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In-building mapping: What’s really needed for emergency response?

by Urgent Communications contributor
Mar 02, 2018

Solutions that provide accurate, updated maps of buildings are needed for first responders to benefit fully from modern location technology. The ability to get X- Y- and Z-axis location data is wonderful; but if you can’t plot that information on a map, it isn’t helpful.

By Joe Hernandez

I was on a panel at the recent IoT Evolution Conference in Orlando, Fla., where FirstNet was discussed. I found it both interesting and exciting that FirstNet is now an important topic to the people and companies driving the innovation and technologies that are becoming the fabric for the connected world.

It makes perfect sense. Because the more we connect to devices, sensors, and cameras, the more data we can access to help first responders do their job more efficiently and safely.

One of the challenges for first responders is finding a way to locate people and things inside a building. Because GPS is less than accurate inside a building, we need to find ways to locate things like a fire in a building, a first responder in that burning building, or an intruder in a school.

For example, determining the location of a fire within a building is getting easier by placing heat sensors, smoke detectors, and cameras inside the building to alert us when heat is high, smoke is present, and a view of the smoke or flames.

However, the location of the fire cannot be truly determined without a map of some kind. There must be a map of the building to show you where the triggered sensors are to help us determine where the fire is located. It’s the combination of the connected world—via the Internet of Things (IoT)—and integrated maps that is creating hope for a solution to locating issues and people.

Finding a first responder in a burning building is a bit more challenging. There’s the issue of finding a moving object in that building. Remember, we can’t depend on GPS, but there are several alternatives that are evolving.

However, each alternative is dependent upon a way to grab location data either from a cell phone or a body-worn sensor, and they require any number of wireless technologies to enable the location, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), pico cells, boosted cellular signals, RFID or technologies such as LoRa. Once the wireless access is combined with some form of triangulation or cell location read, we are in business.

But having a way to locate body sensors or phones does us no good without a map. The ability to get X- Y- and Z-axis location data is wonderful; but if you can’t plot that information on a map, it isn’t helpful.

The issue is that the in-building mapping that exists today typically is limited to blueprints, built as floor plans, CAD renderings and 3D renderings. In some cases, building managers do not have access to any tangible mapping tool of their facility.

And, as is the case with older buildings, these maps are no longer accurate because of the changes that have occurred over time inside the building. These static images are not consistent or useful as stand-alones, and they do not have the ability to interact with real-time data.

What’s the solution? We need to find a scalable way to map the inside of buildings. These maps should be digital and interactive. They need to be able to track real-time data, including location information. They also need to be able to adapt when changes occur to the building. These maps need to be able to access and illustrate real-time information and alerts from sensors, systems and cameras as well as analyze the data to learn from it to deliver actionable information.

Imagine a smart map that can tell you not only what’s going on inside a building, but exactly where the problem is, and then tell you what the next best action should be. Now imagine that capability in the hands of first responders. The good news: solutions exist today and are ever-evolving to help keep first responders safe.

Joe Hernandez is CEO of BuildingDNA, which provides visual-intelligence solutions for smart buildings and recently received the “2018 Overall Smart City Solution of the Year” award from IoT Breakthrough. At IWCE 2018, Hernandez will participate on a panel entitled “Smart digital maps for in-building awareness” on Thursday.


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