International conference on structural fire engineering at Michigan State

MSU News, May 25 2010

Structural fire engineering remains one of the least-developed areas of engineering research today – even though there has been an increased focus on it following the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.

“If we want to have rational, cost-effective engineering design, it’s critical that we develop new technologies and have a fundamental understanding about how systems behave under fire,” said Venkatesh Kodur, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Michigan State University’s Structural Fire Testing Facility.

That’s why MSU will host the Sixth International Conference on Structures in Fire June 2-4 at MSU’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.

The conference will include the latest research findings in the field, related to both structures and materials, said conference director Kodur. It will draw experts from academia, industry, government, manufacturing and government regulatory organizations. More than 200 individuals from more than 35 countries are expected to attend. About 125 technical papers on various aspects of structural fire safety will be presented at the conference.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, there were 1.5 million fires in the United States in 2008. Of these, 35.5 percent were structure fires.

“The buildings and bridges that we build don’t consider fire as a design parameter,” Kodur said. “We design for earthquakes, wind, blasts, hurricanes and snow loads – but we don’t design for fire. We should be doing everything we can to improve the safety of our buildings.”

Some of the new, emerging materials used to build structures like homes and bridges are less fire resistant than the conventional materials in use 50 years ago, said Kodur, who is one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of fire on materials and structural systems. He was also part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency/American Society of Civil Engineers Building Performance Assessment Team that investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center.

In 2007, Kodur initiated, led and co-chaired a National Science Foundation-funded National Workshop on Structures and Fire held on MSU’s campus. The goal of that program was to develop long-term research and training guidelines. Seventy scientists and professionals from around the world attended, ranging from New York City firefighters, to representatives from concrete and steel industries, to fire-protection consulting companies, to academics from universities across the United States and abroad. That workshop helped kick-start some of the research under way at several U.S. universities today. Since then, MSU has become internationally recognized in the area of structural fire engineering.

“Since joining MSU in 2005, Venkatesh has done much to put MSU and the College of Engineering on the map in this field,” said Satish Udpa, dean of the College of Engineering. “Now, as he brings this international conference to MSU, he again reinforces our leadership in high-quality programs in the areas of safety and security.”

This is the first time this conference will be held in the United States. The first five were held in Denmark, New Zealand, Canada, Portugal and Singapore.