The digital age is upon us, bringing technological advancements that have greatly improved how we perform our work. ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is the new buzzword for networks of devices embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and actuators that bring connectivity to a new level — one that extends communication and interaction — embodying a powerful force that will shape our industry, including situational awareness, interfacing with technology and design. Additionally, what once seemed to be futuristic tools (e.g., 3D modeling, virtual reality, human behavior simulations) are now becoming a part of everyday workflow. The number of digital resources at our fingertips is growing, as is our understanding of how we can utilize them to move our industry forward and better prepare our world for a constant barrage of challenges. It is our responsibility to further utilize these tools and improve their efficacy as we adapt.
Blending Prescriptive and Predictive Design
Fire and life safety expertise is built on a set of codes and standards established to provide a common language that serves to help protect lives, property and the environment in the event of a disaster. These codes and standards, combined with experience, have brought us to a point where it is nearly impossible to tally the numbers of lives have been saved or disasters avoided because of the groundwork laid by the leaders of our industry. Technology is rapidly infiltrating our trade, and as such, our work serves as a proving ground for how technology can improve efficiency, provide better predictive analysis and truly allow us to understand all design implications.
Virtual Reality –> Efficiency
Bringing fire and life safety into the 3D world has many upsides for our industry. First, the use of Building Information Management (BIM) can bring together a project team through better collaboration, a shared visual language and reduced number of trips to the job site. The benefit of remote capabilities would also eliminate the multiple on-site visits typically needed to identify or confirm elements that would impact design. In theory, 3D models may expedite more accurate design and workflow with installers. As international borders fade in our industry due to a more consistent adaption of codes and standards, such as IBC and NFPA, and end-users expand their footprints, the ability to use a BIM model can make project teams increasingly efficient and should become the best practice for international work sharing.
Advancements in Modeling & Simulation
Using modeling and simulation is a more recent development in fire and life safety and is typically used to corroborate existing knowledge about codes and standards as well as the useful application of these codes. But, to date, many models and simulations are performed in isolation, without applying variables such as situational awareness, a critical factor for mitigating future risk – understanding environmental elements, human behavior and other eminent challenges. With the progress of many of these software applications, we can now utilize models and combine them with data to make more informed decisions. The use of predictive modeling is shaping the way we design, especially in the built environment, to accommodate for potential risks. We can better understand how to make our infrastructure more resilient by using modeling for “what if” scenarios and for assessing each corresponding risk, thereby reducing the likelihood of life safety event happening. By leveraging this technology, we empower a proactive approach to emergency management and planning versus the typical reactive, after-the-fact response. Airports can use 3D pedestrian modeling to anticipate an increase in terminal foot traffic, given the knowledge that airplanes are increasing capacity, and can adjust their emergency response plan to accommodate this change. High-rise buildings can use human behavior modeling to anticipate accurate emotional reactions of tenants in the case of an active shooter and hostile events to ensure intuitive egress plans.
What about the Internet of Things?
While the true impact of IoT remains on the horizon, there are many areas where, as an industry, we can begin to leverage the value of the devices that are in our pockets. There is potential to shape the communications of situational awareness in a disaster and determine its optimal use for better preparedness, especially in emergency management and planning. We are already witnessing that as technology moves to cloud-based connectivity for on-site devices, the sharing of data is easier and learnings can be more rapidly applied to other scenarios.
We are still learning as an industry but, as fire protection and life safety experts, we have existing technology at our fingertips and should be more actively seeking ways to incorporate these advances into our everyday work. Technology is elevating our ability to share and expand our knowledge, training and understanding of prescriptive codes and standards, and apply our knowledge in a proactive, predictive way to improve the safety of the world around us and better prepare for threats to that safety.