Fire Protection 4.0 – Opportunities and Risks due to Digitalisation

Digitalisation – with its multitude of implications – represents one of the most radical changes in the cultural history of humankind. There is hardly any area of life that it does not impact. Profound and at the same time rapid changes are taking place in many economic sectors. What developments stand out in the area of preventive fire protection? And what opportunities and risks do they provide for planners, manufacturers and installers?

By André Gesellchen. The building of the future will be characterised by digital technology. Whether in residential buildings or special buildings, a large number of devices with multiple sensors will take over responsibility for control, comfort and safety tasks. These devices will be networked with one another; they will exchange sensor readings and control signals and generate a mass of information that can only be handled by an integrated building management system. Digital tools are already being utilised today in the planning processes for buildings and this will increase in the near future. If the building models created during the planning stage are combined with real time data from installed sensors and devices, operators can be provided with a complete and continuously up-to-date digital representation of their property.

Outside of this far from vague vision of the future, it is possible to identify areas in which preventive fire protection will experience a digital transformation.

Opportunities and Risks due to Digitalisation: Stefan Truthän
(Source: hhpberlin Ingenieure für Brandschutz GmbH)

Statement Stefan Truthän

"The boundaries between fire defence and preventive fire protection are becoming increasingly blurred. At the same time, digitalisation is opening up huge opportunities for the smart city of the future. To ensure that we can exploit these opportunities, a change in thinking is required within the rigid structures of our sector. "
Stefan Truthän, hhpberlin Ingenieure für Brandschutz GmbH

Industry 4.0

An ever increasing number of devices and products are communicating with one another via Internet technology. The buzzword for this is: Internet of Things. The first fully networked factories along these lines already exist and for industrial production it promises, amongst other things, advances in the automation, self-optimisation and self-diagnosis of machines. Ultimately, Industry 4.0 should enable more flexible and cost, time and resource efficient production processes and the achievement of a higher production quality. Many specialists expect the resulting changes to be so profound that they talk of a fourth industrial revolution. An important requirement here is the merging of IT systems with production technologies.

In terms of fire protection, this means above all that plant technology can be produced more cheaply in future and at the same time fitted with more sensors and communication technology.

The loss of numerous jobs in industry and issues of data security are some of the problems that Industry 4.0 must face.

The article was published in FeuerTrutz International, issue 1.2018 (January 2018).
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Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM stands for digital building information modelling and is a tool for architects, planners and operators. BIM building models go far beyond 3D models in terms of the density and quality of their information because they record, combine and network all relevant data about the building. A BIM model not only “knows” that a door with certain dimensions should be installed in a specific position in a corridor but it also contains all relevant information about this door and all of its surrounding components. This includes, for example, the required fire resistance of the door, the opening direction (important e.g. in the case of an escape door), information on hold-open systems including smoke detectors, etc.

BIM models demonstrate their strengths in, amongst other things, the effective cooperation between specialist planners involved in the project. As the planners can work on all disciplines in the same model, the impacts of planning changes on any discipline become immediately apparent. For example, if the fire protection planner is considering changing the fire compartments, information about which locations in the building require additional partitions will be sent to, amongst others, the technical building equipment planner.

These types of functions, which also include automatic collision testing, can avoid many surprises on the construction site and prevent any resulting delays and consequential costs.

The underlying data stored for all of the installed components can also be used later on by the operator of the building. The model provides him/her with e.g. an overview of the maintenance intervals for fire protection doors, dampers and extinguishing systems, etc. The model supports employees from maintenance companies who are often unacquainted with the building to find the equipment requiring maintenance and even provides them, where necessary, with documentation about previous maintenance work, as well as information from the manufacturers of the equipment.

BIM models can also provide valuable information in the event of a fire. The networked real-time model of the building can be used to guide and support the evacuation and help the emergency fire services to orientate themselves quickly, as well as providing them with information on the state of systems and components.

BIM thus act as a decisive digital interface for many of those involved in fire protection and its importance should not be underestimated.

It was only possible to briefly outline the impact of BIM on fire protection in this article. A detailed presentation of this area can be found in the three-part series of articles “BIM for fire protection” in issues 6/2015 to 2/2016 of the FeuerTRUTZ magazine (German issue).

