Hot Seat: Researching Big Data’s Role in NFPA’s Life-Safety Mission

Fire Protection Research Foundation Executive Director Casey Grant discusses current projects in support of the National Fire Protection Association’s life-safety mission in the latest Hot Seat.

Recently named executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an affiliate of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) , Casey Grant manages research on a broad range of fire safety issues. He joins the conversation to discuss current projects in support of the NFPA’s life-safety mission.

In this Internet of Things (IoT) era, can connected smart devices be expected to greatly enhance the life-safety mission?

For the last year-and-a-half I have been leading a project on smart firefighting. It is a NIST-funded project with a centric focus back toward the emergency responders and firefighters. What’s interesting is that it is pulling in everything in the built environment in terms of possible data and information that is of value to first responders. That includes during an emergency and actually even pre-emergency and post-emergency, such as investigations or enforcement.

We are in the process of wrapping up a key piece of it, which is the research roadmap for smart firefighting. NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] has a very strong focus on what they refer to as the cyber physical system or CPS. They have funded several initiatives and the smart firefighting initiative is simply one of them. I have heard some of the NIST people say the firefighting piece is intriguing because you end up being an umbrella for everything else. Arguably there is no information that ends up being excluded from what people want to have during an emergency.

The cyber physical systems professionals at NIST and elsewhere subdivide the world quite succinctly into three distinct pieces. Those three pieces involve sensors of all kinds. No. 1 is gathering data; No. 2, processing the data, which could simply be comparing data sets or very complex modeling; and No. 3 is then delivering the data to whomever needs its, when they need, how they need it, in the way they need it. That could be building occupants, law enforcement or firefighters or EMS or whoever, and getting it to them the way they need it and not overloading them with the information.

The proliferation of smart devices and sensors is dizzying. Do you have concerns these connected devices are going to be properly vetted to ensure safety?

As I heard in one presentation recently, we need to start calling it the Internet of Dependable and Controllable Things. It is a key question. Quite honestly, the onslaught of new technology has got us on – as we say in Nantucket – a whale ride where the technology is leading us, not the other way around. Normally we develop research and development, and standards come out and precede the development of the technologies. Here it has completely flipped around. Stuff is coming out and we cannot keep up with it. The infrastructure is not there to support the technology that is appearing. It is a bit of a Wild West in that these great things are coming out and the world is trying to catch up.

We have not had a chance to catch up with standardization and the other necessary features that help us establish a marketplace where the devices and the equipment are meeting the level that are desired by the end users, especially in the emergency response community. We need to maintain those same levels of operability and the

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cybersecurity piece of this is something we didn’t have to worry as much as before but clearly it is a growing issue.

What will tomorrow’s “smart” firefighter be outfitted with and how will data enhance their life-safety mission?

Firefighters currently bring a lot of stuff with them, their own equipment, which is not necessarily interoperable equipment. They have their portable radios, thermal imaging cameras, their flashlights, path alarms, self-contained breathing apparatus and other electronic equipment. It all has its own power supply, different intrinsic safety requirements. It is not interoperable and not communicating. There has been a strong desire from [first responders] for a singular platform.

But let’s put that aside. There are all kinds of equipment showing up with them, including portable fans, hose lines with nozzles, and the question is why aren’t we putting sensors on the equipment and elsewhere, even their axes, to try and locate and put stuff back afterward? Never mind the apparatus and who is where on a bigger scale, especially in large-scale disasters and resource deployment, which is a huge issue on large-scale events like wildland-urban interface fires. It’s simply knowing where everyone is.

For any event they want all that information. They want to know what is going on with the electrical power supply in the building. Where are the elevators located? What is happening with the HVAC systems? What’s going on with the security system if that has something that will provide value to them as they try to locate people? It’s about using that information in the best possible way, not only provided by the building, not only provided by the built infrastructure, but even satellites in terms of weather information. You name it, it is all important.

About the Author

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Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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