The fundamental structure of cities as we know them is changing. The Internet of Things, combined with the possibilities that connected technologies can offer, presents us with an opportunity to transform the way we design buildings forever by making them smarter.
The term 'smart cities' is widely used to describe urban environments that are better connected, increasing efficiency in services, while also reducing costs and energy consumption. The goal of smart cities is to make them better living spaces for residents, simultaneously enhancing their health and wellbeing in the process.
While the potential benefits of smart cities are much discussed, one area where the spotlight is only just beginning to shine is life safety and the role it can play in this integration of technologies and systems across the built environment. Smart or not, protecting the residents of a building or city is vital, but with the fundamental ways in which cities and public spaces are developed and occupied changing, there are key questions being raised about what is required to keep people safe in our schools, hospitals and other public buildings.
According to a recent survey of life safety professionals from across EMEA and India, carried out by Hochiki Europe, there appears to be a gap in awareness and understanding of what smart cities are and their potential impact. The survey, predominantly of life safety installers, found that over half (57%) of respondents had heard of the term 'smart city', and only a third (33%) knew what one was. That said, when respondents were provided with a definition of a smart city, 48% were confident that the life safety industry would still be able to keep people safe in smarter cities, and almost a fifth (18%) thought people would be even safer.
Life safety in public spaces
Across the built environment, there is a growing demand for spaces which not only promote the welfare of building occupants, but also actively contribute to people’s physical health and wellbeing. Facilities managers play a key role in this by ensuring operational efficiency and effectiveness within their spaces. It’s no wonder then that almost a quarter of respondents in the survey thought that facilities management was a sector that would be most impacted by smart technology.
In places like schools, hospitals, offices and other public buildings, the benefits a smart city can offer – thanks to increased digital connectivity – are clear. Not only can it help with monitoring building occupants from a safety perspective, it can also help in the assessment of building usage and modifying systems as required, ensuring they are operating as efficiently as possible and to the maximum benefit of users. Smart lighting technologies, for example, already exist and are widely used in healthcare environments. These systems are capable of automatically adjusting lighting levels in a room based on daylight levels outside to offer optimum comfort for room users and to save energy.
Modern life safety systems and technologies already operate as part of a connected network in which one centralised control panel controls all fire safety and emergency lighting equipment within any given building. This means facilities managers can monitor the performance of their entire life safety network from a single location, helping to save time as they carry out the regular inspections required by the law.
Further efficiencies lie in the maintenance inspections themselves and the data that can be gathered from them. With effective data management and smart technologies, facilities managers are able to make better informed decisions as to the delivery of maintenance work and plan any repair work well in advance, reducing costs and disruption to building users or residents.
Life safety and planning
As well as helping facilities managers plan better maintenance and repair cycles, smart life safety technologies offer a number of benefits when it comes to wider-scale planning, such as town planning and large infrastructure projects. Linear heat detection technology, for example, is capable of pinpointing the exact location of a fire in a confined space such as a cable run. This, combined with targeted fire suppression systems like sprinklers, can not only help minimise the risk of a fire spreading throughout a building, but also prevent damage to intact property elsewhere. By incorporating this type of technology across the built environment, town and building planners can make more intelligent choices when it comes to the placement of suppression systems to maximise the safety of people in public sector buildings.
Smart cities present an exciting opportunity to improve the standard of living in major cities around the world. It’s clearly time though, for these connected technologies to become more widely used in our schools, colleges, healthcare facilities and office spaces.
In order for the smart city movement to take hold in the design of our public spaces, Governments and manufacturers need to work together to lay the right groundwork. This includes looking at the regulations surrounding fire safety in public spaces, developing the technology best suited to the task in hand and implementing the infrastructure needed to centralise control of fire safety emergency lighting equipment. Through this collaborative approach, we can realise a vision of a smarter and safer urban environment.