode, we have Michael Kinzie on episode 36 of fire code tech. We are deep diving into egress modeling. Fire engineering outside of the United States, interesting trends and topics in the industry, like how computer science and fire protection engineering overlap.
I really enjoyed speaking with Michael. He has a wonderful perspective and a truly unique journey in fire and life safety. We talked about prescriptive design performance based design and how that they are used to varying effect in, uh, Shanghai and other parts of China as compared to places like the us and the UK.
We also break into some really interesting research that Michael is involved with. That deals with evacuation procedures from a train don't forget to subscribe. So you never miss an episode and follow us on social media. And please, if you could do us a big favor and rate us on apple podcast, that would help so much.
Let's get into the show anyways, Michael, will. I just want to thank you so much and, and welcome to the show. Uh, thanks for coming on. I appreciate your time. It's thanks for inviting me. Yeah. Well, I always like to get started with getting a sense of, you know, uh, I ask people how they got into the industry and, you know, it's always a kind of, uh, uh, roundabout path that, you know, unless you have family members and fire and life safety, but I always like to get started with, um, hearing a little bit about people's origin story.
Would you mind telling me about kind of how you found out about fire and life? Sure. So, uh, much like a lot of other people, I think who perhaps didn't do a fire engineering degree. Um, I kind of fell into fire engineering as it were. Uh, I was doing a, I've done a degree in computer science. Um, and during my final year project of my degree, I was, I was looking at encryption.
I was really interested in information security and, um, I was planning on going, doing a master's in, you know, um, that topic and my, um, supervisor at the time said. Would you be interested in doing a PhD? I said, oh yeah, I would be. Um, and then they said, well, um, uh, and this is at the university of Greenwich, um, where there is the fire safety engineering group, um, headed by, uh, professor ed Gallia.
Um, and they said, well, well, we have, we have some funding for doing a PhD. Um, would you be interested? Um, and I knew nothing about it. Um, so I said, well, can we, can we have a talk? Um, so we had a talk about what the kind of thing they were doing. Um, um, and eventually ended up doing a PhD, looking at, um, understanding how people behave in Highrise buildings, um, specifically with regards to using lifts for evacuation or elevators, and also.
Using escalators, um, for evacuation. And then how can we model that in a, an evacuation model? Um, and they wanted someone to, you know, to understand the behavior and then try and develop some, uh, computer models. Um, so that's how I got into the area, I guess, start with my first taste, a bit of fire engineering.
Um, although it was still very much academic and, um, Uh, focused on, you know, human behavior and, uh, computing. Um, and then after my PhD, um, I did a postdoc. Um, and then I thought, well, I, I really wanna start looking at how can I apply this, um, and work on some, you know, real building designs, um, and, um, That's when I, um, after, after attending a number of conferences throughout my PhD in postdoc, um, I've bumped into various people, um, from the, uh, company that I now work for called Arab and.
These, um, these fire engineers, um, seemed really smart, really passionate, and they had great things to say about Arab. Um, so after my postdoc, I, I applied to work for Arab, um, and as a fire engineer and, um, it was, I didn't really know a huge amount. Um, I, I certainly didn't appreciate the full breadth of, uh, things that fire engineers do.
Um, I was hugely naive, um, hugely ignorant, but I knew. Fire engineering involved or can involve the use of evacuation models. Um, but, uh, and that's how I came to work for Arab. Very cool. I'd like to, yeah, just double back. Uh, you know, the reason I got started with the podcast was kind of, cause I had started to, uh, kind of learn about, um, computer science.
and, um, a little bit of, uh, web programming. So I had to have a little bit of that programming knowledge. So I'm kind of fascinated that you started off with the, with the CS degree and then you stumbled into, to fire engineering. I think that's a kind of a remarkable, uh, through line, but yeah. What, what kind of, uh, I always think that the, the mindset of, um, people who.
Are involved with computer science and like the, the problem solving mentality of this, uh, this role or this, um, career is kind of similar to the problem solving nature. Of, um, engineers and how they're tasked with a kind of, uh, a different issue or a, a code problem. And they kind of have to figure it out and it's not always very well defined, but, uh, yeah, I don't know.
I guess that's just a general comment on, I think that's a fascinating part of your background, this, um, computer science path that you've, that you've had in your career. Yeah, I totally agree. Um, I think there's huge parallels with, uh, computer science, um, and, uh, fire engineering. Um, you know, we both, uh, both disciplines are involved with dealing with problems.
Um, they typically attract people who are curious and wanna find ways to solve them. Um, specifically when I think about my background in programming, um, programming is essentially. Looking at a system, um, deciding how we can break down a system into a series of instructions or in, um, to do something, um, and simplify it.
Um, so then we can do something with it. And I think, um, that's quite a lot. What engineers do we look at? Some very complex systems. We try to simplify it so we can make sense of it. And then we try to do something with it. Yeah. I love that process driven mindset. I try to bring some of that into, into what I, uh, you know, work.
