NFPA Journal Looks at Big Data's Potential to Transform the Fire Service

December 3, 2014
The November/December cover story, "In Pursuit of Smart," looks at the innovative way the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) is using data for fire prevention. (Photo via NFPA)
The November/December cover story, "In Pursuit of Smart," looks at the innovative way the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) is using data for fire prevention. (Photo via NFPA)

Cross-posted from the National Fire Protection Associations' (NFPA) "Today's Responder" Website

We are surrounded today by data-gathering devices, which can do everything from track how well you sleep to the energy consumption of your house. Increasingly, the fire service is beginning to harness the vast amount of data and gadgets now available to help it save lives, protect firefighters, and reduce property loss.

The November/December issue of NFPA Journal explores the idea of smart firefighting and what the era of big data and bold technology could mean for preventing and fighting fires.

The November/December cover story, "In Pursuit of Smart," looks at the innovative way the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) is using data for fire prevention. The department has developed a complex computer algorithm called FireCast, which uses data collected from 17 city agencies and the 311 non-emergency call center, to predict which buildings in the city are most likely to experience a fire event. The algorithm analyzes recent fire history and up to 7,500 weighted building risk factors to assign a fire risk score to each of the 330,000 buildings FDNY inspects. The program has allowed firefighters to prioritize the inspection of trouble buildings, which has led to greater fire prevention and better awareness for first responders.

Data and technology is also being used in other parts of the country: high-tech cameras are being used in Texas to monitor the woods for forest fires; firefighters in North Carolina are using wearable computers to help them in the field; and in Texas, one fire department has deployed sensors and cameras in and around schools to provide real-time data during a fire response.

To aid the effort, NFPA has been staying ahead of the curve. NFPA 950, Data Development and Exchange for the Fire Service, will make its print debut this November, and its companion, NFPA 951, Guide to Building and Utilizing Digital Information, is slated for release in November 2015.

In addition, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology have teamed up on a complex project, titled “Smart Firefighting: Where Big Data and Fire Service Unite,” aimed at bringing about the future of smart firefighting. A research roadmap is expected to be produced by early next year, which will outline the next steps and projects to help the fire service gain even more from the huge increase in new devices, sensors and data.

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