How the FM Global Research Campus helps businesses manage risk in increasingly complex times. In 2021, the risk landscape is becoming more complex and difficult to manage with each day – a fact fire safety professionals across the globe are keenly aware of. Fire risk is certainly not going away, as every year it is one of the most damaging risks commercial property facilities face. Generally, the past year has shown us all that it is those companies that take resilience seriously, making a significant investment in mitigating measures, that tend to fare best.
As one of the largest commercial property insurers in the world, every day we work closely with our clients to help them become more resilient. Preventing a risk and the associated loss should always be the first line of defence, rather than relying on insurance after experiencing a devastating event – much better to prevent the devastation in the first place.
At the heart of this approach is the scientific research and product testing we conduct at our state-of-the-art FM Global Research Campus in Rhode Island, USA. We started conducting full-scale fire testing there in the late 1960s and as property risk increased for the businesses we insure, so did the size of the Campus. The work conducted at the Campus has effectively helped professionals in the fire protection community understand how best to prevent fires from impacting organisations across the globe for generations.
Today the Campus covers 1,600 acres (equivalent to 648 hectares or 1,600 football pitches!), to develop solutions that prevent or minimize damage from fires, explosions, equipment failure and natural hazards. Away from fire testing, the Campus encompasses labs that address natural hazards, electrical hazards and gas detection – with highly specialised scientists, engineers and technicians developing and validating solutions to mitigate against physical risk and business interruption. Each of these labs was designed with our clients’ needs in mind, tailored to the specific risks their property and equipment may be facing.
The Campus is one of the most established and innovative testing sites of its kind in the world, representing the largest investment in loss prevention any private company has ever made.
Managing fire risk
Much of the scientific research conducted at the Campus addresses fire risk, as year after year it is the most frequent cause of commercial property loss globally and when not properly addressed can have tragic consequences. The 2017 Grenfell tragedy brought this issue to mainstream awareness in the UK, demonstrating to society how vital it is that buildings are designed to withstand a fire.
The lessons from the tragedy hold firm for both residential and commercial property management. The fire safety community should continue to promote cost-effective solutions to protect the integrity of facilities and the staff and equipment potentially housed inside. The FM Global Research Campus helps relevant executives across a wide variety of industries with this process, as our engineers leverage the research conducted at the Campus to develop tailored recommendations.
Fire Technology Laboratory
Covering over 10,000m2, the Fire Technology Laboratory is at the centre of FM Global’s Research Campus. It is the largest facility of its type in the world. Due to the huge scale of the facility, our scientists, engineers and technicians are able to truly replicate many types of properties and the warehouse-size fires that can threaten them. The lab has two 24x24m movable ceilings that allow for the replication of multiple storage configurations as the ceilings are able to go as high as 18.3m. This lab, and complementary numerical fire models, allows researchers to study the impact of a full-scale fire on equipment or stored goods to learn what happens if, for instance, the right type and layout of sprinklers, or any other fire protection system are or aren’t fitted. New and innovative systems are also being tested, with the goal of reducing the cost, and increasing the effectiveness of fire protection.
This laboratory also houses an advanced humidity control system that ensures each test is consistent, circulating air and removing up to one ton of water per hour prior to test time. The lab is also equipped with a closed-loop water system to allow for continuous cleaning and recycling to take place. We’re extremely proud of the environmental controls the Campus has in place, as we utilise the most environmentally friendly technology possible.
Our science-based approach also helps FM Approvals, a business unit of FM Global, test and certify fire protection products and materials at the Campus. Equipment and materials are tested to ensure they meet the most rigorous property loss prevention standards and will perform as intended. For example, a new type of system will be tested to measure if it works to control or supress a fire and minimize loss.
Both wet and dry labs also allow engineers to conduct different hydraulic, mechanical and environmental tests on fire protection devices. The aim of these tests is often to verify fire protection products meet the highest standards for quality, technical integrity and performance.
If organisations are going to potentially thrive in the post-pandemic world, senior executives should strive to form a collaborative relationship with the fire safety professionals in their organisations. This can allow them to truly appreciate how potentially vulnerable their businesses are to damaging fires and how critically important investing in resilience is in 2021. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending the world on safety measures – some solutions can be incredibly simple (e.g. storing empty pallets, which may pose a significant fire threat, outside and away from a building).
No matter the costs, the FM Global Research Campus can help those in the fire protection community guide their organisations towards fire safety. Often business leaders struggle to envisage risk unless they have experienced an incident first-hand. The FM Global Research Campus is just one way of countering this thinking, enabling business leaders, risk and facility managers, and even code officials and fire protection agencies, to observe and ‘pre-experience’ a replicated disaster in a controlled setting. When they feel the heat and the force of a fire at our Research Campus, we find they are quickly converted to wanting to do all that’s within their control to mitigate risk and prepare for the potential impact of a fire event.
For more information, go to www.fmglobal.co.uk