You know, distilling the process of being a fire protection engineer down to it's salient points and, and try to have better documentation. And I don't know, I think there's just a lot of great lessons from the, the big tech industry that fire protection seems like it's kind of lagging or it's a little bit old school.
And so I, I always like kind of looking at, um, uh, industries that have kind of more cutting edge trends and trying to apply them. To fire and light safety. So I, I really am a big fan of that, that topic of the, the Zen diagram of the parallels between these two subjects. Absolutely. And I think, uh, very much now, so where many industries are particularly fire engineering are trying to look to adopt more digital tools and go through some kind of digital transformation.
Um, they become even more similar. . Yeah, and I wanted to, and I wanted to pick your brain since you do have some. Um, like coding background, um, you know, I always have like a interest in, um, where, you know, these different evacuation modeling softwares, and just like, you know, like FDS or the different egress modeling, softwares, like, um, kind of what.
Programming backbone that they have. I saw you had had some, uh, experience in C plus plus, but, um, and I have some like very rudimentary knowledge of, um, a couple different programming languages, but I didn't know if you had any insight to like, are these, um, different, um, life fire and life safety modeling programs, kind of all based on.
Some of the more, uh, low level, like sea languages, or I saw, uh, um, I forget on Twitter, you were talking to, uh, and I can't remember if it was or, uh, somebody else about that. Uh, oh yeah. Guillermo rain T was talking about, um, FDS being like some proprietary sort of, um, coding language. I thought that was really fascinating, but I didn't know if you had any exposition on that.
Yeah. So, um, as I understand, and I haven't programmed an FDS, FDS is open source, um, which means that anyone can go and have a look at it, look at the code, they can update it. Um, and that prevents a number of benefits. Of course, you need an active community to start updating it. Um, and I think there is a pretty active community in FDS, certainly in the research field where you get perhaps a PhD student come along, they wanna develop a sub component of the model.
Um, there is, um, an extension of FDS called FDS evac, um, which is supposed to be the evacuation model base, um, that is also open source and it's an extension of, uh, FDS. Um, but I, I don't think that's hugely used, not as, not nowhere near as common as some of the other evacuation models, which are effectively closed systems.
They're not open source. Um, so for example, uh, we have, you know, Pathfinder steps, mass motion, building Exodus. They tend to be. They're developed by, um, they're more classically developed. So they're developed by a, a software, uh, bunch of software developers. Um, and then you can't change the code. Um, interestingly, a lot of the evacuation models are incorporating things like, um, scripting tools, um, um, within them so that you can get access to the agent behavior and you can do some really quite powerful things with them.
That's very interesting. So do you have more experience with, uh, yeah. I just wanted to speak about like, uh, you know, the different programs that, uh, you have experience in or the ones that you've used most option, or is it more of the Pathfinder? I think I got to use that one in school a little bit, uh, very base level, like one, uh, something that you would be, you would cringe if you saw, but I think I've at least put one, uh, One of those models together, but yeah.
Which one do you have the, the most, uh, reps with. So within Arab, um, uh, the evacuation model and pedestrian model called mass motion is developed. Um, so we get access to that. Um, and that's probably the most common one that we use within Arab. Um, it's not obligatory that we use this and sometimes we do use other evacuation models, um, within the company.
Um, so for example, um, certain approving authorities may request that we use a certain model. So we also have used steps. Um, certain teams have used Pathfinder as well. Um, but certainly for my experience, um, considering I've been, you know, Arab a number of years, I've probably used mass motion the most before that I would've used building extras as that's what most of my PhD in postdoc were involved in develop.
I see. I see. So I wanted to talk a little bit more, you know, uh, you gave a great broad overview of, you know, your, um, time in college and your PhD. Um, but I just am still kind of fascinated, um, that you are, um, working out of Shanghai for Arab. Um, you know, how did you make this, uh, uh, in my mind it seems like such a big leap to go from.
Greenwich to, is that and all the way over to Shanghai, like how did you even find out did, was it just the position with the opening and you saw it and you were like, this sounds like it'll be a good fit or, yeah, I don't know if you had any thoughts about that. yeah, it's, it's a bit of a long story to be fair.
Um, uh, which I'll, I'll try and condense it. Um, I actually used to live in Shanghai, um, after my degree. Um, I, uh, I actually start initially started a PhD with the fire safety engineering group. Um, and I decided that I really fancied more of a break. Um, and, uh, I was really interested in Chinese history. Um, and, uh, I got offered a chance to go and, uh, to go on.
Going like a teaching holiday where I would help teach some kids and I would take them around China and it was a chance to travel. Um, and yeah, it was a, that was a great opportunity. So I went for two weeks, I thought, oh, this is a fantastic, really interesting country. Um, I'd love to come back here. Um, so then I decided, well, I'm gonna, I'm gonna plan to come here.
