Author Archives: denmark

New method of evaluating overall fire safety

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Fire safety is not just one thing. It involves an interplay between a number of different factors. And, if one of them fails, the entire projected safety falls apart.

This is the underlying basis of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, which is a new approach to fire safety that was presented at the NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas in the summer of 2018.

– The method means that you don’t just look at one factor – for example, the design of the building – but you have to view fire safety from a broader perspective in order to ensure that the overall level of safety is adequate. Many factors determine whether a building is safe, and if just one element does not live up to expectations, then you don’t have the expected level of safety, says Mikael N. Gam, fire safety consultant at the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology, DBI.

Prudent principles in tumultuous times
In specific terms, the ecosystem encompasses eight points that must be in place.

– In a time when many of the things we have historically based our fire safety on are changing – for example, the use of many new materials with different fire safety properties, the ecosystem is a highly prudent principle to work to. For everything is interlinked and, to a far greater degree than previously, we have to be aware that numerous factors impact on overall fire safety, explains Mikael N. Gam.

The eight points in the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem:

  1. The regulatory authorities must develop and maintain effective guidelines and laws in the field.
  2. Planning and design teams must apply the latest guidelines and regulations in the field.
  3. All standards must be referenced and complied with during all phases of a building project (design, execution, operation etc.).
  4. Safety must be invested in, and it must be prioritised in relation to training, the choice of products and the enforcement of guidelines.
  5. The workforce carrying out the construction of the building must be competent and highly trained so that it can perform the work in compliance with guidelines and regulations.
  6. An effective quality assurance system must be in place in order to enforce rules and guidelines during the construction phase.
  7. Emergency response teams must be prepared, well-trained and have the necessary equipment to be able to respond to any risks that may arise.
  8. The public must be well-informed regarding the risks and dangers posed by fires before fire safety is in order.

Climate change presents new problems for the emergency services

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The dry summer has caused a record number of wildfires. This may well become the new normal, as climate change suggests that there may be many periods of drought in the future. This will present challenges for the emergency services, who will require new equipment, knowledge and training.

Whether summer 2018, with its extreme temperatures, will retain the record for being the hottest for many years, or whether climate change will make summers such as this the new normal, is a good question.

– Our scenarios indicate that in the future, the summer months will bring more precipitation in Northern Europe and less in Southern Europe. Put another way, there won’t be a great difference in the amount of precipitation, it will just be more divided. It will also be heavier and we can expect longer periods without rain, says Mikael Scharling, a climatologist with the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI).

A higher level of drought requires more weeks dominated by high pressure, which keeps precipitation away. But whether periods of high and low pressure will become longer – such as the period of high pressure we have seen this year, remains to be seen.

New requirements for operational crew and equipment
With more dry periods in the future, operational crew, who have been on overtime this summer, should be prepared for this becoming a regular occurrence.

– If dry periods in summer become the norm, this will place completely new demands on both men and machinery. The summer has presented new challenges to take into account in our risk-based dimensioning, including scenario descriptions and capacity analysis. For example, we have experienced more wildfires and fires in woodland areas, says Emergency Services Manager, Søren Lundhild and goes on to say:

– In woodland, it’s often difficult to gain access with the equipment we have today, and it’s essential that we get in quickly so that a fire does not develop further. I think we have to look into the possibility of acquiring light vehicles such as ATVs with lightweight extinguishing equipment and other materiel.

Forest fires also burn into the roots of trees under the earth, so ground pins with water attached can also become necessary. The use of drones to gain a better overview of the spread of the fire in difficult terrain will also be useful for the fire manager.

– In addition, we will need to look at emergency management statistics to see how we can improve our competences to take the right decisions. We need to capitalise on the experience of outside experts in managing the threats posed by drought. And training must be combined with knowledge of national wind conditions, Lundhild says.

Report prepares the ground for new Building Code in the wake of Grenfell Tower

Grenfell-Tower-14.-Juni-2017

The first report following the Grenfell Tower fire in London has been published. It comes with recommendations for a new building code and fire safety system in England.

