Send in the engineering troops: Codes and standards

Military facilities present an army of challenges—exacting codes and regulations, stepped-up security issues, and budgetary concerns. Codes compliance is a key area of focus.


Kevin D. Bomboy, PE, LEED AP, Chief mechanical engineer, STV Group, Douglassville, Pa. Courtesy: STV GroupDavid Callan, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, Vice president, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago. Courtesy: McGuire EngineersRobert L. Crance, Mechanical engineer, Black and Veatch, Overland Park, Kansas. Courtesy: Black and VeatchJoseph H. Talbert, PE, ARM, Project manager, Aon Fire Protection Engineering, Lincolnshire, Ill. Courtesy: Aon Fire Protection EngineeringWilliam Valdez, Northwest justice and civic sector leader/principal, DLR Group, Seattle. Courtesy: DLR Group


  • Kevin D. Bomboy, PE, LEED AP, Chief mechanical engineer, STV Group, Douglassville, Pa.
  • David Callan, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, Vice president, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Robert L. Crance, Mechanical engineer, Black & Veatch, Overland Park, Kansas
  • Joseph H. Talbert, PE, ARM, Project manager, Aon Fire Protection Engineering, Lincolnshire, Ill.
  • William Valdez, Northwest justice and civic sector leader/principal, DLR Group, Seattle

CSE: How have changing HVAC, fire protection, life safety, and/or electrical codes and standards affected your work on such structures?

Talbert: Fire protection codes and standards have become more stringent over the past 50 years. This has required the practicing engineer to maintain his/her proficiency in all areas of fire protection, including fire detection and alarm, fire suppression systems, building construction, and exiting facilities.

Crance: Codes and industry standards are updated and revised more frequently, especially those under continuous maintenance. The proponents of the military facility standards are not able to maintain the documents under their direction at this same pace. The result is that code-compliant materials, products, and processes that gain acceptance in the contractor community can be disallowed for use on military facility projects. This has the potential to create an artificial restriction on innovative solutions that can have a positive impact on first cost and lifecycle cost for the project.

Bomboy: Energy codes and compliance with federal regulations for energy savings have affected the MEP system design basis and equipment selection.            

CSE: Which codes and standards prove to be most challenging in military facility work?

Bomboy: All Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC), I3A requirements, and the applicable security standards have to be carefully considered in the design of military facilities. I do not believe a specific group of codes and standards create challenges in providing design services for military facility work. I believe the significant challenge lies in developing the experience and depth of understanding of the UFC and the Unified Facilities Guide Specifications necessary to provide guidance to the design team and to the client's project team to facilitate timely and productive discussion, interpretation, and resolution of criteria conflict or relevance that will at some point have an impact on the ability to support mission or on the first or lifecycle cost of the facility. 

Talbert: The most challenging codes are probably NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. Both of these codes have increased in size and complexity by orders of magnitude in the past 50 years. 

CSE: How does the Dept. of Defense’s (DOD) United Facilities Criteria (UFC) Program impact your work?

Callan: UFC and resources like the Whole Building Design Guide make the work of evaluating construction criteria much simpler. Just having everything in one place is a time saver. The DOD UFC Program often provides the initial compliance path for our projects. For many projects and facility types, the UFC provides specific criteria guidance which supplements requirements established by the usual codes and addresses the special needs of a facility required to support the intended mission. The UFC can require additional analysis or identify system requirements not normally encountered on many commercial projects. Not having a good working knowledge of these requirements can result in understating the level of effort necessary to provide compliant designs, or significant rework and schedule impact for your project.

Talbert: The use of the UFC helps to promote standardization of fire protection for DOD facilities worldwide. It gives a common basis for protection standards.

Bomboy: Engineering staff has to become knowledgeable on the numerous UFCs and accompanying standards, and other directives that are outside the normally used commercial standards. Also, these documents are not static, so staying current as new editions are released is essential. 

CSE: Have you had any experience dealing with such requirements from the General Services Administration (GSA)? If so, can you offer any advice?

Callan: I authored and edited the mechanical and electrical chapters of the 2005 edition of the PBS-P100 for the GSA. That experience taught me a great deal about the challenges facing federal agencies. They have the responsibility of getting it right the first time, and needing it to last 50 years. Add to that the various mandates, and needs to spur innovation, and these projects can be exciting and challenging.

CSE: How do standards issued by NFPA, ASHRAE, and other bodies come into play on such structures?

Talbert: The standards published by NFPA are widely used and have become the best guide for “good practice” in the U.S. and in many parts of the world for fire protection. Industry standards often establish a standard of care expected to be met by the design team. Oftentimes these standards are updated more frequently than the UFC, which leads to conflicts in requirements. A significant role we play on projects is to help our clients learn about the differences and the impact the new standards may have on their projects. Being able to provide an opinion based on a complete understanding of the issues as they relate to meeting project requirements and the ultimate mission of the facility is how we provide increased value through the design review process.

Bomboy: These commercial project standards are often applicable to military facility design by reference within the UFCs and cover topics not addressed in the UFCs. 

Callan: Both ASHRAE and NFPA maintain excellent relationships with federal agencies. Their representatives often serve on standards committees and participate in industry events. I believe it has been a valuable partnership. Any exchange of knowledge pertaining to best practices is useful.

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