National Research Council Canada-NRC

National Research Council Canada-NRC

October 31, 2006 09:00 ET

NRC Sheds Light on Building Safety: Researchers Look at New Ways to Evacuate Buildings in Emergency Situations

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Oct. 31, 2006) - The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in collaboration with Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) recently tested the effectiveness of a new fire safety system at an office tower in downtown Ottawa. Their research involved photoluminescent material (PLM) that glows in the dark, helping occupants safely evacuate a building without power or one filled with dense smoke.

PLM can store energy from natural and artificial light and becomes highly visible in darkness. In this test, PLM was used in the signs on walls, floors, stairs and handrail in different stairwells of the building. During a surprise fire drill, employees were videotaped going down the stairwells to help NRC researchers measure their movement time and ability to find destinations.

"Projects such as this one are good examples of the importance of government labs and our commitment to the safety of Canadians," said Dr. Pierre Coulombe, NRC President. "Over the course of its 90 year history, NRC has built a tradition of translating science and technology into value for Canadians."

"Our research in photoluminescent wayguidance helps us understand human behaviour in life-threatening situations. This knowledge can be used to improve and develop safety standards, codes and guidelines. What we learn will not only improve the safety of Canadians but also lead to applications worldwide." said Mr. Robert Bowen, Director General at NRC.

NRC fire researchers have established a worldwide reputation for their work in human behaviour during fire emergencies. They were invited to participate in the investigation of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing where several thousands office workers evacuated the building in total darkness. Following their recommendations, a PLM wayguidance system was installed in all the stairwells of the complex. This installation proved invaluable during the 2001 attacks. It is now a requirement to have such an installation in all highrise office buildings in New York City.

In collaboration with the Office of the Fire Marshall of Ontario, NRC researchers conducted a study of occupant behaviour during a fire that took place in an Ottawa high-rise condominium building. The results of the study are being used to develop recommendations for improving fire safety in high-rise buildings and defining better evacuation procedures.

More recently, the NRC's services were retained to help with the investigation of the 2003 Chicago office building fire that killed six office workers. Their human behaviour study included several recommendations that have been implemented by the City of Chicago. Although building codes and fire safety procedures might be different from those found in our country, the research findings are relevant and can be used for fire safety planning across Canada.

Different photoluminescent wayguidance installations have never been tested with large groups of human subjects during an evacuation. Over the next few months, NRC researchers will be analyzing the data collected during the Ottawa office building fire drill and results will be used to establish standards for PLM installations that are efficient in guiding occupants in high-rise buildings during an evacuation.

Recognized globally for research and innovation, Canada's National Research Council (NRC) is a leader in the development of an innovative, knowledge-based economy for Canada through science and technology.

Contact Information

  • National Research Council of Canada
    Sarah Mangione
    Communications Advisor
    613-990-6091 or Cell: 613-614-3188
    National Research Council of Canada
    Institute for Research in Construction
    Sylvie Dostaler, Communications Officer