Decision problem structuring method for the specification and selection of active fire protection systems

The UK along with the EU has witnessed a recent proliferation of designs for potential active fire suppression systems for the mitigation of fire risks in buildings and equipment; from five in 1986 (BSI, 1986) to eleven in 2011 (BSI, 2011a). However, each technology remains limited to the protection of certain types of application only, rather than offering a solution to guard against all possible hazards. This trend occurs at the same time as a transition from prescriptive to performance based standards and against the backdrop of the current nonprescriptive regulatory frameworks including the Building Regulations (HMSO, 2010), The Regulatory (fire) Reform Order (HMSO, 2005) and associated guidance (Approved Documents, standards, codes of practice and guides). Hazards can be difficult to assess and describe and the inequality or absence of satisfactory methods is notable in many recently published guidance documents. Active fire protection systems are installed to meet legislative requirements (to protect life), and / or when identified as appropriate by a cost-benefit analysis (e.g. to achieve risk reduction for business resilience purposes or to historic assets). There are many guidance documents available to assist users and designers in choosing and specifying appropriate active fire protection. These documents vary in age, relevance, scope, quality, impartiality and suitability. The Fire Protection Association (FPA) and several leading insurers who participate in its risk management work, have identified the requirement for assistance with the decision making process of analysing fire hazards and matching them to appropriate candidate systems, in order to make informed and impartial recommendations. This has led to the undertaking of a four year research project aimed at developing a decision problem structuring method and a software tool (Expert System), for the specification and selection of Active Fire Protection Systems. The research aim is to develop a tool that will assist users in making an informed selection of a system that is likely to best suit their needs and thereby contribute to overall improvements in fire safety and outcomes. This paper presents a summary of the work to date, focusing on the demand for the work, development of the methodology and practical application of the emerging Expert System.