Author(s): Ron Cote. Published on July 1, 2014.

NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, is much like a tool box of instruments used by tradesmen. In the case of assembly occupancies, the tradesmen are the facility operators who utilize life safety systems to protect building occupants.

The protection of the large crowds that occupy some assembly venues, such as concert halls, arenas, and stadiums, relies heavily on two specialized life safety tools. One is trained crowd managers, the people with the words “Guest Services” emblazoned across their backs and who patrons may not recognize as important components of life safety. The other tool, one that remains out of sight of assembly patrons, is the life safety evaluation, or LSE, an assessment that is critically important for venue safety. The 2015 edition of the Life Safety Code will include changes designed to make the LSE even more effective.

The Life Safety Code requires that an LSE be performed for assembly occupancies under any of three conditions: where the occupant load exceeds 6,000 persons, where indoor festival seating (i.e., a form of general admission) is used for more than 250 persons, or where a reduction in egress path sizing occurs for a special arrangement known as smoke-protected assembly seating. These assembly venues, in addition to requiring an LSE, must be provided with one crowd manager for every 250 occupants. The LSE is performed with the idea that crowd managers can act to mitigate some of the conditions of concern.

The provisions for the LSE were added to the code in 1994. Since its inception, the LSE has been required to include an assessment of conditions specific to the assembly venue and the related, appropriate safety features provided in response to those conditions. Conditions not traditionally associated with fire protection require assessment and include the following: the nature of the events accommodated in the venue, including purpose (e.g., sports contest, religious meeting, etc.), seating practices, crowd density, and intra-event movement; occupant characteristics and behavior, including physical capabilities, familiarity with the venue or similar events, use of alcohol, and potential group conflicts (e.g., rival gangs); and the relationships among facility management, event participants, emergency response agencies, and others having a role in the events accommodated in the facility.

Historically, the LSE was performed, approved by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), updated for special or unusual conditions as needed, and presented to the AHJ for re-approval on a yearly basis. The LSE was lacking in that it did not tie together the physical elements and how the facility was to be managed at the time the facility was designed and built. This weakness is being remedied.

For the 2015 edition of the Life Safety Code, a new assembly venue subject to the LSE will be assessed prior to construction to ensure that the needed physical elements are part of the design. Also, facility management will be evaluated prior to building occupancy. The new LSE provisions will facilitate better communication among the designers and those who manage the facilities after construction. The goal is to provide managers with safety systems that are compatible with actual building use.

The LSE and its updated provisions illustrate the comprehensiveness of the code that makes it the resource for fire and life safety in new and existing buildings. The code provides the tools necessary for protecting an occupancy as complicated as an assembly venue with large occupant load, and it also provides, via a less complicated tool set, the life safety needed in less demanding settings. With this in mind, enjoy your next visit to a ball park or other large assembly venue.

Ron Coté, P.E., is principal life safety engineer at NFPA.