Worcester Holds Annual Locator Technology Workshop

The seventh annual Precision Indoor Personnel Location and Tracking Annual International Technology Workshop got underway in Worcester, Mass., Monday with an overture that the most promising technology in firefighter location system to date will be tested on Tuesday morning.

Hosted by the federal Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) the workshop is a showcase of the most advanced technology in firefighter location systems in the world.

The workshop is an outgrowth of the tragic Worcester Cold Storage fire that happened in December 1999 which claimed six Worcester firefighters. From that, WPI professors and staff have pondered the conundrum of locating down firefighters in global position satellite denied environments which include virtually every building in existence.

Jalal Mapar, the program manager at DHS Science and Technology Directorate, was the master of ceremony for the event. It’s under his program leadership that the location tracking system called Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders, or GLANSER for short, has made significant strides to that elusive goal.  This will be the first public demonstration of the system.

The idea is to develop a practical and reliable system that can track where firefighters are in a building during an emergency. The concept is, should the firefighter become trapped or incapacitated, other firefighters would be able to quickly locate the fallen colleague and effect a rescue.

As one presenter said, it’s a matter of who saves the saviors.

A partnership with DHS, Honeywell,Boeing-Argon STand TRX Systems has led to the development of a system, mounted on a firefighter’s SCBA frame that tracks and transmits firefighter movement from room to room and floor to floor, which is displayed on an incident commander’s laptop.

As they have done for several years, Worcester Fire Department firefighters will test the system Tuesday morning  in one of the buildings on the WPI campus and the findings from the test will be reported back to the workshop participants Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s one of our most promising new systems and I look forward to the testing,” said Dr. Eric Overstrom, Provost and Senior Vice President of WPI.

During the first day of the two-day workshop, a variety of presenters - from manufacturers and research and development representatives and academic institutions - from as close as the WPI campus to as far away as Brisbane, Australia - talked about their contributions and solutions for finding firefighters in trouble.

Amit Kulkarni, Honeywell’s senior technology manager, told the audience that the firefighter location system to be tested is a 4-inch by 4-inch by 12-inch box that attaches to the firefighter’s SCBA pack. Inside the box is an array of two Doppler radar transmitters, an inertial navigation unit,  barometer to measure heights to help determine which floor the firefighter is on, a magnetometer  and a GPS sensor for when firefighters are outside when that satellite system works.

Kulkarni said the focus at this point is simply on getting the technology right and it will soon be improved and “ruggedized” for use in the fire service and the hostile environments in which firefighters routinely find themselves.

He also said another goal is to make it scalable as the DHS requirement states it should be able to accommodate up to 500 personnel on any scene.

The information monitored by the firefighter-based unit is then transmitted back to the incident commander who can view firefighter locations in two or three dimensions, Kulkarni said.

Mapar, the DHS program manager, said the unit’s design and execution is vitally important.

“We have got to get the technology right,” Mapar said. “It’s a matter of life or death.”

Another part of the overall program, according to Mapar, is the Physiological Health Assessment System for Emergency  Responders, or PHASER for short.

PHASER is designed to provide incident commanders with health information about individual firefighters, like body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse rate and relay that back to a laptop or some other monitoring device.

Bruce Varner, a retired fire chief fromSanta Rosa,Calif., and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) chairman of the electronic safety equipment technical committee, said the number one killer of firefighters is cardiac arrest. He said PHASER is charged with helping to predict when a firefighter is about to suffer a cardiac emergency. That, however is a very tall order considering doctors closely monitoring individuals with high tech equipment in hospitals are challenged by the same problem.

“I am not sure how close we will come to the goal, but it’s worth trying,” Varner said, noting that technology in the fire service is a way to keep firefighters safe.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, professor of medicine and physiology atUniversityofCalifornia Los Angeles(UCLA)SchoolofMedicine, said Globe Fire Suits and Zephyr Technology are working on wearable gear that will provide medical information to incident commanders to help determine the well being of firefighters in action.

Using an array of sensors and an Android-based communications platform, firefighters’ vitals can be monitored and transmitted to someone keeping track of firefighters at the scene or during training. The goal is to signal trouble when a firefighter exceeds personalized limits determined by baseline monitoring so a commander can intervene when a firefighter is at risk.

The information can be transmitted to an “EMSdashboard” that would flag a firefighter in trouble with a red light, while those in good health would remain green.

“GLANSER provides the information about where, and PHASER provides the how,” Mapar said.

 

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