Um, and, um, uh, and not really thinking about what I would do. I, you know, I came here, I taught English, I learned a bit of Chinese here. And then I decided that I, I. I miss the, the challenge and the interest of doing a PhD. Um, so I contacted my, uh, supervisor professor at gallery in the university of Greenwich, um, and said, look, do you have any, uh, PhD opportunities again?
He said, yep, we do. You can come back. Um, so then I, you know, I, I came back, um, and I always, really was interested in China still. So, um, then I did my PhD, my postdoc, um, I found Arab, um, and it coincidence that Arab has a, an office in. Shanghai and a number of other places within China. Um, and, uh, I, and my, my, um, my wife at the time, um, was, is Chinese and was very interesting coming back to be closer to her family.
Um, so that's when the conversations happened after working for while I said, well, do you think it's possible that I could transfer to our, um, a China based office? Um, and initially, um, it took a while to organize, to be. Because I think no other, um, no other foreigner has transferred to, uh, in, within the fire team has transferred to a mainland China office.
Um, most would typically go to, um, you know, Hong Kong where the working language is English, um, or perhaps another country. Um, but I, I, you know, I really request, I'd like to come here. So it took a little while to organize. Um, but Arab were absolutely fantastic. Um, the Arab UK fire leadership were fantastic as were the, um, east Asia leadership.
Um, and it was a bit of a, to be, so there wasn't an opening as such. I actually requested to come here. Um, and you know, there was a, you know, when I look back on it now, and this was over five years ago, um, there was, there was some elements of uncertainty because the, uh, the working language within the office here is Chinese.
Um, so there was a quick, you know, what, what would I do and, uh, what projects could I get involved in and things like that. Um, but here we are, you know, five and a half, uh, half years later. Um, and I'm still here. Um, and, uh, it's been an amazing whirlwind wide. Um, and I think, um, I think I'm perhaps the only foreigner fire engineer in the whole of China.
Um, not just within Arab, but within the whole country. I've never met another foreigner fire engineer in China. Wow. That's uh, beyond remarkable. I mean, uh, that is a pretty, it's a pretty wild story. I think that. Awesome. And fascinating did, uh, I'm sure that was, uh, quite an adjustment to come into, uh, department and, and have it, um, be so foreign.
And so, uh, you know, to be, you know, it's not like you're an, an outsider or anything, but it's. You're definitely. Uh, I don't know. I just, there are a few times in my life where I've had that feeling to be like, so engrossed in another culture like that. So it sounds really intimidating to me. Um, so I'm, uh, impressed, I guess, I guess is what I'm trying to say, that you were able to go into a situation like that and, and, you know, make it work.
It sounds that's awesome. That's cool to hear. Yeah, I think, I think that's exactly it. I think you need a bit of, um, I think whenever, whichever country, if you were gonna transfer, which I would say I would highlight Arab is really great for supporting you. If you wanna go and travel, you want to go to another country to work for a few years.
Um, they have a system called long term assignment where you can go to a country, say for two years to get some experience, then you go back to your home country. Um, I would say whichever country you go to, you're gonna need a certain level of courage and a certain level of ignorance. Um, ignorance may need to protect you.
Or thinking about all the things that could go wrong. Um, and, uh, I certainly coming to China. And when you think about the job of a fire engineer, our job is to communicate with people, um, to read codes. Um, like I come to China, the codes are in Chinese and people are mainly communicating in Chinese, which I can't do.
Um, or I couldn't do very much at the time. Um, I didn't even think about that. Um, so it's been an absolute, fascinating ride. Wow. So how, how fast did it take you to, to feel like that you were, um, navigating these waters with great proficiency? Uh, this like, uh, it's the whole, the whole role is so heavy, like you said, in communication and, and based on conveying like a set of design principles.
How long did it take you to feel like you, you had it licked? I don't think I've ever felt like I have it licked. Um, and, and you know what, even in the UK, um, I constantly felt I was presented with new challenges. There was so little repetition. I was, every building was new. Every design team was very slightly different.
Um, So even the, even where we had like a repeat item of work, it was different. Um, so I think that trained you up to be adaptable. And I think as a fire engineer, you have to be adaptable. And I think those trades just got magnified. When I came to China, I had to be adaptable. Um, the way things work, um, in China is very, very different in fire engineering terms.
Um, and. You just have to, um, I was, I should also highlight that I was supported by a fantastic bunch of fire engineers in the out fire China team, um, who were really, really helpful. They're not just my colleagues, they're my friends. They're affecting my extended family here. Um, because I don't have, you know, you know, the classical support networks that you have around you when you are in your home country.
Yeah. You know, I, I, uh, my only situation which I could even draw parallel to was I moved like north in the us, like seven hours. And I remember the kind of, uh, detached, like, uh, feeling I had when, you know, I had a flat tire or something and I couldn't call on a family member and I didn't have like a. A real consolidated friend group, but they still could, you know, drive and come see me.
