Guest Column - March 2013
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Design Corner

Stadium Safety
Designing for Fire Safety in Major Stadiums

By Lee Coates

Further complicating matters is that people will generally finish what they're doing. If they're on a concourse buying food, they'll often complete that purchase before deciding whether to evacuate. The most compelling example of this, although not stadium-related, was during the Kings Cross railway station fire in London in 1987, which killed 31 people. In that tragedy, many passengers stepped over fire hoses to reach elevators taking them underground for their trains. That's what they were at Kings Cross to do, and a seemingly-innocuous fire wasn't going to stop them. In the retail sector, research suggests that people would rather first go to the check-out to purchase goods rather than immediately evacuate the building.

More specific to stadiums, patrons will often seek to reunite with family members or friends. For example, if one family member is away from their seat when an alarm sounds—perhaps that same patron buying food on a concourse—they will often go back to their seat to find others in their party before making any decision to evacuate.

It adds up to a delayed flight time that the stadium's design and evacuation procedures must address. In buildings research, as much as two-thirds of the time it takes people to exit a building after an alarm is startup time—time wasted in looking for more information, or not taking the alarm seriously.

Stadiums do, of course, have the advantage of having PA systems and a scoreboard on which information can be posted. However, human psychology is also at work, and the passive fire measures employed in the stadium's design must also factor in a delayed evacuation response.

That's why modern steel glazing systems are so important, either for the exterior envelope of the stadium or for internal screens and fire doors. With advanced glazing systems able to provide up to 120 minutes of protection against the spread of fire, smoke or toxic gases, they have become an integral part of modern stadium design, giving people more than enough time to evacuate and protecting escape routes along the way. Those escape routes become more significant for the elderly, infirm or disabled who will typically need more time to evacuate.

However, one word of caution. In many instances, untested combinations of glass and frame are still being specified separately—despite the fact that, in a fire situation, the glass will only be as good as its framing system, and vice versa. Insisting on tested, and therefore proven, compatibility, and specifying it as a requirement of the tendering process, should be a matter of course.

Stadium design has come a long way in the past few decades, driven by new regulations to deliver a new generation of safer stadiums. But it's also a tragedy that it's taken catastrophe to make it happen.

Lee Coates is technical director for Wrightstyle and reports on fire safety in stadiums. Wrightstyle is a leading UK-based steel glazing company that has supplied fire-rated systems internationally to several Olympic, FIFA and other major stadiums. In the United States, the company works in partnership with Hope's Windows Inc. For more information, visit