Risk-Based Approach – Domino Effect and Escalation Triggered by Fires

Escalation and domino effect triggered by fires is a well-known phenomenon that has caused past severe accidents in the process industry. This paper proposes a risk-based approach for domino effect analysis by combining Exceedance Curves (ECs) with Thermal Stress Dynamic Analysis (TSDA). ECs such as Heat Flux Exceedance Curves (HFECs) are constructed and used for the identification of target equipment that may be impacted by heat flow received from primary industrial fires. Given a target frequency, the corresponding thermal flow is identified and can be used to screen equipment from further consideration. Otherwise, further analysis is conducted to estimate the Time to Failure (TTF), which is the available time for mitigation. A case study is developed for illustrative purposes. Additionally, the effectivity of certain mitigation measures such as fire-proof insulation is discussed and simulated to predict a new, longer TTF which allows more time to extinguish the fire and minimizes the possibility of escalation and domino effect due to fires.


Three concepts should be clearly understood when assessing a domino accident: (1) primary event, (2) secondary target and (3) secondary scenario. A primary event is defined as the accident scenario of concern and its final outcomes are expressed in Secterms of physical effect such as thermal radiation or overpressure. Secondary targets are equipment items that may be damaged by the primary event and, if damaged, the associated secondary scenarios have the potential to cause final outcomes escalating the primary event.

Fire assessments addressing escalation can be performed by following two different approaches: (1) a consequence-based approach that only considers the worst credible event, or (2) a risk-based approach that considers both the consequence and the frequency values that characterize the associated risk level [1]. Detailed information on risk-based quantitative assessment development can be found in references [1], [2], [3], [4], [5] and [6].

After the risk-based assessment is conducted, the results for thermal radiation are used to construct Heat Flux Exceedance Curves (HFECs) at a target location, which properly identify equipment impacted with a high thermal radiation at a cumulative frequency [6]. Based on the HFECs, the heat flux at certain cumulative frequency threshold is determined. If the heat flux impacting the target location is greater than a certain selected value for escalation, an advanced Dynamic Thermal Stress Analysis (DTSA) is conducted to calculate the Time to Failure (TTF) of the equipment. The TTF is the time between the fire start and the rupture of the vessel due to the fire.

Despite the large number of possible fire events, few categories of industrial fires are relevant for escalation leading to domino effect, such as jet fires and pool fires. Further explanation on the types of fires and damage criteria can be found in references [4] and [7].

Table 01 classifies the different fires identified in the process industry, showing escalation criteria based on the heat load received by the target [9].

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