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Hotelier, insurer tap university


Marriott International Inc. is collaborating with the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute to simulate guests' hotel room use to make real safety improvements.

Separately, Factory Mutual Insurance Co.--which has its own world-renowned fire technology laboratory where it simulates large-building conflagrations--began working recently with institute for research that complements FM Global's own resources.

The approaches show two distinct ways of working with a university to advance building safety and fire suppression. The College Park, Md.-based MFRI is known for studies into fire and heat transference, fire modeling, burn injuries, and smoke movement and toxicity.

FM Global works with the MFRI and other fire research universities for "fundamental research" into topics such as chemical reactions that cause things to burn, said Lou Gritzo, vp and manager of research for FM Global in Norwood, Mass. The insurer uses the information to advance its own testing of how a customer's products or facilities might burn.

"The number of challenges we have with our clients is very broad," Mr. Gritzo said. "So we take advantage of the (university) research."

Doctoral and master's degree candidates performing the research also provide a pool of future employees for FM Global, Mr. Gritzo said.

Marriott, meanwhile, narrows its life safety research focus to issues posing significant business challenges for a large number of its hotels or future property developments, said Bradley R. Wood, senior vp-risk management for the Bethesda, Md.-based hospitality company.

Marriott's risk management department must be judicious in deploying its resources, Mr. Wood said.

Yet Marriott's innovations have spread beyond its properties. In the 1980s, for instance, it pioneered using plastic sprinkler pipes that eventually were adopted into building codes nationwide.

More recently, Marriott worked with MFRI to adapt a mist system for fire suppression that requires less water and smaller pipes than typical sprinklers. Similar technology can now be found aboard cruise ships, Mr. Wood said.