Research with BIM for Fire Protection

This article describes the applications and impact of Building Information Modelling (BIM) with special focus on passive and active fire protection as well as firefighting.

Research with BIM
Fig. 1: Planning with BIM can avoid typical fire protection mistakes. (Source: Autodesk)

By Uwe Rüppel, Uwe Zwinger, Michael Kreger and Kristian Schatz. Everyone is currently talking about Building Information Modelling (BIM). For example, the "Reform Commission for the Construction of Major Projects" has investigated the entire construction process from the first project idea through the planning process, approval process and construction to operation. In the process, they identified the causes of cost and deadline overruns, developed proposed solutions and derived recommendations for action. The result was a "10 Point Action Plan" that was presented at the end of June 2015 [1]. It provides numerous initiatives, working groups and reference projects right through to a newly founded company "planen-bauen 4.0", which will be mainly financed by associations and aims to establish itself as the project sponsor for BIM projects from research contractors [2].
BIM is viewed as the new digital method to combat the challenges faced in complex construction projects. As fire protection is one of the central challenges faced particularly on major projects, the BIM method also offers lots of opportunities for the area of fire protection. The development of the BIM method, its basic foundations and selected BIM research projects in the field of fire protection will be presented below.
The German Association of Computing in Civil Engineering – an association of mainly professors who teach and conduct research at universities in German-speaking countries in the field of computing in civil engineering – defines BIM as follows [3]:
"Building Information Model: A digital model of a building structure that includes geometric and semantic information relevant to all building components, assemblies and spaces along with their relationships. The information contained in the model should be valid for the entire life cycle of the building structure and available in an object-oriented form.
Building Information Modelling: Processes for the specification of a Building Information Model and its application, management and adaptation for the duration of the entire life cycle."
BIM is based on the modelling method IFC (Industrial Foundation Classes, ISO 16739:2013) and can be applied from the perspective of information technology using different levels of complexity with respect to the cooperation of all those involved in the construction project, i.e. the shared use of the BIM. Three important levels are defined by the authors below:

  • Low BIM: During the respective specialist planning, separate BIM models are completely newly created for internal use each time. 2D drawings are passed on to other specialist planners (on paper or as "digital lines" (e.g. PDF files)).
  • Middle BIM: Building on the specialist BIM models from other planners, a planner develops their own specialist model based on common BIM data by taking over IFC data or using the same software. The data is passed on to other specialist planners via files in IFC format (openBIM) or in a proprietary format (closedBIM).
  • High BIM: All specialist planners develop a joint BIM stored in a "neutral" server (openBIM) or in a proprietary environment with the same software (closedBIM). The relevant specialist models are handled separately (concept of views in object orientation) but make use of a shared pool of data (generally the geometric model). From a computing perspective in construction, this is the most efficient use of data and also the highest quality option when modelling planning interrelationships in the sense of providing cooperative support (Cooperation Model).

The article was published in FeuerTRUTZ International, issue 1.2017 (January 2017).
More information about eMagazine FeuerTRUTZ International

Passive fire protection with BIM

Research with BIM
Fig. 2: Building components with additional significance for fire protection

Decisions taken in fire protection planning generally have an impact on the planning of other specialist disciplines [4]. Figure 2 gives an example of what additional significance "normal" building components, as found in all types of specialist planning, have on fire protection.
This means that if one of these building components is changed, it can have major consequences for fire protection, without the overall impact of this change being clear to the individual specialist planners. Using a specialist BIM model for passive fire protection, as was developed for the first time in a dissertation written by Theiß [5], it is possible to understand the impact any individual decision will have on passive fire protection and thus understand this impact in the whole context and across all specialist trades. The prerequisite for this is that all those involved in the project are working in the BIM complexity modes Middle BIM to High BIM. An example of High openBIM is the use of BIMserver [6]. The visualisation of an example is shown in figure 3.

