Time to build life safety into the fabric of smart city design?
“Smart cities” – urban developments that make use of cutting-edge communications technology to streamline the provision of services, such as education, transport and waste management – have been widely hailed around the world as the future of city planning. We spoke to Simon May, technical manager, Hochiki Europe, to explore what impact they will have on the life safety industry, and find out if the sector is ready to meet the design challenges smart cities pose.
Thanks to the Internet of Things fast becoming a reality – made possible by the wide array of smart devices populating our workplaces and homes – the future vision of a city completely interconnected, with every conceivable service available at the touch of a button, has never seemed so achievable.
By incorporating cutting-edge information and communication technologies into their essential infrastructure, “smart cities” have the potential to streamline the provision of services, from transport and waste management, to education and leisure. In doing so, they offer the potential to do more than boost the efficiency of public services, reduce waste and energy consumption. They give urban planners the ability to make cities even more liveable for the people inhabiting them, enhancing their health and wellbeing.
While this broad understanding of the smart city concept has been accepted universally, there is still considerable debate as to the extent to which an urban development can be considered “smart”. With more and more towns and cities around the world incorporating some elements of the smart city vision into their infrastructure, like active traffic management or streamlined emergency response, the concept is now raising more questions than answers, particularly when it comes to life safety.
Despite smart cities being a subject of intense debate across the construction industry and among policy makers for a number of years now, the life safety sector is only just beginning to scratch the surface of the possibilities they offer, and the challenges they pose.
It has always been imperative for buildings and cities to be designed with the security of residents in mind. However, with the fundamental fabric of the urban environment changing to implement the smart city concept, the life safety industry now needs to explore in depth what is required of it to keep people safe into the future. Crucially, it’s time to ask whether the sector is ready to meet the demands of highly connected smart cities.
According to a recent study of life safety professionals across EMEA and India carried out by Hochiki Europe for its new report on smart cities, there is currently a significant gap in understanding of what smart cities are and their potential impact on the industry. The survey – principally of installers – found that almost 60 per cent had never heard the term smart city before, and only a third knew what one was.
Despite this knowledge gap, only a small minority of respondents (14 per cent) were concerned about the future of the industry if smart cities become the norm. Some 30 per cent felt it would make no difference to the sector, and over two-fifths were not worried at all.
These figures suggest that installers and other industry professionals are confident that the sector has the ability to adapt quickly to changes in the construction landscape. This confidence becomes even more apparent with the responses to the question of whether professionals thought the industry would be able to keep people at least as safe in a smart city as in a standard development. Nearly half of respondents felt this would be the case, and almost a fifth thought residents would be safer.
However, when it came to considering the industry’s ability to adapt to the technological demands of smart cities, respondents seemed less certain. While some 39 per cent thought the industry is not currently equipped to adapt, as many as 36 per cent felt the sector is more than capable of meeting future requirements.
The results of this survey serve to illuminate the gap between the confidence of life safety professionals in the future of the industry, and an understanding of how the sector can adapt.
As an industry, it is evident that more research is required to understand the implications of smart cities on the sector and to determine what life safety will look like in the future. There is also a key role for manufacturers to play here in informing the rest of the industry about the range of life safety solutions already available that can help meet existing smart city demands, as well as about how technology is already innovating to meet future challenges.
Modern life safety technology already allows all of the fire safety and emergency lighting equipment in a building to be controlled from a centralised control panel. In doing so, it enables facilities managers to monitor the performance of their entire network from a single location, saving them considerable time as they undertake the regular inspections mandated by law.
What is more, analogue addressable life safety technology can already pinpoint and report on the exact location of a fire within a structure. Combined with targeted fire suppression equipment, like sprinklers, such systems can play a major role in minimising the risk of a fire spreading and even prevent damage to intact property elsewhere in the building, reducing the overall financial impact to building owners.
With this in mind, it is clear that smart-city inspired technology can go a long way towards supporting innovative life safety systems to enable more effective fire safety delivery in the future. By gathering information from regular maintenance inspections and data about the location and source of past fire incidents, for example, it is possible to predict the fire risk in a particular development. This provides facilities managers with the knowledge they need to identify the most effective life safety technology for the needs of the building in their care.
By gathering enough information, it is possible to replicate this across a neighbourhood or even an entire city. Gathering data about the fire risk for each development in a district, can help local authorities plan future fire and rescue service provision, from the allocation of funding, to the precise location of fire stations.
We are already seeing data collection being used by facilities managers to better understand the fire risk in their properties, thanks to Building Information Modelling (BIM). Using this design solution, architects are able to feed technical information about their chosen construction materials and life safety equipment into 3D computer aided design (CAD) models of the developments they are working on.
Incorporating this information into their blueprints, they can model how a fire, or even the smoke it generates, might travel through a building. Armed with this knowledge, they can then determine the fastest and safest escape routes for occupants. Once the building is completed, facilities managers can then use the BIM model to understand the fire resistance ratings of all the building materials used in the original construction phase, such as insulation and flooring, as well as replacement products. This can help them ensure that every part of the premises continues to meet legislative requirements.
Smart cities offer us considerable potential to improve living standards in towns and cities across the globe, while helping to minimise the consumption of limited natural resources. Much progress has been made to harness the power of smart city technology to boost energy efficiency, manage traffic and improve emergency service response in cities around the world, from Barcelona in Spain, to the new Lusail City development in Doha, Qatar.
It is clearly time though, for life safety provision to be included as a key component of the smart city concept, alongside sustainability and traffic management. This is a necessity to further improve the safety and wellbeing of residents, and to protect property, while streamlining costs and the use of limited resources.
Governments and life safety manufacturers need to cooperate to put the foundations in place for smart, life-safety focused cities. This means not only looking at the regulations surrounding fire safety, but also developing new technology to enhance the connectivity of fire safety and emergency lighting systems, and even laying the infrastructure needed to centralise control of life safety equipment. Working together in this way is crucial to ensure the vision of a smarter, safer urban landscape becomes a reality.
For more information, go to www.hochikieurope.com