The fire at Grenfell Tower in London in the summer of 2017 cost 74 people their lives. The incident sent shockwaves through British society, and numerous studies into the Building Code, the fire and the response have been initiated. How could it all go so wrong? The report, which looked into the fire aspects of the building regulations in the UK following Grenfell Tower and a number of other fires, has now seen the light of day.  And, it concludes that new rules and systems are required.

– The report criticises the ‘race to the bottom’ when it comes to fire safety and fire technical requirements relating to construction in England, where the rules have been liberalised with no thought given to the consequences. For example, it is possible for developers to choose whether their project is to be inspected by local authority or private inspectors and, and at the same time, there are private inspectors who complain that building plans are never rejected, explains fire safety consultant Anders B. Vestergaard, who participated in the 5th International Tall Building and Safety Conference in London, where the Grenfell fire was top of the agenda.

Overall systems rather than individual materials
The situation has to change, the report underlines, while, at the same time, presenting a number of points that ought to be included in the forthcoming revised Building Code. Before the report came out, the public had high hopes that it would recommend a complete ban on the use of flammable materials on the facades of tall buildings. It didn’t. Instead, it argues that the solutions used in complex building projects are evaluated on a case-by-case basis whereby the overall solution is looked at.

– It’s all well and good discussing the individual materials, but the most important thing is that you give some thought to, and are able to document, the safety of the system overall. It’s difficult. In Denmark, there is a tradition of looking at both the cladding and insulation, but, for example, not at how the individual components are fitted, which also play a role in the overall fire safety properties of the solution, says Anders B. Vestergaard.

Clear division of responsibilities
The report also proposes that the future Building Code should include a clear division of responsibilities.  At the moment, it’s unclear who has responsibility for which aspects of fire safety and at what point in the process, and this results in carelessness and mistakes in this area.

– A classic scenario is that an architect designs a building that meets all the requirements. However, during the building process, the materials are replaced due to, among other things, the cost. Who has responsibility for that? The supplier has no insight into the final solution, and the developer perhaps has used the material in another context, or just does what he normally does. Therefore, it is unclear who has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the finished building reacts as envisaged in the event of a fire, says Anders B. Vestergaard.

This example is roughly what happened with Grenfell Tower, too. Originally, the building was to be clad inflammable insulation and zinc plates, which do not contribute to the spreading of a fire. However, they were replaced with aluminium plates with plastic cores during the building process, which contributed to the spread of the fire.

– Here, the level of knowledge in the industry is crucial. Consultants, inspectors and others must be aware of these things and know the pitfalls, so that something like this never happens,says Anders B. Vestergaard.

With the clear division of responsibilities recommended in the report, it will be easier to check that everyone is fulfilling their responsibilities. And, at the same time, punish those who aren’t. The report recommends that greater action is taken in the future and that the Building Code is given ‘real teeth’ – i.e. the ability to impose serious penalties. Now, the challenge lies in finding the political will to implement the report’s recommendations and produce the Building Code outlined in the report.

Solid timber elements can self-extinguish in the event of a fire

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There is considerable evidence that timber will become an even more important construction material. In recent years, several researchers have been investigating the strength and fire safety properties of cross-laminated timber, and it is hoped that newer versions of solid timber elements will, by and large, be fire-resistant.

Is it possible to use more timber in building constructions? That is an exciting question which preoccupies researchers in timber around the world. Dr. Richard Emberley from California Polytechnic State University in the USA has, for example, carried out research into the self-extinguishing abilities of burning timber, and Danish architect Kristine Sundahl is investigating the role of materials, particularly timber, in architecture for her Business PhD.

– A major problem in the area is that large swathes of the population perceive timber as a flammable material that isn’t safe to live in. However, the type of timber we are working with today is completely different to the lightweight constructions of light timber used previously, says Dr. Richard Emberley.

Construction material of the future
The two researchers agree that there are exciting opportunities in construction elements made from cross-laminated timber, also known as CLT. Cross-laminated timber is a solid timber element comprising a number of different layers placed perpendicularly on top of one another. The weaknesses are evened out in the cross-lamination so that the bearing capacity is distributed. The layers are glued together with solid timber elements that have substantial rigidity and strength as well as being extremely dimensionally stable.

