University of Michigan receives award

Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant awarded to University of Michigan

The SFPE Foundation announced that the 2016 Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant has been awarded to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the University of Michigan for a project called “Computing Infrastructure for a Multi-Criteria Wireless Sensing and Real-Time Visualization Network for Intelligent Firefighting.” The $25,000 grant is named in memory of FDNY Assistant Chief Donald Burns, who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, while setting up his command post to direct the evacuation. Its purpose is to help advance the integration of information modeling as a means of improving infrastructure safety and fire service preparedness.  

The grant is awarded through a partnership with Bentley Systems, a global leader dedicated to providing comprehensive software solutions for advancing infrastructure. The 2016 grant will fund research on the use of wireless sensor networks in buildings to transmit critical information to firefighters and incident commanders, in real time, to aid in strategizing firefighting operations and provide early warning of impending danger.

Paul Beata, the Ph.D. student who submitted the grant application, proposes that traditional sensors used for fire detection (e.g., smoke detectors) be replaced by intelligent wireless sensors that monitor fire behavior and transmit information wirelessly to an Internet-accessible data repository. An interface within Bentley’s BIM solution will enable users to visualize and quickly interpret the data using available hardware and data collection protocols. This will facilitate rapid, informed decision-making, dramatically improving safety and making it possible for first responders to more quickly contain and extinguish fires.

“We are thrilled to accept this award dedicated to Chief Donald Burns,” said Dr. Ann Jeffers, an associate professor in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan, who – along with Dr. Vineet Kamat, a professor in the same department at the University of Michigan – will supervise Beata’s research. “Paul’s proposed research complements and builds on the Imperial College ‘Fire Navigator’ project funded by the 2015 Burns Grant. The novelty of the research lies in the use of multiple fire signatures to identify fire events in real time and to digitally represent the information in software. We expect the proposed research to further validate the integration of sensor technologies with BIM strategies and further advance its deployment via industry partners in the fire protection market.”

“I can only imagine Don’s extreme gratitude toward those developing technology that can give first responders crucial information that enables them to quickly determine the optimal way to evacuate occupants of a burning building and fight the fire,” said Lew Reed, Bentley Systems (retired) vice president and Chief Burns’ brother-in-law. “He would surely view this forthcoming innovation as an invaluable addition to the first responders’ tool set – one that will help safeguard the public at large as well as the firefighters who regularly put their lives on the line for the communities they serve.”

“This grant provides an important opportunity to advance the science and technology that protects the firefighters who risk their lives, as Chief Burns did, in order to serve and protect the public,” said April Hammond-Berkol, chair of the SFPE Educational & Scientific Foundation’s Board of Governors. “It marries the principles of fire protection engineering and BIM solutions to develop next-generation tools that can be used by first responders.”

A presentation about the project will be submitted to the 2017 SFPE North America Conference and to the official SFPE journal Fire Technology for possible publication.

Last year’s Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant was awarded to Nahom Daniel, an MSc graduate student, and Dr. Guillermo Rein, a senior lecturer, at the Imperial College London. The grant funded the creation of a new firefighting tool, called the Fire Navigator, that forecasts the spread of a fire inside a smart building using sensors and BIM methodologies. Fire Navigator is designed to provide real-time building-specific information, such as the building’s structural framework and current occupancy as well as real-time and forecasted fire intensity and smoke distribution, to firefighters to help inform evacuation prioritization. Although performance results to date are not based on actual sensor data feeds, and thus are still theoretical, the feasibility of the project’s ambition has been confirmed. This new technology of fire forecasting is now ready for proof-of-concept inside a real building and expansion to the protection of other key infrastructure such as tunnels and power plants. Details about the project were recently highlighted in FPE Extra.

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