Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Kathy A. Notarianni, Department Head

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Brian J. Meacham, Advisor


Russ Thomas, Nicholas A. Dembsey




Review of decades of worldwide experience using standards, codes and guidelines related to performance-based fire protection design for buildings has identified shortcomings in the interpretation, application and implementation of the performance-based design process, wide variation in the resulting levels of performance achieved by such designs, and several opportunities to enhance the process. While others have highlighted shortcomings in the past, as well as some ideas to enhance the process, it is proposed that a more fundamental change is needed. First, the political and technical components of the process need to be clearly delineated to facilitate better analysis and decision-making within each component. Second, the process needs to be changed from one which focuses only on fire safety systems to one which views buildings, their occupants and their contents as integrated systems. In doing so, the activities associated with the normal operation of a building and how they might be impacted by the occurrence of a fire event become clearer, as do mitigation options which account for the behaviors and activities associated with normal use. To support these changes, a new framework for a risk-informed performance-based process for fire protection design is proposed: one which is better integrated than current processes, that treats a fire event as a disruptive event of a larger and more complex "building-occupant" system, and that provides more specific guidance for engineering analysis with the aim to achieve more complete and consistent analysis. This Ph.D. Dissertation outlines the challenges with the existing approaches, presents the "building-occupant" system paradigm, illustrates how viewing fire (or any other hazard) as a disruptive event within an holistic "building-occupant" system can benefit the overall performance of this system over its lifespan, and outlines a framework for a risk-informed performance-based process for fire protection design. Case studies are used to illustrate shortcomings in the existing processes and how the proposed process will address these. This Dissertation also includes a plan of action needed to establish guidelines to conduct each of the technical steps of the process and briefly introduces the future work about how this plan could be practically facilitated via a web-platform as a collaborative environment.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Fire Protection Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





building performance, performance-based design, fire protection engineering