– There is a lightness in timber, and it has many excellent properties which make it suitable for use as a surface. It is rigid and strong and good for covering long expanses, such as horizontal division structures, floors and ceilings. Moreover, timber is more environmentally-friendly to produce than both concrete and iron and it provides an excellent indoor climate, explains Kristine Sundahl.

On top of that, solid timber elements weigh less than concrete, which means that you can make do with a smaller and less expensive foundation. According to Dr. Richard Emberley, the large transversal sections that can be produced from cross-laminated timber make it possible to utilise the timber’s ability to self-extinguish.

Self-extinguishment
Indeed, the ability to self-extinguish is a subject on which Dr. Richard Emberley has carried out research during his PhD project.

– The term self-extinguishment is used when the energy provided by the flames is not sufficient to break down the material and the fire needs an external source of energy in order to keep going and destroy the timber. Thus, you could say that the fire suffocates itself, says Dr. Richard Emberley, who goes on to explain that the solid timber elements are compressed so tightly together that it provides a high degree of fire resistance in both load-bearing and partitioning structures.

CLT solid timber elements provide such good fire safety that it can be compared to non-flammable construction materials. CLT does not burn, rather it carbonizes slowly and at a predictable speed so that its bearing properties are maintained for a long time.

The construction industry awaits
The strength of solid timber elements, combined with the ability to self-extinguish, make it possible to use timber in construction to a far greater degree than previously. And, research is still being carried out into the properties and limitations of solid timber elements in several places around the world, Dr. Richard Emberley informs us.

He has contributed to the research himself by, for example, carrying out a number of both small and large-scale trials whereby different sizes of rooms constructed from timber were ignited. The purpose of the trials was to determine the extent to which timber can ideally be compressed in order to make it fireproof.

However, Kristine Sundahl believes that re-establishing timber as one of the major construction materials will be a long, drawn-out process. She is following research around the world where the focus is on finding the right quantity and composition of glue while, at the same time, experiments are being carried out on joints, moisture and the spread of fire.

– Architects and engineers are, in a way, biding their time with regard to the testing of CLT and are awaiting the results of, for example, research and experiences gleaned from the buildings of solid timber elements that have already been constructed.  However, it takes time to change a tradition in the construction industry, says Kristine Sundahl.

 

Cause of multistorey carpark fire in Liverpool still unclear

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Never before have 1,400 cars been engulfed by flames in a multistorey carpark. But this is what happened in Liverpool in December 2017. The question now is, what was the reason for the violent fire spread and what effect will the fire have on parking facilities in a number of European countries?

On 31 December, fire broke out in a car in a multistorey carpark in Liverpool. The carpark was a concrete building open on all sides – very much like the ones we know in Denmark. What is totally unfamiliar is the way in which the fire developed. Despite a prompt alarm call, a call-out time of eight minutes and 21 emergency response vehicles during the time of the action, the firefighting forces were unable to prevent the fire from spreading between cars and the storey deck, causing the write-off of all 1,400 cars plus the building. Questions are now being raised as to how this could happen.

– We know of similar fires in multistorey carparks in various locations abroad, but at the worst this has meant five or six destroyed cars and in a few cases more extensive fires, but nothing comparable to the fire in Liverpool. This is an unprecedented case and ought not to be possible, says Ib Bertelsen, Customer & Relations Director at DBI, the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology.

Explanations sought
In particular, the rapid fire spread is a matter of surprise.

– Naturally, sprinklers would have retarded fire development, but this was presumably a fully legal building of conventional construction. However, it is possible that difficulties in response tactics played a role, Bertelsen says, with the following explanation:

– When a car fire is reported, a reduced response team is sent out in the first instance, because it is ‘just’ a car fire. And it may be hard for the fire crew to access the scene of the fire.

Another possibility is that petrol and other flammable liquids leaked from the damaged cars and contributed to the rapid and violent fire spread. The local fire force estimates that the temperature was up to 1,000 degrees.