So I, yeah, I don't, that's pretty, um, kind of wild to think about that, uh, whole support structure of your life kind of uprooting and. And, uh, finding your way someplace else. That's awesome. Um, I wanted to talk about, uh, and you touched on it a little bit, like the codes and standards process, um, in, in China and like the different, um, kind and how you navigate that, you know, I'm, I'm aware of how it works and.
Uh, the us, but I'm always fascinated to speak with individuals who operate in a different, um, set of codes and standards or different process. Cuz I've found that even when it's it's the same, it's different. So yeah. So I think, um, I, so just for my experience, obviously I've would worked in the UK. Um, I've worked on projects in the middle east, um, adopting, uh, you know, NFPA us standards.
Um, So, and then now I've got experience in, uh, China. Um, and I would say within China, uh, the broad principles of what we're trying to achieve, regardless of which country we win, um, is the same. We're trying to achieve life safety and maybe some extra, um, business continuity, um, within the fire safety, um, engineering process, um, the method on how they achieve that and the prescriptive requirements.
Vary. Um, and also the approvals process varies quite a bit within China. Um, you obviously have someone or a body that approves your, um, designs, um, but they operate in very different ways. Um, in addition, um, China is massive. Um, I, I think China has a population, which is twice the size of the us plus Europe combined.
Um, yeah. Yeah. So what that kind of means is that, uh, you might work on one project in certain location, um, and they'll require certain things, um, even adopting one stand at one fire safety code, but then you go somewhere else and they might interpret it in a slightly different way, or they might even have their own fire safety standards as.
Wow. That's interesting. Yeah. In the, in the us, and I'm sure in other parts of the world, there's a kind of, gradi inside the same code, but. Wholesale adopt different fire safety standards within, uh, within China. That's very interesting. Um, yeah, I definitely don't have, uh, the real scale for like the, the, the massiveness of China and like the population.
It, uh, is kind of baffling to me. I mean, just staring at the numbers of the, you know, the, what is it, the one point, uh, 3 billion or probably plus. Billion people in China, it's a kind of, uh, overwhelming to think about, but that's, uh, that's fascinating. Yeah. And culturally it's hugely diverse. Um, and I think once you begin to understand the language and you start communicating and seeing people, um, you really, you recognize how culturally diverse it is even though it's all, uh, China, um, there's actually lots of different subcultures within China.
Hmm. Very interesting. That makes sense. So I wanted to get into a little bit of, uh, and, uh, we just spoke about it a little bit, but my perceived, uh, special your, my perception of your specialty and kind of fire and life safety, which is like, um, evacuation modeling. Is that a fair characterization? Yeah, I would say I have a, an expertise, a level of expertise in understanding how people behave, um, and then applying that within the design process.
So for example, through the use of evacuation models or hand calculations, um, or just thinking about what people might do and using that to inform design, That's that's awesome. Yeah. I was listening to your episode with, uh, on the, the fire science show and I didn't make it through quite all of it, but I think like at least 40 minutes in, I was really enjoying the, you speaking about.
Um, some of the different, um, biases and, um, other topics that you have, uh, researched about as far as, um, people and how they behave in fires. So some of that, you know, I I've, I've had a, uh, Um, a class that talks about, uh, egress and human behavior and fire and, you know, pre evacuation time. And, but still some of these concepts, um, felt really, really new to me.
I didn't know if you would speak a little bit more about, um, just generally brought overview of, um, some of these biases and some of the other, uh, different, um, egress topics that you have researched. Sure. The bias research, the cognitive biases during, um, looking at human behavior and evacuation decision making, um, sort of came about through, uh, uh, discussions and being recommended to read a book called thinking fast and slow by Daniel Canman, um, which is sort of the grandfather of, uh, cognitive biases.
Um, and then we thought, well, how can we. This looks really interesting. And we think this, there could be something here and applying it to how people behave during fire evacuations. Um, so we got together a team, so it was, uh, myself. Um, we had, uh, professor Steve Quinn at movement strategies in the UK. Uh, we had Dr.
Max Eder. Who's now at the NRCC in Canada and Dr. Erica Kowski who wasn't N is. Now at our MIT in Australia. Um, and we thought, well, how can we, uh, let's put together some ideas and just think about, um, what we could do here. So we started looking at, we first looked at what is the current, um, what is the current literature and what the common things people do in fires that we know, and it's been documented.
And then we thought, well, maybe we could. Um, instead of just say these behaviors happen, maybe we could look through the lens of a cognitive bias, um, and that might help us decide why the behaviors occur. Um, so that was one of the first steps. Um, and then we start thinking, well, what are some of the other things we know people do?
And how could we link that to a bias? Um, And we eventually came to look at classifying them according to the protective action decision model, um, to try and identify trends in the cognitive biases. Um, I mean, to, to highlight what I think, um, cognitive biases are effectively aware people over focus on certain information at the expense of other more information.
