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An evening with Professor Ed Galea

Clevertronics (CleverEVAC) recently hosted ‘An evening with Professor Ed Galea’, bringing the Australian fire engineering community together to discuss the latest works and research by Professor Galea and the Fire Safety Engineering Group (FSEG) at the University of Greenwich.

Each of the 3 nights, hosted in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane was well attended by owners, managers and senior team members of established and well known fire engineering companies. The presentation by Professor Ed Galea was headlined with the sharing of cutting edge research data on evacuations conducted in London on high rise construction sites and the particular issues faced by construction workers in evacuation of the these particularly difficult sites. This research discovered many interesting issues associated with a construction site evacuation including differences with various parts of the building under different stages of construction, which trades were on site and what they were doing at the time (with many workers wear hearing protection), the use of different scaffolding stairs and ladders, the various flooring substrates and stages of flooring construction all led to potential impediments to quick and safe evacuations. This research was particularly interesting to those in the room as this level of detailed analysis was a first for fire safety in construction sites, especially as fire engineered solutions are developed for completed sites, but rarely, if ever, on sites under construction. Many in the Sydney session referred to several crane incidents and fires that have plagued Sydney construction sites and agree that an approach to these large sites is overdue.

The second topic for discussion was how the FSEG developed the concept of wayfinding using adaptable / dynamic signage, sharing the research data on trials conducted in London and Spain. This research cumulated in proof of a dramatic increase in visual affordance when compared to static, non-illuminated signage. The research also highlighted the effectiveness of negative enforcement cues (the RED X) where an egress pathway or door is compromised by a fire or security event, one example examined by Ed was the Nairobi Shopping Centre terrorist attack. This event underscored the fact that while security forces could see the terrorists and the fleeing shoppers, they had no way of directing the shoppers away from the threat. Discussion during and after each session centred on the results of the research undertaken by the FSEG and several attendees discussed their specification of CleverEVAC in projects within Australia and how best to utilise the system, especially on how to best manually manipulate CleverEVAC in security situations from a central control room.

Ed also shared work he has conducted for training first responders and security services dealing with terrorist scenarios using virtual and augmented reality. The concept is to provide the first responders with as a real as possible experience in landscapes well known to them all recreated within the virtual reality space. The scenario requires multiple agents such as bystanders, the insurgents and special forces operatives, they are represented as life-like animated avatars within the virtual space. This is unique as the training environment using independent actors who fulfil the role of terrorist agent and special forces agent are able to control their avatars and not compete against computer directed avatars. This was seen by those attending to be the future of simulations that could supplement fire engineering modelling.

Toward the end of the presentation Ed turned the discussion toward research commissioned by the UK government to test the theory that bollards reduce evacuation time by 30%. In London, bollards (or Hostile Vehicle Mitigation Devices) are unfortunately required and relied upon heavily in protecting the pedestrian population and vulnerable buildings from Hostile Vehicle attacks. Before the London Olympics it was believed by a group of fire safety engineers that these bollards could slow emergency evacuations from buildings and spaces by up to 30%, based on their modelling programs. These engineers were advocating for the removal of these bollards citing them as a safety risk to evacuees. Led by Ed the FSEG was commissioned by government to conduct a series of live trials to test this theory. their research findings illustrated that the bollards slowed evacuees by up to 9%, nowhere near the cited 30%. This was reflected in both the live trials as well as the Exodus simulations, emphasising the value in quality modelling packages such as Exodus.

To conclude the evening and the presentation, Ed shared research he was conducting in the large scale evacuation of urban and city environments. His work with the city environment involved the interfacing of SUMO, a German software, with EXODUS which when combined, models the interaction of automobiles and pedestrians in an evacuation scenario. He illustrated this using by demonstrating the modelling that was undertaken on an evacuation of the Canary Wharf precinct in London with some 205,000 people and the effect of closing main or arterial roads and the resulting increase and decrease in evacuation times.

Ed also asked if the audience (and their families and friends) would complete his survey, looking to test the understanding and effectiveness of types of dynamic signage. Please ask your family and friends to participate in this survey. The link is http://bit.ly/fseg-signage

CleverEVAC... A new path forward for exit signage.