January 22, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) is building a system to give firefighters and fire inspectors real-time access to analytics and predictive models in the field. The agency's vendor IBM will collect building-related data from several agencies, including the Department of Buildings, Department of City Planning and the Department of Environmental Protection, storing it in a central data warehouse.
The project aims to give firefighters more building details faster during fires. Analytics and predictive modeling should help fire inspectors better anticipate fire exposures, analyze possible impacts and improve processes that can minimize risks, according the FDNY.
"This technology will allow us to shift to a risk-based inspection system that will prevent fires and improve public safety," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
Timely information for firefighters commands equal priority, which New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg initiated. In August 2007, two firefighters died in the former Deutsche Bank building, which had been scheduled for demolition. Investigators blamed the deaths on a lack of timely information to responding firefighters. Bloomberg launched an initiative to prevent future similar events.
One set of queries from the system will keep responders from wasting time accessing several databases separately. The tool also gives inspector managers better criteria for monitoring inspector performance.
The FDNY will use analytics and predictive modeling to move risk analysis beyond intuition and experience, according to IBM. For example, experience can tell the FDNY that wooden structures pose a greater fire risk than concrete buildings. But how much does a sprinkler system lower the risk of deaths in wooden buildings?
"This can only be quantified with good data and good analytic tools, which this system will provide," said Gregory Greben, vice president of IBM's Public Sector division.
Handheld devices for inspections will accompany the project, offering a custom set of prompts for identifying items to inspect. These devices will provide reference to the correct section of the fire code so that violations and summons can be correctly written to stand up to legal challenge, according to IBM. Over time, the data collected can be analyzed to better predict potential problems based on a building's profile, thus better focusing the efforts during an inspection, the vendor said.
The project will cost the FDNY $20.8 million and have a four-year deployment, said Steve Ritea, public information officer of the FDNY.