Fire Risk Analysis
Risk has always been a part of human endeavor, but we increasingly expect protection against risk, thus governments around the world are mandating risk analysis in areas of health and safety. Computations of the odds of harm are becoming a powerful force in decisions about activities involving risk. These decisions have here-to-fore been largely politically based, but we are learning to debate from a more scientific and quantitative perspective.
The Fire Safety Concepts Tree is a logic diagram that spans the entire realm of fire safety measures. The Fire Safety Institute produced the original guide to the Tree. The current document is available from
What is Risk?
Risk is generically defined as the uncertainty of loss. Fire loss is usually measured as number of deaths or dollars of property damage, but includes significant intangible losses such as business interruption, mission failure, degradation of the environment, and destruction of irreplaceable cultural artifacts.
- The concept of safety itself is one of uncertainty. Absolute safety does not exist. Human activity will always and unavoidably involve risks. The concept of fire is also uncertain. Unwanted combustion is perhaps the least predictable common physical phenomenon. Reliability of manufactured or fabricated systems for fire suppression and confinement is another source of uncertainty or risk. To make meaningful decisions regarding these risks, it is necessary that they be analyzed.
- Fire safety most often relies on empiricism and intuitive heuristics to make decisions. Increasing computational capabilities and modeling techniques from fields such as decision analysis, management science, operations research, and systems safety now allow us to identify the framework or structure of our decision making process, with varying levels of mathematical sophistication.
What is Fire Risk Analysis?
Fire Risk Analysis is a generic phrase that covers many approaches to decision making about the uncertainties of losses from fire. Within this general structure are techniques for both qualitative and quantitative fire risk analysis. The approach may be as simple as a check list of fire safety features or it may involve mathematically complex probabilistic analysis. Application is variable according to the nature of the risks or hazards involved and according to the experience of the analyst. Each application needs individually to consider the level of mathematical sophistication appropriate to meet objectives.
Section 5, “Fire Risk Analysis”, of the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering is co-edited by FSI Director Jack Watts for which he received the SFPE Director’s Award in 1988 and a Special Commendation in 1995. He also has authored three chapters in the Fire Risk Analysis Section of the Handbook. The Handbook is available at www.sfpe.org.
The Fire Safety Institute strives to define and improve the relationships among fire risk analysis, fire modeling, fire risk management, and fire protection engineering. Our purpose here is to enhance the application of fire risk analysis so that it provides an efficient and effective approach to finding solutions to fire safety problems and for selecting among alternative actions or designs.
The Director, Jack Watts, has over 40 years experience in fire risk assessment. His post-graduate education provided a background in risk decision-making that has been carried through his professional work experience. He is active in several groups that are developing or documenting approaches to fire risk analysis:
- NFPA – National Fire Protection Association, Technical Committee on Fire Risk Assessment
- SFPE - Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Fire Risk Assessment Task Group
Jack Watts is a co-author of the new book Evaluation of Fire Safety, published by John Wiley. This book is a timely and comprehensive treatment of the quantitative approaches that comprise fire safety engineering. It describes in detail the applications of hazard and risk analysis to fire safety, going on to develop and apply quantification methods. It also gives an explanation in quantitative terms of improvements in fire safety in association with the costs that are expended in their achievement. For more information on this book ...