Opportunities and Risks due to Digitalisation (Dietrich)
(Source: FeuerTrutz)

Statement Matthias Dietrich

"Digital systems are becoming increasingly complex and scarcely comprehensible for laypeople. We should not forget that the digital technology and all of its numerous interfaces need to be designed for the entire lifetime of a building. We are often currently already facing insolvable problems when it is time for the first update."
Matthias Dietrich, RASSEK & PARTNER – Brandschutzingenieure

Sensors everywhere

It becomes clear how omnipresent sensors already are today if you consider how many of them can be found in our smartphones alone. The following can be found in well-equipped devices e.g.:

  • GPS receiver
  • Magnetometer
  • Rotation sensor
  • Acceleration sensor
  • Proximity sensor
  • Brightness sensor
  • Thermometers
  • Humidity sensor
  • Barometer
  • Fingerprint reader

Manufactures are integrating an increasing number of sensors into their products not least due to the drastic reduction in prices and their ever smaller designs. Smoke detectors, for example, will certainly still be designed in future first and foremost to detect smoke; yet they could easily be combined with other detectors and fitted with additional sensors.

Sensors will be omnipresent in the buildings of the future. They will record the condition of systems (e.g. the position of fire and smoke protection dampers, windows and doors), as well as comfort data (temperature, humidity, brightness) and the positions and movements of people. In combination with the increasing application of video technology, this offers numerous opportunities for optimising active and organisational fire prevention. Challenges faced in this area include, however, uniform standards and interfaces, as well as data protection and security.

Big data and predictive analytics

Bringing together and evaluating large volumes of data offers potential for improvement in, amongst other things, risk analyses. Investigating and evaluating existing and potential weaknesses in a building could thus be carried out more precisely than before.

The fire services are also currently addressing the question of whether big data analyses could be used to derive very precise predictions about future events. Such probability calculations could be used e.g. to optimise deployment, demand and site planning, always with the aim of shortening the time taken to provide emergency assistance and thus reducing the number of victims of fire or accidents.

These data-based forecasting methods are described as predictive analytics and have been used operationally by e.g. the police for some time.

The following data sources, as well as others, could be used for such computer-aided analyses and prediction processes for preventive fire protection and above all fire defence:

  • Fire statistics
  • Building data (data on the building stock)
  • Geographical information systems
  • Sensors in buildings, systems and products (see above)
  • Weather data
  • Fire service deployment statistics
  • Location analyses
  • Population statistics (e.g. location-based evaluations of population densities and age structures).

Installers will benefit

The increasing application of digital technology promises tangible benefits for installers of fire protection components.

While installing complex components or systems, they will be able to benefit in future from special applications offered by manufacturers that will provide visual support on a smartphone display or data glasses. Such augmented reality (AR) applications combine a live camera image with additional information and notes and are sure to provide an outstanding service as an installation guide.

AR and especially virtual reality (VR) will already play an increasingly important role in the training of personnel.

Opportunities and Risks due to Digitalisation (Udo Jung)
(Source: TROX GmbH)

"The world of safety technology will change dramatically. One reason is due to building information modelling (BIM) with which buildings can be planned, realized and operated. In the planning of e.g. ventilation or smoke extraction systems, the theoretical calculations carried out by the BIM can be tested using virtual scenarios and thus made safer. Another important point is the increasing intelligence of safety components that will be increasingly and decentrally distributed throughout a building and will communicate with one another using the international standard of the fieldbus level AS-Interface (AS-I). The advantages for system manufacturers and system operators are overcoming the problem of interfaces, complete control and monitoring and thus an increase in the safety of a system, as well as cost savings in the construction phase and during operation."
Udo Jung, TROX GmbH

Maintenance and remote inspections

Maintenance intervals must be constantly observed by the operator of a building. When do e.g. the pressure tanks for a gas extinguishing system need to be serviced? Is it after a set period of time defined by the manufacturer or as stated in applicable standards or as required? We will be able to identify differentiated responses to these and similar questions in the future because every element of a fire protection system can be fitted with sensors (see above). The (partial) systems will monitor themselves and report every relevant deviation from the previously defined set values to superordinate systems. Operators and maintenance service providers will be informed immediately when changes become apparent, often long before any damage is caused to the system or there is even a system failure.

Manufacturers can in turn utilise the collected data to identify weaknesses in their products and allow these findings to flow into their product development work.

In the case of electrical systems in particular, remote access by specialists will also take on an increasingly important role. For example, employees at specialist companies can access the central fire alarm systems they maintain anytime and anywhere via network technology in order to rectify faults or to make program modifications. If it is still nevertheless necessary for a technician to make an on-site visit, they arrive at the building with advance knowledge of the fault and also with the required spare parts, which saves on additional journeys and thus costs.

