December R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

This month we have an attempt to marry sensor data and fire models to give firefighters better and more useful information and a new probe to evaluate soil erosion around buildings and structures after floods.

Fighting Fires
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh's BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering are working on a technique called Sensor Assisted Fire Fighting. Although sensors are increasingly used for building automation and can provide some real-time information to first responders in the case of a fire, there's a risk of deluging fire fighters with too much information. Similarly, although models of how fires spread exist, they are "…currently not fast enough, not precise enough, not reliable enough and not robust enough to guide decision making in the short time frame of a fire emergency," to quote the 2008 article, "Sensor Assisted Fire Fighting" (PDF) written by Adam Cowlard, Wolfram Jahn, Cecilia Abecassis-Empis, Guillermo Rein, and José L. Torero.

The goal of Sensor Assisted Fire Fighting, as the name suggests, is to use sensor data to improve a fire evolution model, thus providing a usable tool to (ultimately) allow command personnel to decide how best to deal with a given fire and to provide fire fighters with useful information about how the fire is actually developing and how best to fight it. Sung-Han Koo, Jeremy Fraser-Mitchell, and Stephen Welch recently published an article in Fire Safety Journal that describes their work on K-CRISP, a sensor-linked modeling tool for the prediction of uncontrolled compartment fires.

Evaluating Post-Storm Safety
As the river deltas can attest, as water flows it picks up all kinds of stuff. After serious storm and flood events, where lots of water flows around buildings and other structures, that flowing water can seriously undermine the structural integrity of the soil on which the buildings and structures stand. This removal of soil from around structures caused by flowing water is called scour. Not surprisingly, engineers would very much like to know how much scour has occurred and until now, they've had to take samples and send them away to a lab. Thanks to North Carolina State University graduate student Cary Caruso and professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering Mohammed Gabr, they now have a new tool in their arsenal. The in-situ scour evaluation probe (ISEP) that they have developed uses a water jet to burrow a hole in a given patch of soil. Technicians can then assess how quickly material is removed by the water to provide a measurement of its scour potential. By varying the flowrate of the water, they can also assess how the soil would erode when faced with a variety of water flows, from normal rainfall to heavy storm surges. Matt Shipman's article for the NC State University's news service, "New Sensor Allows On-Site, Faster Testing For Scour Assessment," contains more details.

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