In the wake of the catastrophic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, an official at the Washington National Cathedral stressed new fire alarms, sprinklers and life safety protection systems are being added to the structure in D.C., at a cost of $3.4 million.
Sprinklers currently exist in 80 percent of the National Cathedral's public assembly and storage areas. The new project will add coverage to the remaining 20 percent - largely older sections constructed during decades of less stringent fire codes.
But officials conceded the cathedral still needs to raise $2.2 million from private donors, in order to add sprinklers to the older parts of the structure. The disclosure has not been previously reported.
The first of three phases is now underway, in order to improve fire and emergency systems throughout the landmark. The initial $1.2 million phase will include new emergency lighting and fire alarms.
Sprinklers will be added during the second phase. Yet the timetable for completion is open-ended, dependent upon how quickly the cathedral can raise necessary funds.
Officials said the National Cathedral passed its most recent fire safety inspection administered by the District of Columbia in 2017, with a biennial inspection slated for later this year.
James W. Shepherd, director of preservation at the cathedral, stressed scaffolding high on the central tower after the August 2011 Virginia earthquake is still in place to support masonry - it is not an area of current construction or active restoration.
Cellphones and television cameras captured the Notre Dame fire appearing to begin within scaffolding below the Paris cathedral's spire. The inferno quickly engulfed the entire roof of the world landmark, with the fire continuing to burn hours later.
The relatively young age of the National Cathedral at 111 years old makes it more capable of withstanding devastating fire, compared to the fragile materials of Notre Dame at 856 years old.
"Unlike Notre Dame, which has a heavy timber wood structure in their attic, we are a modern cathedral, and used steel, concrete, brick and limestone to build our cathedral," Shepherd said in a call with reporters Monday.
"We are more secure than they are at the risk of fire, just because of the nature of our construction materials. We are putting things in place like fire alarms, emergency lighting, and all of the modern safety code requirements that would highlight and alarm people should there be any kind of fire event."
Nearly eight years after the unusual seismic event centered near Richmond, Va. Shepherd said work to improve the structure is only halfway complete.
The slow pace is largely due to financial considerations, with all funds coming from private donations.
DC’s National Shrine, also called America’s Catholic Church, is facilitating donations and prayer intentions to support Notre Dame and those affected by this tragedy. Learn more about how you can help here.