Research with BIM
Fig. 3: Visualisation of selected elements of a specialist BIM model for passive fire protection (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

For example, if a specialist planner designs an opening in a wall that has been modelled as a fire wall in the BIM, it can be seen in the BIM that this would lead to problems for fire protection. The relevant strategy used in the BIM to resolve these conflicts is defined in the multi-user strategy of the BIM system. This ideally needs to be defined generally for certain planning and design conflicts for all specialist planners (e.g. the development of a BIM fire protection guideline) or defined individually per project in the sense of a BIM project manual with a chapter on fire protection. Further information on this subject, especially from countries in which BIM has up to now become popular in practice, can be found, for example, in [7] [8] [9].
One option for coordination in the sense of the multi-user strategy for conflicts in planning is for the planners involved to be automatically notified that there is a fire protection conflict. The specialised conflict can then be resolved through the interactive cooperation of those involved in the project. The advantage of this approach is that it provides the earliest possible BIM-based recognition of fire protection conflicts, which, without BIM, would under certain circumstances only be identified during construction.
The first option that should be considered when modelling a BIM-based cooperation in general is the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) [10]. There are also software tools for topographic and topological collision testing but these are generally not currently fire protection specific (e.g. [11]). In terms of fire protection, this means, for example, that for each object it is necessary to define all planners who are permitted to make changes, what changes can be made, who should be automatically informed of the change and which collision tests should be regularly carried out (e.g. do all of the cables fit in the cable tray?). However, one challenge that continues to exist during the construction phase is determining the actual state on-site in comparison to the target state found in the BIM (built as planned).
On the basis of this research, a BIM for passive fire protection could be developed and furnished with more in-depth data via the standardised IFC format (e.g. as this already exists in rudimentary form as part of ISO 16739) and implemented in software systems. In the case of causal chains and interrelationships in fire protection planning in particular, this would enable – as described – other specialist planners to be automatically or semi-automatically notified about problems on the basis of the BIM. This would mean the consequences of individual decisions in the whole context would be recognisable to all those involved for each project step relevant to fire protection.

Firefighting and active fire protection with BIM: Indoor navigation

It is often difficult for people in large and complex buildings to determine their own position in the building and to determine the route to their destination in the building. If there is a fire and smoke starts to develop, for example, this will severely restrict visibility and thus cause people even greater difficulties when it comes to orientation and finding their way. Therefore, support is required to aid in determining a person’s location (indoor positioning) and finding the correct route (indoor route calculation). Especially for the fire services, this aspect is particularly important for quickly rescuing people and for also ensuring their own safety as part of preventive fire protection [12].
The following research on positioning and route calculation as part of the application scenarios "Fire Department Use" and "Maintenance" was carried out as one of the Institute‘s subprojects in the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft RFID (Radio Frequency Identification; spezielle Sensortechnologie) im Bauwesen" (Consortium for RFID (Radio Frequency Identification; special sensor technology) in the construction industry) ( ). The results and findings presented below were researched over a more than six year funding period in the three projects "RFID building guidance systems" [14], "RFID-Maintenance-Guiding-System Fire Safety" [15] and "BIM-based building with RFID" [16] – funded as part of the research initiative "ZukunftBau" (Future Construction) ( ) by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) in combination with the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR). Cooperation partners in the individual phases were the Airport Fire Department at Fraport AG, Bureau Veritas Construction Services GmbH, IDENTEC SOLUTIONS AG and innoTec GmbH. Alongside the information provided below, more detailed information can be found in the video about ARGE-RFID ( ).


Research with BIM
Fig. 4: Multi-method approach (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

As part of the project for indoor positioning, the new multi-method approach illustrated in figure 4 was developed. Various wireless technologies such as Ultra Wide Band (UWB), WLAN and RFID were used here for positioning and were tested for the applications "Fire Department Use" [14] and "Maintenance guiding system" [15]. Which positioning system is used in each specific case depends on the individual characteristics of the building (floorplan, materials, building technology, etc.) as well as the desired level of precision.

Route calculation

The BIM is used to automate the calculation of the routes in the building. As described at the beginning, a BIM consists of objects with semantics (meaning) and topology (relationships, neighbourhoods) that are suitable for the automation of the route calculation required in this case. If the route network and underlying coordination system are known from the BIM, appropriate algorithms can be used to calculate routes from any one point in the route network to any other point [13].


Research with BIM
Fig. 5: Test of indoor navigation (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

A demonstrator was developed and tested among others at Frankfurt Airport for the context sensitive "RFID building guidance systems" (see figure 5). The tests showed that the demonstrator gave the emergency personnel current information at all times about their own position in relation to the given spatial conditions. Orientation was decisively improved as a result and the deployment location could be reached by a direct route. The positioning of the emergency personnel enables them to be coordinated more efficiently and be managed in the event of an alarm, helping to save lives and reduce the dangers posed to the emergency services.