– That’s a lot, and we don’t yet know the specific circumstances, but even so, it is surprising that the situation could go so badly wrong in a properly constructed building. It will be very interesting to hear a likely explanation of why things developed as they did, Bertelsen says.

May change dimensioning
Once the explanation has been determined, the next question is whether this will have consequences in other countries.

– If there is no reasonable explanation, then, to the extent we have similar buildings in Denmark, we ought to be thinking about how we dimension our buildings and what scenarios we are dimensioning them for, Bertelsen says.

And maybe not just multistorey carparks will be subject to change – depending on the explanation from Britain.

– To a certain extent, you can compare them with large open-air carparks. Obviously, conditions are completely different in a building, but the cars are just as tightly spaced in an open carpark.

Both progress and challenges have appeared during the drafting of a European facade test

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It is not perfect, but it is a big improvement. A draft proposal has been put forward for a common European standard for testing building facade systems, and even though it has some flaws, there are grounds for optimism.

The discussion surrounding a common standard for the fire testing of facade systems in Europe is not new. And recent events have fuelled the debate. This is both due to the fire in Grenfell Tower in London and also a draft proposal for a common standard that RISE (Research Institute in Sweden) has developed in collaboration with a consortium. The draft proposal has been ordered by the European Parliament, among other reasons, due to industries wanting to simplify access to the European markets by having a common standard for testing and classification.

– It is a difficult process, and it took ten years to develop the SBI test. But fires involving facades in one way or another increase the pressure on the political system to take action, says Anders Dragsted, who is a fire safety consultant at the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology.

That pressure has so far resulted in a draft proposal for a common testing method and interpretation of the test results for facade systems. It is based on the British BS 8414 and the German DIN 4102-20 facade system tests, and it also investigates factors such as falling material and smouldering fires. The first draft came out in August, and representatives from all member states were asked to provide comments on it.

– There are several positive elements. For one thing, the scope of application is widespread. The draft covers all types of facade systems except curtain wall systems, which have their own standard. This makes it easier, since then you don’t have to develop several different tests for different types of facade systems. It is an advantage for the manufacturers and for the buyers of facade systems since they only need to familiarise themselves with a single system. The same applies to the testing institutes, who only need to use one type of equipment and one method to test the facade systems, Anders Dragsted explains.

More tests than necessary
The draft proposal suggests two test variants: one with a ‘medium’ fire impact and one with a ‘large’ fire impact. Additionally, the draft covers tests with and without open windows in the facade system, which gives a total of four different test variants. Based on the spread of the fire and whether there is a smouldering fire or falling materials and on the variety of the test, a tested facade system is given one or more classifications. However, it is not all test variants that allow for unlimited access to the market in all EU member states.

– The various countries will have their own requirements on what classification is needed. This means that the manufacturers must find out in advance what classification a country requires and make sure that the tests are conducted with the correct configurations. At least two tests will need to be conducted in order to obtain all the classifications that the draft proposal contains, says Anders Dragsted and continues:

– The ideal solution would instead have been if the draft proposal suggested using a single test configuration with a single type of fire impact. The facade system could then be assigned an appropriate classification, depending on the results of the test. That would mean that a single test would have been sufficient, he says.

Outdoors testing is less than satisfactory
The draft proposal also suggests that the test is conducted outdoors. This may lead to problems for countries with strict requirements for companies’ environmental impact, as their testing labs presumably will not be allowed to make outdoors tests after taking into account neighbours and the environment. This means that the environmental regulations of the various countries will lead to unfair competition between the test institutes across the EU.

– Furthermore, the draft proposal requires that there is virtually no wind, which is extremely rare in Denmark. The temperature must be between minus 10 and plus 40 degrees Celsius at the time of the test. Tests on either end of that temperature scale will be different. If there is direct sunlight, this will impact the test, and so will the moisture of the material. And if you cannot document that the facade systems are exposed to the same impact each time, this is not satisfactory, Anders Dragsted notes, and adds:

– Even though there are flaws and parts that might be improved in the draft proposal, it will, however, still be a big step in the right direction.

