3 Remarkable IoT Applications for Fire Safety

 What We Can Learn from the Notre Dame Tragedy

Enabling unprecedented visibility into hazardous sources and on-site fire trends, IoT applications for fire safety in smart buildings and cities are game-changing.

Last week, a massive blaze engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral and destroyed significant parts of Paris’s iconic cultural landmark. The tragedy left Parisians distraught and startled the rest of the world. Firefighters did a tremendous job saving the main stone structure and plenty of valuable artifacts. However, there was significant room for improvement on how the catastrophe could have been prevented and mitigated in the first place.

The blaze is presumably accidental, and its specific cause has yet to be determined. However, the fact that Notre Dame was under renovation allegedly makes it exposed to multiple fire sources. On top of that, basic safeguarding mechanisms like firewalls and sprinkler systems were purposely absent – to avoid major architectural alterations or potential structural damage caused by electrical wiring inside the ancient cathedral. This left Notre Dame much more vulnerable to fire hazards, and its wooden structure obviously intensified the problem.

Elevating Fire Safety to the Next Level with IoT

The event raises a pertinent question, can we do a better job of protecting historic buildings against fire incidents? While it’s impossible to completely eradicate the risk, advanced technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT), could help us minimize it to the largest extent. Providing unprecedented visibility into hazardous sources and on-site fire trends, the potential of IoT for fire safety in smart buildings and cities is tremendous.

New IoT sensor technologies with miniaturized form and multi-sensing capabilities satisfy specific requirements of historic facilities – as they can be easily retrofitted without modifying or burdening the structure. Additionally, low-power wireless solutions allow these sensors to stay connected on independent batteries for years – eliminating any complex, dangerous wiring. IoT data is powerful in helping combat a fire disaster or even prevent it from happening altogether.

1. Hazardous Source Monitoring and Early Fire Warnings

Buildings under renovation like Notre Dame are highly susceptible to fire threats. Renovation work often entails the use of blowtorches or welding torches to solder pipes or metal-roof components. Drops of hot molten materials are an inherent risk, but even induction heat can ignite a fire in older buildings constructed with highly flammable timber. What’s more, the danger isn’t just limited to where the work takes place. Pipes can indeed transport the heat to other building parts where a flame can break out after hours of smoldering. Besides threats from renovation activities, overheat and malfunction of electrical cables and equipment also play a role in triggering fires.

In this context, IoT sensors can be deployed to continuously monitor electrical systems and identify any active heat sources that are invisible to the naked eye. Once a temperature spike is detected, an alert is immediately sent for relevant inspections to avoid potential catastrophes. IoT temperature sensors also outweigh traditional smoke detectors by detecting ignited fires much faster – even before they emit smoke. In an emergency when every second counts, the sooner an alarm is set off, the more the consequences can be mitigated.

2. On-Site Situational Assessment

Once a fire breaks out, IoT data can support firefighters’ strategic decision in what equipment and approach would be most effective to battle it. Heat-proof sensors can communicate where the fire starts off, its intensity, nature and spreading patterns, as well as whether there are any occupants in the fire zone. Knowing what is happening on the ground in real-time, enables streamlined firefighting and evacuation effort to minimize damage and fatalities.

3. Management of Fire Safety Equipment 

Ensuring critical safety equipment is available when they are most needed, is no doubt a top priority. Smart fire detectors and alarms can report whether they are running low on battery for timely and efficient maintenance. IoT sensors can additionally indicate if a fire extinguisher is missing, or whether a fire door is left open and the automatic sprinkler system still functions properly – in buildings with more sophisticated safeguarding instruments. Digitized management of safety-critical assets eliminates human errors and costs associated with manual checks while providing much higher asset visibility.

Beyond Historic Buildings

The Notre Dame incident is a reminder of how cultural heritages deserve thoughtful care and supervision. But IoT applications for fire safety certainly extend beyond the scope of historical buildings. For all large-scale industrial, commercial and residential facilities, the consequence of a similar fire could lead to the disastrous loss of lives and/or irreversible impacts on the environment. In such modern buildings, potential use cases are boundless with decentralized fire suppression systems, optimal escape route calculation and LED-based navigation or predictive maintenance of complex safety-critical systems – all powered by IoT sensor data.

An IoT-enabled fire safety network doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be deployed. Emerging wireless options like Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) can deliver peace-of-mind with lower capital and operational expenditures. Having said that, reliability, scalability and power efficiency are similarly important network criteria. At the end of the day, it is worth investing in an effective safety system than watching valuable properties falling into ashes.

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