Research with BIM
Fig. 6: Maintenance guiding system on a tablet (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

The demonstrator for the "RFID-Maintenance-Guiding-System Fire Safety" is illustrated in figure 6. The maintenance personnel can generate maintenance routes on a mobile end device that is connected to navigational, digital building plans (generated from the BIM) and that provide the shortest route between the individual objects requiring maintenance. The "circular route" function makes it possible to optimise the time required. In terms of quality assurance, the system works in combination with RFID transponders on the objects to ensure that no maintenance object is confused or forgotten. The information in the RFID transponders can in turn provide important additional information to emergency services in the event of an alarm.

Research with BIM
Fig. 7: The ARGE RFID demonstration module (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

In the project "BIM-based building with RFID", a demonstration module (figure 7) was developed as a demonstrator by the project partners of ARGE RFIDimBau.
It was set-up as a mobile unit in selected locations in Germany to provide a hands-on presentation of the basic principles, applications and advantages of BIM and RFID technology for interested members of the public and a specialist audience [16].

BIM-based engineering methods in fire protection: Interactive evacuation analyses as serious games

Research with BIM
Fig. 8: PowerWall in DACES for digital engineering methods in fire protection (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

Computer-aided engineering methods are often used above all for work on existing buildings, although it is sometimes difficult to present the results in a comprehensible manner. In particular, computer models and simulations for evacuation analyses used to estimate the time required to evacuate a building exposed to fire are often difficult to validate and verify.
In the field of evacuation analysis, the new BIM and sensor-based methods for positioning and route calculations, in combination with the serious game technology described below, open up new opportunities for researching flight behaviour and evacuation analyses that cannot be carried out through real physical experiments.

Research with BIM
Fig. 9: Evacuation analyses with a VR headset (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

Computer games that, alongside their role for purely entertainment purposes, also fulfil another more serious purpose are generally described as serious games. Certain entertainment elements must nevertheless be retained because otherwise they would completely lose their gaming character. The playing of these types of games is described as "serious gaming". Serious games have already been successfully implemented in other disciplines.
In the "Serious Human Rescue Game" project, the flight behaviour of people in the event of a fire is simulated in a virtual world based on a BIM with damage incidents simulated in real time in an immersive gaming environment (3D active stereo in the Darmstadt Civil, Environmental and Safety Engineering Lab (DACES)) displayed on a powerwall (see figure 8) or on a head-mounted display (Oculus Rift VR headset, see figure 9) using test subjects [17]. The aim here is firstly to conduct research into whether conclusions about the actual behaviour of people in the event of a fire can be drawn from the behaviour exhibited in a virtual world.

Research with BIM
Fig. 10: Evacuation analyses with avatars in a BIM based game engine (Source: Rüppel / Zwinger / Kreger / Schatz)

The second aim of the research is to determine the walking routes for self-rescue and the time required using a BIM and different virtual people (e.g. young, old, restricted mobility, etc.) generated by a game engine via a Monte Carlo simulation (See figure 10). This would mean it is possible to make assertions for individual existing buildings via its BIM about the "evacuation services" that are in place. For this purpose, the model for the gaming environment is converted semi-automatically from the BIM. The first advantage offered by standard game development environments is that they allow inexpensive and very powerful visualisation via standard hardware. The second is that they offer functions for fire and smoke simulations that are visually engaging, even if these simulations are naturally not comparable in their precision with those delivered by special engineering software such as FDS because of the complexity involved. Nevertheless, the visual impression generated is initially sufficient for the test subjects in the "Serious Human Rescue Game". More detailed information can be found in [17].

Summary and outlook

Selected research projects from the Institute of Numerical Methods and Informatics in Civil Engineering at TU Darmstadt were presented in this article. In different areas of fire protection, the opportunities offered through BIM for fire protection were described. It is important to note that the models and developments presented here, as well as their applications, represent basic research that still needs to be developed further for practical use. It should also be noted that efficient application with the full functionality of BIM represents a digital value added chain for all involved. This in itself requires additional rules and skills on the part of the user when it comes to their rights and obligations. The provision of services in the individual phases could also deviate in some cases from e.g. the German Fee Regulations for Architects and Engineers (HOAI) because in the digital value added chain, the creation of the BIM generally requires a higher level of "BIM effort" in the early phases, which is then more than made up for in the later project phases so that overall significantly greater benefits can be achieved when it comes to efficiency and quality. However, if the project participants change over the various project phases this will necessitate further requirements when it comes to rights, obligations and fees.
Overall, it is clear that BIM offers a diverse range of possibilities especially in the area of fire protection with its links to a variety of other trades and the complex casual chains and interrelationships that accompany it. In order to take fire protection considerations into account in the development and application of a BIM, it is advisable for fire protection expertise to be pooled in the sense of a "BIM fire protection" working group.