Anti-terrorism: Do security considerations override aesthetic ones?

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We need to focus more on security when we implement anti-terrorism measures. Additionally, we need to be better at taking advantage of experiences from abroad when it comes to implementing anti-terrorism measures.

The politicians and employees at the Danish parliament, Christiansborg, are an obvious target for terrorism, and therefore work has begun on securing the area around the Christiansborg Palace Square. After several years of negotiations, it has been decided that a number of temporary granite slabs are to be replaced with granite spheres, 112 cm in diameter, in order to prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering the palace square.

The appearance and expression of the anti-terrorism measures within and around the historic Christiansborg Palace has been the subject of an intense debate, and the design considerations have been one of the reasons why permanent anti-terrorism measures have taken a number of years to implement. But the debate concerning design in relation to anti-terrorism measures reduces their effectiveness in the opinion of Jesper Florin, the head of the security department at DBI, the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology.

– We have to think about a lot more than the extent to which granite spheres may be suitable for the Christiansborg Palace Square or not. Terrorism is a growing problem everywhere, and therefore we need to be better at listening to the experiences of the neighbouring countries that have unfortunately already been exposed to terrorist attacks, says Jesper Florin.

Need for a national agency
Jesper Florin thinks that Denmark should gather all the agencies that possess important knowledge about terrorism, defence and security in order to be able to give the best possible advice and develop the best solutions. This could be the police, the PET (police intelligence service), the armed forces, the security industry and, of course, the city planners.

– Among others, we have the military with a lot of experience, and also the police intelligence service who collect knowledge from all around the world. Why don’t we set up a national knowledge centre for anti-terrorism measures where all knowledge is gathered in one place to the benefit of both Denmark and our partner countries? Jesper Florin asks.

Both secure and easy on the eyes
According to Jesper Florin, a national knowledge centre against terrorism could lead to more perspectives being available for more thoroughly considered anti-terrorism measures, and where the effectiveness is not necessarily an either/or when it comes to the trade-off between security and design or appearance.

– Take a look at Oslo, for example. Here, they have begun securing the entire government district by, among other things, using urban open spaces and architecture. It is effective and easy on the eyes at the same time, so it is in fact possible to reconcile security with nice design, says Jesper Florin.

In Oslo, a series of architectural and design-related elements have been merged as security elements over a larger area. Thus, flower boxes, scenic elevations of terrain, water basins and winding streets all serve as anti-terrorism measures that prevent vehicles from gaining unauthorised access to the area.

– With the terror attack of 2011, the Norwegians saw how much can go wrong, so they are determined to make adaptations. The same way, I am sure, that we would adapt to changes in Denmark, Jesper Florin says.

In Oslo, it is not just a single historic building that has been secured. Here, they have made a thorough plan that focuses on the entire government zone.

– If we are to reach the same level of security in Denmark, then it will require an increased level of cooperation between the authorities, police and private stakeholders working with security and planning, Jesper Florin points out.

London fire emphasises challenges with high-rise buildings

Grenfell Tower Fire

Classic technical challenges fighting fires in high-rise buildings probably played a part in the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire in London, in which at least 80 people lost their lives.

Exactly what happened, why and how have not yet been completely determined following the appalling fire in the Grenfell Tower flats in London on 14 July. However, it would appear that a series of universal fire safety challenges in high-rise buildings played a central role in the most serious domestic fire in the UK since the beginning of the 20th century.

One of these is the facade, which was renovated last year with a new surface and insulation on top of the existing concrete facade.

– There is still a lot we don’t know, but from the photographs, it looks as if the facade contributed significantly to the rapid development of the fire, says Anders B. Vestergaard, fire safety consultant with the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology, DBI.

The UK media have reported that the materials used in the construction should not have been used on the building. But if you know anything about building processes, you can easily imagine how they have ended up there.

Change in construction
- Maybe the architect and building consultant originally proposed panels that were more fire-resistant and made the facade safer, then during the construction process, the developer and builder changed them for a cheaper product for economic reasons, says Vestergaard and adds:

– Once that decision has been made, you tend to forget that the facade is an integrated solution and that by changing part of it, you are affecting the whole system. It’s a classic development in a construction process that can have serious consequences for fire safety.

