Sports, entertainment venues: Fire and life safety

Sports arenas and entertainment facilities involve complex engineering solutions. Fire and life safety topics are discussed by five consulting engineers.


Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis. Courtesy: McClure EngineeringDouglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada. Courtesy: Clark County, NevadaBill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Syska Hennessey GroupKevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas. Courtesy: Henderson EngineersBruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Arup

Participants (left to right):

Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis

Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada

Bill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles

Kevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas

Bruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles 

CSE: What unique fire suppression systems have you specified or designed in sports and entertainment venues?

Larwood: A few unique fire suppression systems we’ve collaborated on include a water cannon for an outdoor exhibit space and a deluge system to protect structural steel, which eliminated the need for fire-proofing.

McKinlay: Smoke management and containment, smoke venting on stadium/arena with closed roofs, ability to open roofs, and backup/emergency power.

Henderson Engineers recently completed renovation of the University of South Florida’s arena in Tampa; the team’s goals on the $32 million project (with U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver aspirations) included engineering for the mechanical, electricEvans: When the ceiling height becomes excessive, automatic sprinkler protection is less apt to provide the protection intended. Although the actual height where this becomes an issue is not well established, a reasonable value is around 50 ft. The actual height will depend on fire size, air movement, and effectiveness of the sprinkler droplets to penetrate the plume and provide the necessary cooling. Eighteen-wheeled semis are allowed to drive inside some of the multi-use facilities on the Las Vegas Strip to load and unload. Multi-story trade show booths, boat and RV shows, as well as some concert venues can create a fire exceeding 18 MW. As the ceiling height continues to increase (upwards of 75 ft), there is little to no assurance sprinklers will perform as intended, and deluge-type suppression systems have been incorporated into some of the Strip venues. Manually operated water cannons have also been used. These types of suppression systems place more burden on the designers and owners and must only be incorporated with extreme caution.

CSE: With regard to mass notification and emergency communication systems, what code changes do you anticipate in the near future?

Cooper: Intelligibility of voice communications will likely be better addressed, and better guidelines for enforcement and verification of intelligibility will be provided to the local inspector.

Evans: With increased occupant loads and reduced egress widths, it becomes more prudent to use mass notification and emergency communication systems. Coordination by facility management becomes an absolute necessity. Among other aspects, this will include CCTV and trained staff.

McKinlay: All stadiums should have voice activated and managed evacuation. High-quality acoustic systems for both emergency and general information are also important.

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