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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

6th International Symposium on Tunnel Safety and Security (ISTSS)

I attended the 6th International Symposium on Tunnel Safety and Security last week (Wed 12th to Friday 14th March 2014). The venue was the 'World Trade Centre' in Marseille, France. Despite the number in the title, this was actually the 7th in a series of tunnel safety conferences organised by SP, the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute, and the 5th of them that I'd attended. The conferences are held approximately every second year and the next will be in Canada in March 2016.

I attended the original "Catastrophic Fires" symposium  (2003, Borås) as well as the 3rd (2008, Stockholm), 4th (2010; Frankfurt) and 5th (2012; New York) ISTSS gatherings. This conference, like the last few, was attended by well over 200 delegates from all around the globe, although the majority this time came from European countries. In general I found the presentations, discussions and debates at this conference better and more engaging than at either of the last two.

At previous conferences, the topic of water spray systems for fire protection and suppression was considered to be a 'niche' area, sometimes relegated to the smaller parallel session. That was not the case this time, with the 'Fixed Fire Fighting Systems' (FFFS) session being in the main room on the first morning of the conference. The opening keynote address by Magnus Arvidson from SP proposed a new set of 'performance objectives' for a standard test of the capabilities of water spray systems for tunnels. Much of what he said paralleled my keynote presentation on "Mitigation of Tunnel Fires" from the NYC conference 2 years ago, but some of the objectives he discussed appeared (to me at least) to imply a bias in the standard against water mist systems. Other presentations on FFFS were a mixed bag containing details of some new tests I wasn't previously aware of, through to some doubtful claims about the capabilities of computational fluid dynamics models like FDS being able to accurately predict the suppression effects of sprinklers on vehicle fires.

The "Fire Dynamics" session had some interesting stuff in it too, perhaps the most worrying of which was the presentation by Norm Alvares where he showed how easy it is to ignite vehicle tyres, and how hard they are to extinguish with water sprays.

But for me, the highlight of day 1 was the demonstration smoke test in the nearby Prado-Carénage Tunnel. The test was a demonstration of the capabilities of their ventilation system, which was quite impressive. Despite a naturally windy location, the system is able to control ventilation in the tunnel, so that if there is a fire in the tunnel, the airflow can be reduced to zero at the fire location, while smoke is extracted on either side of that location.

On day 2 of the conference I spent most of the day in the 'Ventilation' session as I was chairing the session in the morning and speaking in the afternoon. I have a particularly biased view of this session as my paper "Rediscovering the Throttling Effect" was awarded 'best paper' at the conference dinner. A video of my presentation is given below.



The other papers in the session were generally interesting and contained a good mix of experimental and modelling studies. It is clear, however, that we are still as obsessed with 'backlayering' as we were over a decade ago. I caught the final few talks in the 'Risk Analysis' session, and these were also interesting, some of them daring to ask questions about ethical issues and the value of human lives.

Photo thanks to Mia Kumm, Mälardalen University
The conference dinner was a good end to day 2 and featured singing by members of the SP team as well as awards for the best poster, the best paper and the ISTSS 'Achievement Award' which was given to Dr Yajue Wu from Sheffield University. An after dinner speech was given by Arnold Dix where he commended, amongst other things, the papers that took seriously the ethical issues of fire and life safety in tunnels. He also urged the delegates to share knowledge, in particular with developing countries - a message which was well received, but only time will tell if its actually applied.

The final day seemed slightly muted compared to the previous two, although there were still some interesting debates following Peter Johnson's claim that suppression systems do not hinder egress in tunnels. In the other session, there were some good presentations on passive fire protection and structural issues, with the 'mobile furnace' presented by CETU and CSTB being an interesting innovation. Following lunch, the day closed with a few presentations of case studies, including the worlds longest undersea tunnel project in Norway.

And then it was over. All in all it was a good conference, in a good location with some interesting presentations. I'm not a great fan of 'networking lunches' and the poster session was not given the prominence it deserved, but aside from those two minor niggles, this was an enjoyable and well organised conference. I look forward to the next one in Canada...
Ricky Carvel

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