Um, so it's a fallacy in the decision making process and generally it leads to a negative. It doesn't have to leave to a negative outcome. It can actually leave to a positive outcome, but there's a, a, the issue is with the decision making process itself. Um, so we identified a number of biases, which, um, we think could occur during fire evacuations, and we can link them to known behaviors and suggest some new behaviors.
Um, so we hope this might offer a new way. Um, certainly for future research to consider why people make certain decisions. Maybe they're being biased in some. Yeah. Uh, that's a great piece of, uh, exposition on you, you know, the incipients of your research. Um, I really, uh, took it to heart. And when you're kind of talking about the.
the primary bias of, you know, uh, if you have an exit that you always use, you know, what's the chance to, when something goes wrong, that you're not gonna use that exit. Um, and you know, or if you, when you try something the first time and it works out, then you have a, a tendency to always, uh, fail to that decision.
Or you stop thinking about, um, The choice. And I can just, uh, take a look at my life very quickly and see that I always use the same excess in that, you know, like even extrapolating it to, uh, you know, other parts of life, like, you know, you go to a restaurant and you have something you like there, and then you don't wanna change it.
It's like you can see very, uh, easily how these biases kind of, uh, seep out into all the different parts of your life. So, It made a very vivid picture for me when you were, um, speaking about that with . Yeah. I mean, the world is really, really complicated. Um, you think even the most simple decisions can actually actually under the underlying, um, mechanics can be really complicated, um, to come to a decision.
Um, so as you know, we can't process all the information as humans. So we have to simplify the world, um, much like an engineer. We need to simplify things to make decisions. Um, every day we, when we have decisions, we have to simplify them and we could do that using something called heuristics, where we develop rules.
Um, uh, like for example, if I look out the window and I see some clouds, I think it it's gonna rain. Um, perhaps I don't have time or I don't have access to my phone to check the weather forecast. Um, so we do this, um, this simplification can be, um, can take the form of adopting something called, uh, substitution, where you get a complicated question and you substitute it for a more simple one.
And then you answer the more simple one. Uh, so a good example is if I ask you how happy are you with your life? Um, this is actually. Really complicated question. You could consider all manner of things. Yeah. But what you might do in your subconscious is think, well, how happy am I recently? And if you're happy recently, you'll say, yeah, I'm happy with my life.
So you've done that substitution, um, to answer a more complex question. Yeah, I like that. That's good. I was really, um, kind of resonated with your, um, bit of information where you were talking about the difference between the, the active brain and the sort of subconscious brain. And something that I, I think about a lot in life is trying to, trying to free up the subconscious brain, which has, uh, all the metaphorical horsepower and, you know, the active brain being the, the one that takes more energy and, you know, is, is kind of more stressful for the body to engage.
But, uh, as a professional, like we were talking. Um, in the first five years of my career, I've been just, you know, trying to get to the point where some of these, uh, the more difficult paths or tasks of being a fire protection engineer have, uh, start to become more subconscious and kind of, uh, lightened the mental load of it all.
But. Yeah, I don't know. That's kind of a random tangent, but, uh, I was just thinking about that, uh, your discussion of the, the subconscious and the conscious and, and you know, how these, um, biases are, or these, uh, different, um, actions are really deep seated. Yeah, absolutely. And I think, um, so after initially doing our, looking at cognitive bias in, uh, fire evacuations, we, we decided, well, actually you could apply this to fire engineers, practicing fire engineering.
Um, so we actually wrote another paper, um, looking at cognitive biases in fire engineering and propose some potential ways. We might be able to mitigate some of these biases. Um, so we've, we've come up with a as well as identify biases, um, which, um, that fire engineers might exhibit, um, we then decided, well, how can we, how can we stop them?
Cuz I, I really like doing practical papers. I don't like just writing papers saying, oh, we've identified something. Thanks, bye. Bye. We really wanted to say, well, how can we, how might we be able to mitigate some of them? Yeah. That's a great point. Yeah. I think. It's interesting to try to see the common pitfalls or the rule of thumb things in industry, or, uh, just a more baseline, um, implications or biases of what people do and, and common mistakes.
And I'm a big fan of, you know, research, not just for research, but to, uh, solve a practical, uh, problem and, and make the world better and, you know, further, uh, fire and life safety. But, um, yeah, I, uh, I wanted to ask about a little bit more of your kind of project work experience. Um, I didn't know if you had a, um, a recent or maybe historic project that you had worked on, that you would be able to share the listeners to give, uh, to give them and to give me like a, a greater sense of the kind of work that you're involved.
Sure. Um, so if I I'll talk about the projects that I've been in or some of the projects I've been involved in China, um, I would say by and large, the scales of the building, um, that I work on in China are, uh, some of them are absolutely huge. Um, they involve many superlatives in tallest biggest or something like.
Um, there's so much being developed in China at the moment. Um, that it's so big, it's so tall. Um, it presents some really interesting, uh, challenges from a fire engineering perspective, um, to be specific. Um, one of the most, one of the first projects I worked on in China was for the largest Starbucks in the world.
