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Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on November 2, 2015.

Fire Meets Tech

At a Palo Alto summit of fire and technology professionals, data is the lingua franca.

HOW CAN COLLABORATION be stimulated between fire and technology professionals? How can both groups be introduced to the opportunities that exist to blend these worlds?

Those were the underlying questions of the first Smart Homes Summit, held in October in Palo Alto, California. Sponsored by the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), the two-day summit brought together about 80 participants, including a slate of more than 30 speakers, for a discussion of fire, life safety, technology, and data analytics. Attendees included fire service members, technology professionals, data analytics experts, academics, computer scientists, and others.

“Hardly a day goes by where there isn’t some new technology that I’m amazed by,” Casey Grant, FPRF executive director, told the group. “There are things we can do with technology and data analytics that are very powerful, but we need your help. This is why we’re here, to clarify this issue. As fire professionals, we want to be connected at the hip with this technology. That’s our aim.”

It was fitting that the event took place near the headquarters of companies like Apple, Google, Tesla Motors, Facebook, Microsoft, and countless others in the Silicon Valley orbit. The summit’s highlighted projects reflected an impressive range of innovation that in fact went well beyond the concept of “smart homes.” Topics ranged from mapping data that helps promote wildfire fuel mitigation to robots that autonomously collect sewer bacteria samples to track the collective health of residents and provide warnings of impending pandemics.

“Data” was perhaps the most-used word during the meetings: collecting it, using it, accessing it, and more. Attendees seemed to agree that a vast amount can be learned if data is available and presented in a useful way. Representatives from institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and technology firms such as Oracle and Nest expressed interest in partnering with NFPA and first responders to turn data into life-saving tools.

Nest manufactures products that monitor home environments, including Nest Protect, which can detect multiple hazards and utilizes alarms as well as the Internet to warn occupants via their smart phones. Information gathered by these devices could also be useful to first responders in emergency situations, said Nick Webb, the lead engineer of Nest Protect.

“For instance, if there is a fire, what are the temperatures in the house? Are fires in one room or spread out? How many people are in the house? How long have they been there? Where are they?” Webb said during a presentation. “Using this information could provide a great level of safety for occupants and first responders, but Nest can’t do it alone. This is where the community has to come together and think about this . . . There is a great opportunity for us to work together.”

JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Shutterstock