Monthly Archives: June 2016

Flashing signs lead to quicker evacuation

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When evacuation signs start flashing, evacuation takes place more quickly and is more evenly distributed. This has been demonstrated by studies from abroad. And new technology also reduces the big unknown in every evacuation: the response time.

Example: A fire breaks out in an airport terminal. The detection system senses the fire at once and the evacuation signs automatically start to flash. The public address system asks all travellers to leave the terminal via the evacuation routes. However, not all the evacuation signs flash green. Instead, some have a flashing red cross at the top. This is because the fire detection system has registered that the fire has broken out near two of the evacuation routes. And so, to divert the public away from the risk zone, the signs above these evacuation routes flash with a red cross.

Another example: A shopping centre is attacked by armed terrorists. Using fire detection systems, dynamic signage, public address warnings, evacuation simulation programs and video cameras, the shopping centre’s safety officers are able to guide customers and other civilians away from the terrorists and out of the centre, without running into the terrorists’ guns.

Flashing signs tell you to choose a different route
These are imaginary examples, but could easily become reality if the various fire fighting systems were linked together. This is something currently being researched in other countries, for instance in EU-financed projects. These have investigated the effect on evacuation of dynamic evacuation signs – in other words, where the signs flash when the alarm goes off, with a red cross over them if the public needs to choose a different route.

– Experiments show that the public will evacuate more quickly than usual with the dynamic signs, says Lise Olesen, a fire safety consultant at the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI). She continues:

– This isn’t a technology we have seen much of in Denmark. But it could easily be of benefit for evacuating airports or conference halls, where many people are gathered together and are unfamiliar with the escape routes. The same goes for night clubs, where it can be difficult to find your way out and where it is hard to attract people’s attention.

Both the above examples would be possible if the technology was fully implemented and all systems were able to communicate. But complete linkage of all systems is unnecessary for achieving quicker and better evacuation. If just the fire safety systems and the lighting on the evacuation routes lighting can communicate, so that signs will flash when the alarm goes off, this can have a positive effect.

Bringing down response time
Many people don’t notice evacuation signs. Even if we are familiar with the green signs with the stylised icon of a man running towards a door, few people notice them in daily life. We become blind to them – even, unfortunately, when disaster strikes.

– The majority of people will try to escape the same way they came in, without much noticing what the signs say. But if the signs are actually flashing, they attract our attention, and this can lead both to quicker evacuation and less congestion at the main entrance, where most people will typically try to exit, Olesen says.

The flashing sign can also help to bring down the response time – which means the time from when the alarm goes off to when the public start to evacuate the building. Sometimes this can take a considerable period of time.

– When the alarm goes off, there are a number of factors which affect how long people take before they react. Humans are herd animals, so first of all we look to see how other people are reacting. And if you’ve just been served with a steak, you’ll prefer to sit and finish it. After that, you’ll need to find your jacket, your children, your friends or go to the toilet. That is why the response time is the big unknown in an evacuation situation, and dynamic signage can bring down that time, Olesen maintains.

The technology is out there
In rapidly developing fires, every minute counts, so the effect of linking systems and using dynamic signage can be significant.

– Every reduction in response time can potentially save life, and technology provides a number of opportunities for improving safety. This is true of both advanced and simpler solutions, Olesen explains.

It is still uncertain when or how the technology will become widespread but the possibilities are already with us.

– It’s not a question of technology, because we already have what we need to realise the simple solutions. It’s more a question of getting the different systems to cooperate, Olesen says.

Ready for take-off

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The future has reached Dubai where the local emergency response service, Dubai Civil Defence, (DCD) has signed a contract for the acquisition of 20 jetpacks.  When they fly into service during 2016 they will be used in the event of fires in the Emirate’s skyscrapers.

If you are part of the Danish emergency services and police you may well be slightly envious when you look at your colleagues in Dubai. You see, the immensely rich desert emirate is using some of its abundant resources to buy equipment for its emergency response services. Thus, since 2013, the police have been able to pursue criminals in such makes of car as Lamborghini, Ferrari, Merecedes SLS AMG and Aston Martin. And in 2014 they even considered buying a Lotus Evora and Ford Mustang for the emirate’s paramedics – but nothing came of it in the end.

Now it is fire brigade’s turn. However, this time, they are not contemplating deploying anything as conventional as supercars. At the end of 2015, DCD signed a contract with New Zealand company Martin Jetpack who, as the name suggests, produce jetpacks. In other words, equipment that can be strapped on your back and used to fly with.

First in the world
However, we’re not talking about jetpacks in the traditional sense à la James Bond in Thunderball. Roughly speaking, the Jetpack comprises two horizontal rotors, a motor and a frame that you can strap on your back. The 4-cylinder, 2-stroke engine has horsepower of 200, which gives the jetpack a top speed of 74 km/h, and is capable of reaching a maximum altitude of 1,000 metres, 45-minutes flying time and is able to carry up to 120 kg.

However, the specifications may change before the jetpacks are delivered since they are still being worked on and developed in New Zealand. The jetpack also includes a parachute which can be activated and prevent the wearer going into freefall, and the horizontal rotors enable it to take off vertically, like a helicopter. The fire brigade in Dubai will be the first in the world to use jetpacks in its work.

– Dubai is one the fastest growing cities of the future and, with its skyscrapers and modern infrastructure, it has always been a world leader when it comes to adapting new technology in improve and save peoples’ lives. This is yet another example of precisely that, stated Lieutenant Colonel Ali Almutawa, who is Director of Operations in DCD, in relation to the deal.

DCD has ordered 20 jetpacks (with a list price of approximately 250,000 dollars each) which, under the contract, Martin Jetpack will deliver along with a simulator and training during 2016. By all accounts, the jetpacks should be easy to use and will require limited training.

Evacuation in the long term
According to DCD, the plan is that the new apparatus will be used for reconnaissance purposes. However, the model is powerful enough to carry first-aid equipment and can also be used for rescue missions in places that are otherwise difficult to reach. This could be, for example, in situations in some of the emirate’s skyscrapers, which include the 321 metre high Burj-el-Arab and Burj-el-Khalifa which, at 828 metres, is one of the highest buildings in the world.

Should a fire break out in such a skyscraper (the most recent example being on 31 December 2015 when a fire broke out in a 60-storey skyscraper in the desert state), some people may have to flee to the roof where a ladder is of little use both in terms of evacuation and getting rescue crews to those in distress. However, with a jetpack, both of these things can be done quickly.

The plan is to equip them with thermographic cameras that are able to obtain an overview of the situation. In addition, DCD wishes to test the possibility of allowing a number of unmanned jetpacks to follow a manned jetpack. The idea behind this is that it would be possible to strap people who are trapped on the upper floors onto the unmanned jetpacks and then get a pilot on the ground to guide them down. In this way, it may be possible to use jetpacks to rescue people from otherwise inaccessible places.

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Dubai
Dubai is one of the seven Arab emirates which together make up the United Arab Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula. The country is particularly renowned for the extremely large construction projects that have been completed in recent years – for example, the construction of ‘The World Islands’, which is an archipelago of artificial islands set out in the shape of a world map, and two additional islands in the shape of palm trees. The country is also known for its skyline, which encompasses a plethora of modern skyscrapers, including Burj-el-Arab, the world’s only 7-star hotel, and Burj-el-Khalifa, the world’s highest building. Dubai is known as the ‘Singapore of the Middle East’ due to its financial sector and its skyline.