Um, at the time. Which was the Shanghai, Starbucks roastery, um, that presented a lot of interesting challenges, um, from fire engineering perspective. Um, most not be, I think, um, for anyone who's been to a Starbucks roastery and they're, they're, they're, they're developing more of them now. Um, they have this, uh, big piece of equipment, which roasts the coffee within the actual shop.
And you can see this. It's really interesting. It, it it's really fascinating. Um, but this equipment obviously, um, uh, is not typical for a Starbucks, uh, coffee shop. Um, so we had to consider how would, how does that factor in, within the fire strategy? Um, and how does it factor in, you know, how they want to use the space?
That's very interesting. I'm a huge, uh, fan of coffee and, and, uh, fan of Starbucks too, but. Uh, that's I was just, uh, speaking today about, uh, was somebody funny enough that was talking about a huge, um, coffee roasting process and some sort of, uh, uh, offset of, uh, some hazardous material with making a cold brew or something.
Um, if you had a giant roastery, but, uh, so that's interesting that you bring up, uh, um, that process of that, uh, Fire roast in those beans, but I, uh, a huge coffee fan, but that's very interesting. So you, I, you talked a little bit about like, Like a fire, like strategy. It, it sounds a little bit more informal than what I'm used to.
And, uh, I, uh, my sense of the fire and life safety codes abroad is that, um, a lot of other places in the world are far more performance based than the, the us. But, um, yeah, I. I don't know if you have some sense of like, uh, prescriptive, weighted verse performance based design. It sounds like with the scale of what you're dealing with in China, that you would, uh, almost, uh, have to be, um, well versed in performance based design, because it doesn't sound like these buildings can fit into any sort of, uh, easy prescriptive cookie cutter model.
Yeah, you'd be surprised actually. Um, I would say that, um, by and large, um, and I come from the UK, I would say performance based designs. Um, uh, I is far more common in the UK. Um, and perhaps Europe as a whole than say China. Um, there's a bit more, um, uh, there's far more, uh, Risk aversion to using performance based design.
I mean, this set, um, just to clarify, when I say performance based design, most buildings will be a combination of performance based design and prescriptive design. Um, and you'll perhaps use performance based design, um, for, for a very specific aspect of your building. Um, so if we think about China, um, Certainly compared to say the UK, it's not as prevalent to use performance based design.
This said, um, there are, um, there are certain situations where it's more common, um, or it's more standard to use performance based designs purely because of the requirements within the prescriptive fire coats. Um, so for example, um, Cert certain, certain things like, uh, airports, um, typically have large, uh, open plan areas with very big fire compartments.
Um, and a unique thing about the China fire code is its concept of fire. Compartments is different to the rest of the world. Um, so the definition of a fire compartment say, um, in the most of the rest of the world is a room that's enclosed in fire resistant construction. And we would refer to that as a fire compartment and within China, the concept of a fire compartment, um, which is, um, the Chinese as, uh, chaong tu, um, is actually slightly different is actually an area or group of rooms, which you enclose in a three hours fire resistant construction.
Um, and there are, there are limitations on the area. So it might be 4,000 meters squared, 5,000, whatever it is, depending on the use. Now each as well as divide up your building, according to these fire compartment sizes, each fire compartment is almost treated like a separate building in terms of egress and firefighting.
So each fire compartment needs at least two separate. Escape stairs or exits and also a firefighting lift. So what that means is that you're typically gonna get more stairs or requirement for more stairs, um, per building in China than perhaps you would in other places. Um, because every fire department have to be almost like a self-contained unit.
Wow. That's really interesting. That's, uh, uh, really different than how the us would. Uh, address a building of user, you were saying, uh, like 4,000 to 5,000 square meters, uh, for the, for the, you know, English unit users, that's like, uh, 4,000 square meters is about, uh, 43,000 square feet. So that's, uh, you know, like, um, we work on buildings all the time that are like to be limited.
Limited combustible construction that are, you know, uh, well over 60,000, uh, square feet, or could be in that similar range without any, uh, uh, rated construction like that. So it's kind of interesting for me to hear that there's only very specific situations in which you would ever have a three hour fire separation, which is a pretty significant fire separat.
a absolutely. Um, and that's for any class, um, I should say those, those numbers. I mentioned about the area limits. They change according to the building types. Sure. Um, so the higher, the risk, you know, the, the, the, the smaller they are, um, but in a similar fashion to, you know, us and UK fire codes, um, when you provide sprinklers, they provide, um, added benefits to your design.
So you can perhaps increase travel distances. You can increase your compartment size and things like. That was an interesting point. You made about, you know, how performance based design is used, but really in very specific situations that have, uh, um, well, I don't know if excessive is the right word, but more strict, um, uh, limitations on the, the use case, uh, maybe is a better way to say it, but in the us, like I.
Barely used any performance bases on my entire career with like hundreds of projects, uh, designed, I maybe have seen like, um, you know, well, I don't know, maybe one or two, and it's really only very specific in the us. Like, um, there's a big added benefit for smoke control systems, or if you have a really, um, tight.