During the renovation, windows may also have been moved to increase the light in the flats, leaving the facade insulation – which can be flammable, more exposed to fire and thus compromising the fire-safety unit of which each flat in a concrete tower block comprises.

– And if you don’t screen off the area around the windows from the flammable insulation of the facade with a fire-proof material, you’re left with a facade where fire can spread unhindered between the floors and between the facade and the flats, Vestergaard explains.

The facade is a complete system
The overall problem is that the facade is not thought of as a complete system but as individual elements. This is what happens when a contractor changes individual products in a system and it’s also the case if you imagine that fireproof materials are the only solution in a high building. Because actually, there is nothing wrong with using flammable materials for the facade of a tower block as long as the system is constructed to support its use, e.g. by encasing the flammable material in fireproof material.

– It can be difficult to get right but is certainly possible and provides options with sufficient safety, says Anders Dragsted, fire safety engineer at DBI.

– It may also be that all materials in a facade system are approved individually but become a completely different product when they are put together. Normally products are tested individually but not the system as a whole, as it should be, he adds.

Evacuation
Another well-known challenge with tower blocks is evacuation. In connection with Grenfell Tower’s recent renovation, a system was installed that, in case of fire, was supposed to keep the stairwell free of smoke by creating an overpressure. This was a really important feature as the stairwell was the only escape route for the residents as well as being the only way in for fire fighters. It has not yet been ascertained whether or not the system worked but overpressure ventilation systems are generally difficult to work with.

– In Denmark, overpressure ventilated stairwells have become more common over the past 15 years because higher buildings are being built. This is often a requirement when a building is over 22 metres high, as emergency service ladders cannot reach higher, making safe evacuation via the stairwell even more important, explains Lise Schmidt, fire safety engineer at DBI.

Advanced systems
An OPV (over pressure ventilation) system works in the way that a stairwell becomes pressurised if there is a fire on one of the floors. The OTV system blows air into the stairwell and creates an overpressure. On each floor, it is possible to release pressure via an opening to a shaft. When the door between a smoke filled floor and the stairwell is opened, the airflow from the stairwell forces the smoke away from the stairwell and the release in pressure ensures that the smoke is released out into the open. If smoke is only registered in the stairwell, the system will not usually start as this will spread smoke into the stairwell and to all other floors.

– OTV systems are very automatic and must be finely adjusted to ensure that the pressure does not get too high, otherwise the doors to the stairwell may become difficult or even impossible to open, explains Lise Schmidt.

In recent years, more advanced systems have been developed where the airflow into the stairwell is more constant, and a safety valve or damper in the stairwell ensures that the pressure does not become too high.

CFPA-E Chairman appointed Vice-Chairman of CFPA-I

Jesper Ditlev Administrerende direktør, DBI Jernholmen, Hvidovre

The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations – International (CFPA-I) convened earlier this month for their triennial General Assembly. During the proceedings, representatives from over a dozen nations unanimously elected Mr. Jesper Ditlev of Denmark as Vice-Chairman. Mr. Ditlev had previously served as Treasurer of CFPA-I, and he looks to help lead the organization through a strategic transformation slated to take place during his three year term.

CFPA-I is a leading global fire protection organization bringing together associations from around the world to address the myriad issues in fire and life safety. Mr. Ditlev brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in this area, having spent over twenty years in the industry. Graduating from University of Aalborg in 1990 with a Masters in Civil Engineering, he has become an expert in building technologies, risk assessment, and business development. Mr. Ditlev has risen through the ranks of the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI), and was promoted to CEO in 2009. He has since overseen the continued expansion of the institute, which stands as one of the most important life safety bodies in Europe.

Chairman of CFPA Europe
Mr. Ditlev has played an essential role in CFPA-I for years, while also leading its partner organization CFPA-E. He spearheaded a multi-year transformation of CFPA-E, expanding its membership and streamlining its administration. As CFPA-I Vice-Chairman, he will surely leverage the experience gained through his time at the helm of DBI, and as leader of CFPA-E.

