Author(s): Kathleen Almand. Published on November 2, 2015.

The Progress of Smart

Applying data to decision-making around fire prevention.

THESE DAYS, IT SEEMS THAT SO-CALLED “smart” systems are on everyone’s lips in the fire community. The Fire Protection Research Foundation’s presentation on our recent work on smart firefighting, sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has been getting a lot of attention around the country. While that work covers everything from emergency pre-planning to firefighting tactics, it’s the technological aspects of the smart, or “cyberphysical,” concept that have attracted a lot of interest. Firefighting drones, clothing sensors, and building information systems all present tangible, physical opportunities for fire safety, particularly for emergency responders.

There is a quieter aspect of the smart concept that is also attracting attention: the use of data to inform decision making for fire prevention. Some might argue this isn’t “smart” in the conventional sense, where the cyber and physical worlds connect, but it’s a perfect example of the power of data to improve decision making around inspection and enforcement.

There is a lot going on already on this topic. On November 19 in Tempe, Arizona, the Foundation will bring together fire prevention personnel from 15 jurisdictions to discuss how they are using data to guide enforcement and inspection programs. Data including prior inspection records, real estate data, population risk factors, and fire department calls are being used to make enforcement and inspection smarter, which in this case means more efficient and more effective. The conversation will help inform NFPA’s initiatives as well as its standards, including NFPA 950, Data Development and Exchange for the Fire Service, and NFPA 1730, Organization and Deployment of Fire Prevention Inspection and Code Enforcement, Plan Review, Investigation, and Public Education Operations.

Additional Foundation projects in development also address smart enforcement. One project came to us as a request from the fire alarm community to develop data to better understand the unwanted alarm issue. Our previous work on this topic recommended the development of data to provide a deeper understanding of the conditions associated with false alarms, and how factors like inspection, alarm location, and call verification might impact the problem. Our goal with this project is to extend the data collection and assist departments with their analysis of it. In the two years since the project was conducted, individual fire departments have begun to develop data based on the project’s recommendations.

A second project is designed to compile and analyze fire pump testing records using information gathered in an earlier project. Designed to inform inspection frequency, this data will be of value to facility owners as well as the Technical Committee on Fire Pumps. We’ve also worked with the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Systems Technical Committee to develop a proposed annex that provides guidance on collecting a much broader set of installation, testing, and maintenance data.

All of these efforts continue earlier work conducted by the Foundation in the belief that data can make inspection programs more efficient and effective. A few years down the road from that initial work, the fire community has the capability to efficiently and seamlessly gather and transmit that data so the decisions that rely on it can be made in real time. Call it the progress of smart—with a lot more progress to come.

KATHLEEN H. ALMAND, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president for Research at NFPA. Top Photograph: AP/Wide World