Uh, egress component in a, you know, a historic building or something. Uh, you know, if you basically, if, if you need it in a pinch, uh, in some of the larger jurisdictions, you could use performance based design, but in some of the smaller areas in the us, they wouldn't, they wouldn't know what to do with it.
Dave, you brought 'em a report. I'm sure. Probably similarities for you as well, but, um, yeah, I've not had much experience with it. So it's interesting for me to, for, to hear about. Yeah, I think, um, to, to touch on performance based design within China, um, typically, uh, if we have a very complex project, um, or something which deviates from the code, then there is a standard method of assessing a performance based design.
And in terms of approval, they would have to go through something called an expert panel. and what that is is, um, and that's anywhere wherever you are in China, they have to go through an expert panel review, and that's a series of maybe seven experts. Um, maybe not from necessarily the jurisdiction where the project is, but they might be, um, there's a pool of them nationally.
Um, and then they would all review, uh, the performance based analysis or the design, and then they would give their feedback. Um, so, I mean, in the UK, we might call that something like a third party review. However, here it's, you know, seven people all independent, um, looking at this. Um, wow. So it's, um, it's, it's pretty, it's pretty heavy stuff.
Um, when you go through that sounds rigorous. Yes. Yes. Um, so it, it adds also variation. And I think this is a wider issue with adoption of performance based design. When you get lots of people involved, um, you know, you can get designs being pulled in various directions. Um, yeah, it is a very, uh, rigorous process, um, through checking, um, And I, and I think, you know, the adoption performance based design is, you know, there's some common challenges regardless of which country are in, um, ensuring consistency, um, and ensuring high quality, making sure that it's not being misused, whether intentionally or unintentionally, um, you know, challenges that we face here as well.
Wow. That's uh, yeah, sometimes I worry that, uh, enough oversight is being done. But in that instance, I would be worried about the, uh, the issue being taken too far, uh, with seven, I mean, yeah, I mean, it's difficult enough to get, uh, one very experienced authority having jurisdiction. You know, with the third party review to in a big enough jurisdiction to, to buy off on a co-design, but seven, it, that seems like that would be very difficult to, to get consensus on, uh, the methodology and the assumptions used, but, well, I think that's, uh, really interesting.
No, you're absolutely right. Um, it is, um, it's certainly interesting. It's been really interesting for me, um, because some of, some of the experts, the experts range in their backgrounds, they're not all, you know, um, people with expertise in evacuation modeling, um, and fire modeling and things like that. Um, so it does, it adds, um, another, um, string to considerations when we're looking at, you know, performance based.
So I've seen some, uh, pictures on social media of you doing, uh, evacuations, uh, and different, um, kind of different, uh, uh, simulations of evacuations from trains. I think that's super interesting. Uh, we were talking before the. The, uh, podcast got started about Brian Hoskins at Oklahoma state university and in school, he used to do, uh, some different egress, uh, drills on us in the student union, which is kind of a, a big building with, uh, and he would record the student's movements, given a set of instructions and kind of see how we all kind of took a different winding way out of the student union.
Yeah, I would love to hear about, uh, uh, what and why you're doing these, uh, um, evacuations from trains. So the evacuation train research is, um, It's quite, it's a really interesting project. I mean, it's a commercially funded project. It's not a, a government funded project or anything like that. Um, and, uh, essentially we're working with, uh, Chinese trained manufacturers to, uh, conduct evacuation research.
Um, understand a bit more about how people might behave. During an evacuation of a train, um, look at some of the influencing flack factors and then decide, well, um, now we know this, um, first of all, can we develop models, evacuation models of them that are fairly realistic? Um, because if, if we can, then that means that we can use modeling evacuation modeling as a tool to inform the design.
And then the next stage is, well, how can we, uh, how can we improve the design of these trait? Very cool. Very cool. I'm a huge fan of trance, even though the us is, uh, fairly lacking in, uh, that kind of transportation to at least, um, there's not been much of it done in, uh, a lot of the country and, uh, a long time, but always enjoy when I get to go to other places in the world that have more developed, uh, uh, train systems.
Yeah, it's um, I mean, I'd say, uh, you know, China is the Mecca of high speed trains development. Um, it has the biggest high speed train network, um, and it's developing, um, not only the network, but the trains on them as well. Um, it's, it's so convenient, um, living in such a large country, um, that you can get access to really fast trains.
Um, we have the fing, how going from Shanghai to Beijing, um, and that can do it in like four and a half hours. Um, and I think that's a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour. Wow. That is impressive. That's impressive. Well, I wanted to ask a little bit about, uh, I wanted to ask about, um, your research at the Shanghai Institute of, or not research, but your guest professorship at the Shanghai Institute of technology, um, what are you teaching some courses there, or, or what's kind of that role look like for.