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uwe Rüppel, Dipl.-Ing. Uwe Zwinger and Dipl.-Ing. Michael Kreger: TU Darmstadt (Germany), Institute for Numerical Methods and Informatics in Civil Engineering

Dr.-Ing. Kristian Schatz: pit-cup GmbH, Heidelberg (Germany)


[1] Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). ; accessed 12-2016

[2] Construction links: "Bauen Digital" becomes "planen-bauen 4.0". ; 22.02.2015; accessed 12-2016

[3] Working Group for Building Informatics – German Association of Computing in Civil Engineering (GACCE): , accessed 12-2016

[4] Kempen, Thomas: Sorgenkinder Großprojekte – Steigende Kosten durch den Brandschutz? (Major projects as the problem child – increased costs due to fire protection?) In: FeuerTRUTZ Special, Volume 5 Safety Systems, p. 12-15, 2014

[5] Theiß, Mirko: Agentenbasierter Modellverbund am Beispiel des baulichen Brandschutzes in der Gebäudeplanung (Agent-based models using the example of passive fire protection in construction planning). Reports from the Institute for Numerical Methods and Informatics in Civil Engineering, TU Darmstadt, Shaker Verlag, Aachen, Dissertation, ISBN 3-8322-4359-3, 2005

[6] Open Source Bim Server. , accessed 12-2016

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[12] Kai Stübbe: Kontextsensitive Indoor-Navigation für Einsatzkräfte – Ortung, Wegberechnung, Zielführung und Einsatzkoordination (Context-sensitive indoor navigation for emergency services – positioning, route calculation, guidance and deployment coordination). Reports from the Institute for Numerical Methods and Informatics in Civil Engineering, TU Darmstadt, Shaker Verlag, Aachen, Dissertation, ISBN 978-3-8322-9231-7, 2010

[13] Kreger, Michael: IT-gestützte Instandhaltung von Brandschutzeinrichtungen mittels BIM und Indoor-Navigation (IT-aided maintenance of fire protection equipment with BIM and indoor navigation). In: Hegemann, F.; Kropp, C.; Rahm, T.; Szczesny, K. (publisher): Conference transcript for "Forum Bauinformatik 2012". Bochum, 26 - 28 September 2012, European University Press, ISBN 978-3-89966-512-3, p. 183-190, 2012

[14] Rüppel, Uwe; Stübbe, Kai Marcus: BIM based Indoor-Emergency-Navigation-System for Complex Buildings. In: Tsinghua Science and Technology Journal, Tsinghua University, Vol. 13, No.S1, ISSN 1007-0214, p. 362-367, Peking, China, 2008

[15] Rüppel, Uwe; Stübbe, Kai Marcus: RFID-Wartungs-Leitsystem Brandschutz (RFID-Maintenance-Guiding-System Fire Safety). Research report. Fraunhofer IRB Verlag, ISBN: 3816786707, EAN: 978-3-8167-8670-2, Stuttgart, April 2012

[16] Zwinger, Uwe; Wagner, Steffi; Kortmann, Jan; Meins-Becker, Anica; Kelm, Agnes; Laußat, Lars; Bredehorn, Jens: Nutzung von BIM und RFID im Bauwesen (The use of BIM and RFID in civil engineering). In: Kreger, M.; Irmler, R. (publisher): Conference transcript for "Forum Bauinformatik 2014". Darmstadt, 24 - 26 September 2014, Shaker Verlag, ISBN 978-3-8440-3068-6, p. 107-117, 2014

[17] Schatz, Kristian: Bauwerksmodellbasierte Serious Games als Ingenieurmethoden im Brandschutz am Beispiel interaktiver Entfluchtungsanalysen (Construction model-based serious games as an engineering method in fire protection using the example of interactive evacuation analyses). Reports from the Institute for Numerical Methods and Informatics in Civil Engineering, TU Darmstadt, Shaker Verlag, Aachen, Dissertation, ISBN 978-3-8440-3008-2, 2014

The interview was published in FeuerTRUTZ International, issue 1.2017 (January 2017).
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