Smart Fire Fighting? Merging IoT and Big Data for Fire Safety.

By Sara Brown

Funny how events sometimes come together. First, Jax’s experience (recorded here) of the hack-a-thon last weekend, of which the winner had developed a device to find firefighters inside burning and damaged buildings; then a review of the smart cities content for our upcoming newsletter, and finally my stumbling upon a new report from the Fire Protection Research Alliance and National Institute of Standards and Technology. The question is: will emergency response lead the way to break down persistent political barriers to smart cities? The answer, I hope, will be a resounding yes.

So, you ask, what’s the big deal from FPRA and NIST? Ok, to be honest, it is a bit embarrassing to admit that the news I’m so intrigued by is simply this: they are actually discussing how to leverage IoT and big data to improve fire fighting. Now that I write it, it feels like a shame that, for all of the hype around smart cities, the fact that anyone is only just getting down to the nitty gritty of making it work. Still, I’m delighted to see them looking at a way to leverage both connected devices and big data to create a cross-functional solution and deliver seriously major value to property owners, emergency response personnel and—in fact, every citizen.

The report (based on a workshop discussion) breaks down fire-related data usage into three categories: identification, collection, and communication. The idea, ultimately, is to merge data from a wide variety of sources to improve fire service. It is certainly a tall order, but I’m pleased to see a broad convergence of data sources to create new value. Here are just a few of the possible data sources the team is looking to join:

        —Connected smoke detectors
        — Location
        — 911 calls 
        —Neighborhood demographics
        —Building systems (temperature, humidity, elevators/stairwells, cameras)
        —Dispatch service (fire, police, EMT . . .)
        —Building permits, blueprints and inspection records (regarding materials, structural
           integrity and compliance)
        —Transportation systems (traffic lighting, congestion data, etc.)
        —Water monitoring
        —In situ sensors to show hot spots, material disintegration, etc.
        —Wearable technologies (people tracking, data delivery)
        —High-value asset tracking . . .

The list goes on and on (for more than 100 pages, in fact) and involves a lot more than just the local fire station. If they can do it, just think of what they could enable: before anybody calls 911, the fire department knows there is a problem; they know how many people are inside the structure and exactly where; they know how hot it is and the relative humidity; they know what materials they are dealing with and can see its latest inspection record; they know the fastest route to get there; they are certain of where to attach to water and that they’ll have enough to fight the blaze; they can notify hospitals of incoming cases, and, as in  the hack-a-thon solution, they can ensure the rescue workers get home safely at the end of their shift. That’s the promise of the smart city folks. What are we waiting for?

I love their list. I love what they’re trying to do. This is what the smart city is all about. I hope and pray they’re able to overcome the “mine, mine, mine,” ego-based politics that have made such solutions so hard to implement so far. Kudos FPRA and NIST! I’m behind you all the way.