The Society for Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) commissioned a survey in February 2009 to determine what Americans believed to be the most important building feature. The survey, which polled over one thousand American adults, revealed that building security remained a top priority for Americans when it came to building features. Other features on the list of important characteristics included comfort, fire safety, environmental friendliness, and other amenities.
Chris Jelenewicz, an engineering program manager at SFPE, said that “the findings are not surprising given the threat from crime and terrorism that we face today.” Approximately 28 percent of respondents said that security was the most important building feature, compared to only 12 percent who said it was fire safety. Many others even ranked features such as comfort and amenities higher than fire safety, a result that is disconcerting to those whose job it is to worry about fire safety in buildings.
The survey showed that while 45 percent of respondents believe that fire will most likely cause harm to them or their family when compared to natural disasters, over 58 percent of respondents said that they worry about the dangers of fire less than once per year. “As a nation, we face widespread misconceptions about fire safety, and that’s worrisome,” said Jelenewicz. “That is why it is important that fire protection engineers devote their careers to protecting people and property from fire.”
The desire for increased building security can also play a role in sacrificing fire safety measures in some public buildings. “Throughout history, the desire for increased building security has contributed to countless deadly building fires,” said Jelenewicz, who cited the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City as an example of building security compromising fire safety. “The locked exit doors contributed to 146 fatalities,” said Jelenewicz. “Although the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred almost 100 years ago, the threat can still exist today if security is not balanced with fire protection.”
For more information, visit www.sfpe.org.