Using software for documenting maintenance and repair work is already a prevalent practice today. Alongside the documenting aspect, its strength lies in the networking and accessibility of the data. A new service provider who arrives at a building with the job of maintaining a particular system will have access to electronic documents (e.g. approvals, installation instructions and maintenance logbooks) and databases that describe the entire history of the system from its manufacture and installation through to the last service.

Such systems and workflows are easy to realise from a technical perspective and their benefits are so convincing that they are sure to be used on a comprehensive basis.

Engineering methods

Opportunities and Risks due to Digitalisation: Evacuation analysis with VR glasses
Fig. 1: Evacuation analysis with VR glasses (Source: Rüppel et al.)

Special software is often used in the application of engineering methods to fire protection. Evacuation simulations (people flow analyses), CFD fire simulations and above all smoke simulations often require lots of computing power. If several scenarios or configurations are being compared, the required computer calculations can take a very long time. Large computers are generally too expensive or not accessible to fire protection planners. The use of cloud computing, in which large computing tasks are split into smaller work packages and are then processed in parallel by numerous individual computers, promises assistance in this area. A large number of processors are thus connected together to form a large virtual computer. Cloud computing can be purchased as a service when it is required and in this way allows fast simulation results without any major investment.

Modern software technologies such as deep learning (see info box) will also ensure in future that computer programs can optimise themselves so that they become better and better at solving specific problems in less time. If these types of tools were to be used e.g. to analyse the results of millions of CFD simulations, we could expect major advances in computer-assisted engineering methods.

Virtual and augmented reality will be increasingly used in future to visualise the results of simulation calculations. Viewers can “immerse” themselves so to speak in a people flow analysis and walk through the VR model of a building using avatars in order to identify e.g. any potential bottlenecks in the escape routes (see Figure 1).

When presenting simulation results to clients and representatives of relevant authorities, the visually convincing VR or AR presentations can help gain acceptance for those solutions identified.

Info: Deep learning

Deep learning describes a form of artificial intelligence in which computers utilise computing processes based on neural networks to analyse very large volumes of data. In the process, the computer develops models that are continuously refined during the data analysis. The general public became aware of this method when the computer program AlphaGo defeated one of the best Go players in the world – Lee Sedol from South Korea – in March 2016. It is important to remember here that Go is an Asian board game that was for a long time considered, in contrast to e.g. chess, too difficult for computers to master.

Training and further education

Even if we were to discount the combined developments described here, one thing remains clear: The complexity and dynamics of preventive fire protection means that well-trained and informed specialist personnel are required at all levels. Vocational training and further education during employment is increasingly becoming more important.

Digitalisation also demonstrates its strengths in this sector as software webinars, digital learning environments, forums and databases can supplement traditional face-to-face events and enable location-independent and flexible training.

In addition, numerous publishing houses are making their expert information available via apps and databases so that users always have access to comprehensive archives from anywhere and are able to search them using reliable search tools.

Fire defence

Opportunities and Risks due to Digitalisation
The augmented reality tool ARE from hhpberlin provides emergency services with a quick overview of all relevant fire protection facilities in a building and its immediate environment. (Source: FeuerTrutz)

Emergency fire services already use digital technology, e.g. for their radio communication and in mobile infrared cameras. The use of VR simulations is also being tested in the education and training of firefighters. The VR environment allows for the comparatively realistic simulation of real deployment scenarios without any major financial costs or the need for large numbers of personnel.

AR systems for emergency services are being developed that e.g. project the image from a small infrared camera attached to a helmet onto a person‘s real field of vision using data glasses. The advantages: The emergency services have their hands free and do not have to look down because they no longer have to hold the infrared camera in their hand.

AR systems are ideally suited for use by the fire service so that they can quickly and conveniently maintain an overview of those systems relevant to the location (fire service access points, hydrants, entrances, fire service terminals, technical rooms etc., see Figure 2).


Digitalisation is not only relevant for preventive fire protection as it will to some extent massively influence the everyday work of planners, installers, operators and other parties involved over the coming years. Huge improvements in efficiency can be expected in the process.

It still remains questionable whether it will be possible to develop suitable protocols, interfaces and platforms that will guarantee the safe and reliable networking of devices with one another. Every interface also represents an additional target for attack. Developers and users thus need to constantly ensure data security and data protection at all times.


André Gesellchen: Deputy chief editor at FeuerTrutz Network, Germany‘s leading publishing house for preventive fire protection and organiser of Europe‘s biggest congress for the fire safety industry

The article was published in FeuerTrutz International, issue 1.2018 (January 2018).
More information about eMagazine FeuerTrutz International

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