Fire engineering: sensing safety?


Thomas Michael & Louis Chaumont, Fire Engineering & Intelligent Buildings

New technology possibilities.

Read part 2.

No matter what the business, one vital aspect of what it does needs to be ensuring the welfare of its workforce.

There are an amazing amount of new technologies that are frequently adopted in building services in order to help companies and landlord offer this: all focused on creating the best possible environment for employees. However, as fire and intelligent building engineers , one thing we’ve noticed is that these new ways to improve workplace environments are not often utilised in fire safety.

We’ve been asking: could these technologies be multipurpose? Could they not just benefit the wellbeing of people but also actively help to keep them safer?

This ever-expanding realm of innovative equipment to better understand environments provides us with an opportunity when it comes to fire safety.

We have recently been looking at the feasibility of using occupancy sensors for this very purpose.

In their basic form, occupancy sensors are indoor motion and / or people counting detectors that identify the presence of bodies in a space and, in turn, have the opportunity to regulate building controls. However, the sensors can also have a wider purpose: they allow us to understand space and desk utilisation, along with the movement and footfall within spaces.

How would it work?

The sensor unit detects motion within a designated coverage area, which then allows for a variety of fire safety related data:

1. Occupancy count
By monitoring and measuring the comings and goings over a virtual threshold, motion sensors could provide an accurate live record of the number of individuals in a predefined space. This accurate data on the exact number of occupants is highly valuable as every space, whether it’s a room or a floor, has a maximum capacity. It would allow, for instance, a management team to track and quickly obtain live data of an area when necessary and, in turn, allow for an automated alert go out to mitigate the potential associated risks.

2. Full flow path analysis
Occupancy sensor data can be ‘stitched’ together. This then allows for consistent, real time data to be relayed that shows both live and historical space utilisation. From this, heatmaps, movement flow and common congregation points can be understood. This technology could also be used to improve phased evacuations or means of escape arrangements through making informed decisions for strategies based on historical data. It too offers the possibility for flexible evacuations depending on the number of people in a building.

Where next?

Like any new technology, utilising occupancy sensors provide a plethora of opportunities which could help ensure the safety of occupants.

The possible applications are endless. From small-scale input helping management procedures, to large-scale impact on the entire building strategy.

The concept of using occupancy sensing for fire safety is still very much in its fledgling phase. However, the potential benefits suggest that this technology could actively improve current practices.

As a common effort between the Fire Engineering team and Intelligent Building Group, we’re currently researching the viability of this and analysing the potential applications on several London-based projects with various clients and university buildings.

Want to continue the conversation? Contact us!