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Monday, August 16, 2010

"The best part? He is an academic"

Prof Torero is featured in The Times of India and The Bangalore Mirror after he gave the talk "Economics, Fire Safety and Sustainability in the Built Environment: are they Compatible?" at The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore invited by the British Deputy High Commission Bangalore.

Tex from Timesofindia,com:

Professor/investigator plays with fire, literally

BANGALORE: He has participated in investigations into the World Trade Center fires post-terror attacks, Texas City and Buncefield explosions and Madrid Windsor Tower fire. He has also helped design landmark projects like the Nasa space shuttle hangars in Florida, the 80-storey Heron Tower in London and much more. The best part? He is an academic.

Professor Jose L Torero delighted an academic audience at IISc during a lecture on Monday as part of the UK-IISc lecture series. He is the BRE/RAE chair in fire-safety engineering, head of the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment, and director of the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. Torero spoke on ‘Economics, fire safety and sustainability in the built environment: Are they compatible?'

"Fire safety is a complex problem that encompasses issues as diverse as structural behaviour, toxicology or water management. The specific problems involved require time and length-scale resolutions."

Urban development and accompanying infrastructure, he pointed out, should be designed and maintained in a sustainable way.

"Much effort has been made on understanding energy management, life cycles, environmental sustainability and the economic drivers and deterrents to these policies. In contrast, the role of safety (in specific, fire safety) as a threat to the sustainability of communities has been largely ignored," the professor explained.

Torero's research works were on fire dynamics, flame spread, microgravity research, smouldering combustion, suppression systems and contaminated land among others.

He was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and awarded the Arthur B Guise Medal by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (USA) in 2008, for recognition of eminent achievement in advancing the science of fire protection.

He is also chair of the Fire & Safety Working Group at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) and vice-chair of the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS).

 Tex from Timesofindia,com:

Tear down a building if you must. Wouldn’t you rather save lives?

Manasi Paresh Kumar
Posted On Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 04:59:58 AM

Jose Torero, who was on the investigating team of the WTO collapse and is a consultant to many govts on fire safety, tells us how we can make the city more safe. Two other civil engineers give his global views a local spin
With fire safety now a raging topic, the visit of Jose Torero, professor of fire safety engineering at the University of Edinburgh, to the Indian Institute of Science is timely. Torero who was on the investigating team of World Trade Center collapse, has been a consultant to many governments on fire safety. We engage him in a tete-a-tete along with two other civil engineers from the Association of Consulting Civil Engineers – M S Sudharashan and M U Ashwath – who put his global views in an Indian perspective.
BM: How safe is Bangalore when it comes to fire safety?
Jose Torero:
Well, I haven’t been around Bangalore that much during this visit so it would be difficult to give a number. But let me put it this way – when technical growth exceeds the city’s ability to respond to it, it will create a problem. This certainly is the case in Bangalore which has a simple history and a very innovative future.

M S Sudharshan: For example, the two tallest buildings in Bangalore, Utility Building and Visvesvaraya Towers, did not have a decent fire exit plan till a few years ago and neither did the city have the expertise to deal with a fire in either of them. Now, with every building competing to be better technically, we are not really sure if we can respond to this demand for better safety facilities. How safe Bangalore really is is anybody’s guess.

Since prevention is better than a cure, how can we plug the loopholes during construction?
In an ideal situation, you have a fire safety expert on the panel of engineers when a building is being built. But since that is not possible, the only other way to do it is to ensure that the city administration has the expertise. You have experts to ensure that the building by-laws are followed and another set who do regular checks to ensure they are working. There is no other way.

Ashwath M U: A Carlton Tower could have been avoided if the administration checked repeatedly on safety measures. Now, after the fire department’s NOC (in the case of highrise buildings) you don’t go back to check if they are working after six months. You ask the BBMP or the BDA and they say, they don’t have the expertise to do these checks. The fire department says they don’t have the authority to do these checks. Who then is to be held responsible for the nine people who died in the Carlton fire?

So with no expertise, how do we address this situation? Can international consultants help?
First, the city cannot shrug off its responsibility. If you are giving permissions, you better have the ability to check. Second, I don’t think that foreign consultants are the answer because they cannot give you tailormade solutions to local problems. You would only make them richer. Have your inhouse experts to deal with the issue so you can rely on them during the administration’s periodic checks. Third, you currently have the fire department giving NOCs for fire safety. While they need to be involved, they are essentially trained to put out a fire. You need to have an engineering wing to deal with this issue.

AMU: Explain to me how a safety expert from the UK will be able to give you solutions for the cramped quarters of Avenue Road, where commercial activity of every kind takes place.

Talk of implementing the law is all very well but how practical is this solution in the Indian scenario where the builder lobby is so powerful?
Well, you need to have the will to change what is wrong. There was a fire in Peru, which killed 600. The situation was worse than what you tell me of your city. It was a disorganised city that had more powerful land mafia. Yet, the government drew up rules to take them on as safety was important.

MSS: If you want to keep your people safe, you need to make decisions. The rules allow the fire safety department to get involved if the building is over 15m tall. What about schools, hospitals or even smaller apartment blocks?

So, the occupancy intent should be the base of fire safety?
Absolutely. How can you not bring schools in the gambit? Understand this, everything can be made safer. If the building is old, you can modernise its structure, if the building is new, look into the future. If it absolutely cannot be changed, you have to tear it down. Weigh your options: Who would you rather save – human lives or bricks and mortar?


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