During this year’s General Assembly, Mr. Ditlev helped to unveil the strategic plan for the future of CFPA-I. With a renewed focus on outreach and research, CFPA-I’s administrative operations to Cairo and begin bolstering the organization’s social media presence. The members of CFPA-I welcome Mr. Ditlev’s vision in this time of transition and look forward to reaping the rewards of his leadership in the months to come.

On behalf of CFPA-I, congratulations, Mr. Ditlev. Best of luck in your endeavors.

 

Artificial intelligence for tomorrow’s firefighters

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Artificial Intelligence is more than SIRI on your iPhone and computers that can win at Jeopardy. A project where artificial intelligence assists firefighters during a call-out is running in the USA, and offers huge potential.

A firefighter enters a burning building. In addition to his fire-resistant clothing, boots, gloves and helmet, he also has a head-up-display (HUD), which presents key data in his field of vision. Moreover, his clothing is fitted with various sensors that feed the artificial intelligence that follows the firefighter with the firefighter’s position, temperature data, toxic gases and other hazard warnings. The artificial intelligence analyses the data, simultaneously collecting information from different sensors in the building and from databases with technical drawings of the structure. Based on all the data, the artificial intelligence sends instructions to the firefighter via his HUD, enabling him to navigate safely through the building.

Moreover, if there is a group of firefighters who, for example, need to fight the blaze or locate trapped occupants, the artificial intelligence can suggest ways in which the firefighters can work together to successfully perform their task.

AUDREY is here
The above example could actually become reality within a few years, as artificial intelligence is already under development. It – or should we say ‘she’ – is called AUDREY, which is an acronym for ‘Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction, and sYnthesis’. And the above scenarios are just some examples of where AUDREY can be employed.

AUDREY is the result of a joint project between Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), which is a part of NASA and administered by the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH), and the Department of Homeland Security in the USA. It is part of a larger project called Next Generation First Responders (NGFR), which will enhance safety for emergency services in the field through supporting and improving their focus and communication.

AUDREY is still at an early stage of development, and was tested last summer when it was fed data from various sensors and delivered recommendations to a mobile unit. And within the next year, AUDREY will be tested in real-life situations.

Firefighters’s guardian angel
AUDREY is based on a range of technological breakthroughs which will make it a possible assistant for tomorrow’s firefighters. For example, it is designed to integrate with the ‘internet of things’, where more and more everyday objects are connected to the internet, for example bathroom scales, underfloor heating systems, lighting, fridges and TVs. Even now, AUDREY is able to find the objects, gather data from their sensors and combine this data with data from the sensors which the firefighters carry as part of their equipment.

– When the firefighters are connected to all the sensors, AUDREY will in effect become their guardian angel. Thanks to the data which the sensors are registering, the firefighters will not, for example, run into a room where the floor is collapsing, says Edward Chow, manager at the JPL Civil Program Office and program manager for AUDREY.

Can observe and learn
Before data can be used, it must be filtered and processed.

– The prevalence of minisensors and ‘the internet of things’ can make a huge difference to first responder safety, how they are connected to one another and their understanding of the situation. However, the huge volumes of data are incomprehensible in their raw form and must be synthesised to usable, targeted information, says John Merrill, project manager for NGFR.

AUDREY can do this as well. It knows the different roles in connection with an emergency operation, and can thus provide relevant information to the right people without drowning all the firefighters connected to AUDREY in information. At the same time, AUDREY observes and learns during a call-out. And once it has acquired enough experience, it will predict which resources will be needed later in the call-out based on how previous incidents have progressed. Like all artificial intelligence, AUDREY is only as good as the data it receives. And the more data there is, the greater the likelihood of it being able to supply useful advice and instructions.

– Most artificial intelligence is rule-based: if x happens, then it does y. But what happens if it only receives some of the information? We use complex reasoning to simulate how people think. This makes it possible for us to provide more useful information to the firefighters than with conventional artificial intelligence, says Edward Chow.

 

06.09.17