Yeah. So, um, I am a, a guest professor at the Shanghai Institute of technology. Um, and I, um, lecture on the masters of safety engineering course, they have there, um, which is a general purpose, uh, safety engineering course. Um, it's not focused on fire. Um, and I, I give a lecture on, um, I give a number of lectures, a part of a, a wider fire safety module on human behavior and evacuation modeling.
Um, so we teach them about the things people do during fire evacuations, and then we teach them how to use, um, evacuation models. Cool. Very neat. Very neat. That's uh, always, um, interested in spreading the word about, um, anybody teaching safety or, or fire, uh, safety. Um, so I always like hearing about people who have teaching roles.
I enjoy, uh, just, uh, talk and spread the word about that stuff. Um, yeah, so I always like to kind of round out the interview with, uh, so a couple professional development topics. Anytime I get a chance to catch somebody who is passionate about the, what they do, I like to, to pick their brain about the, the resources they like and, and what they see is, uh, trending in the industry.
But yeah, I just wanted to start off with asking is. In your, in your role or just, um, more broadly, um, as a professional, uh, what kind of trends do you see in, uh, fire and life safety or business in general? I think I see, um, kind of two parallel strands of fire engineering. There's increased development in, um, refining and increasing the scope of prescriptive, um, requirements in fire codes.
Um, and we need this because we're, we're using ever new materials on projects. Um, the prescriptive fire codes are trying to be more flexible. To accommodate different building designs, which is fantastic. Um, at the same time, we're developing ever more sophisticated tools to conduct performance based analysis.
So, you know, uh, CFD models, evacuation models, structural fire engineering models, they're all becoming more sophisticated. Um, I think, uh, so there's kind of two things developing F, which is amazing. Um, I think there. Where there is a bit of, um, something which needs to be developed more is the interface between the two.
Um, so, you know, identifying, giving clear, tangible guidance as to when it may be acceptable to use performance based design. Um, there is, I still feel in certain circles as a bit of distrust for performance based design. Um, there's a fear of misuse. Um, there's also a fear of wide vari. Um, in, um, not in only using it, but also in approvals.
Um, so I think in the future, I would like to see, uh, a better marrying of the two, um, with more, um, tangible, clear guidance, um, cause at the moment it's quite high level and I think that creates some uncertainty. Um, and when you're face uncertainty, um, the, the warm, you know, the warm feeling of prescriptive guidance is typically what people veer toward.
Wow. That's a great perspective. I've not anybody heard that or at least worded in that way before I've heard a lot of people who are, you know, hardcore performance based design or, you know, some old foggy that are, you know, um, party line, prescriptive design, and that's just the way it needs to be. But, um, I like that sentiment that, you know, we need to find a better way to marry the.
And to, uh, you know, provide the, the best option, but not be per afraid of performance based design. If we can, um, be assured that there is good engineering practice involved. I think that's a wonderful sentiment. E exactly. I think it's about fitness for purpose. It's about being able to be, provide flexibility in the tools we use so we can help design these fantastic buildings.
Um, I think everyone's on the same page with our motivations. It's just the means by which we do that. I think that we need to do better at. Yeah, for sure. That's great. Um, yeah. On this, uh, professional development topic, uh, where do you like to go, uh, get your information as a professional, uh, where do you go to consume, um, content or, or just look for resources to learn about, um, fire and life safety or just business in general?
I think, um, when I first came into the field, um, I used, you know, um, looking at fire research journals, um, which were fantastic. Um, the, uh, you know, the magazines from say the S F P um, um, the. SFP handbook, which is an amazing resource, um, and various other guidance documents like that. Um, I would say more recently, certainly within the last few years, for me, there's a lot more informal.
Education and learning material online, which anyone can get access to for free, um, loads of researchers, um, commonly post, you know, links to their papers or things that they're thinking about on social media, like Twitter, there's now podcasts, you know, like yours, uh, and, um, the fire science show, um, Which provide a great, fascinating way for you to learn about or manner of topics that perhaps you wouldn't normally be exposed to in your everyday jobs.
Um, so I think the key is, um, You know, variety and, uh, find, find a source that really you can connect with, you know, on a personal level. Cause you have to find it. Interesting. Yeah. That's a great point. That's a great point. I love that. It's all about, um, in what way are you gonna be the most likely to sustain cuz that's the way that you're gonna keep up to date.
You know, that's a big reason why I wanted to start the, the podcast is because that is the way that I consume new information, the easiest, uh, I, you know, with your podcast with Boje, I, I listen to so many podcasts that I'll just turn it up to 1.5 times speed. And, and my brain just kind of Whis away, Whis away on my commute to work.
And I love, I absolutely love that. That that is something that's becoming more prevalent. Are these, um, kind of alternative, uh, more candid conversations about, um, what we do cuz I think it's, uh, so fascinating, but those are all great tips, Michael. Well, Michael, I want to thank you so much for, uh, spending some time today.
Speaking with me about fire and life safety. It's been an absolute. Thank you. It's been a pleasure. 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.