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Development of a Cyber Physical System Test Bed for Fire Safety
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Issue 102: Development of a Cyber Physical System Test Bed for Fire Safety

By Rosalie Wills

In 2014, the SFPE Foundation awarded the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at University of Maryland the 2nd Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant. Bentley Systems provided funding for this grant. The grant is named in memory of FDNY Assistant Chief Donald Burns who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, while setting up his command post to direct the evacuation. The purpose of the grant program is to utilize information modeling as a means of improving infrastructure safety and fire service preparedness.

To carry out this purpose, researchers from the University of Maryland, developed a Cyber Physical System (CPS) test bed for fire safety. A CPS is a system of collaborating computational elements that monitor and control physical entities. The CPS developed in this project utilizes current technologies in the modern built environment and emerging virtualization concepts.


Sustainability goals, security concerns, and rapidly evolving information technology have driven a profound expansion in the use of sensors in the modern built environment. This rich sensor data, typically used for building services related to comfort, security, and energy management, can be integrated with fire sensor information to inform emergency decisions in the event of a fire.


Building Information Modeling (BIM) has become an increasingly popular design tool allowing virtual construction of the building supporting solution of physical construction and maintenance design challenges. In the test bed established for this study, well-controlled full-scale fire experiments were conducted (physical elements) and represented in a three-dimensional (3D) BIM model (computational elements) allowing for visualization of critical static and dynamic building and fire information needed to support fire fighter decisions.

Figure 1: Comparison of Building Photograph and Comprehensive BIM Model

The CPS framework was developed for an existing Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) training structure. In the physical environment the structure was fully instrumented with commercial sensors and experimental sensors to conduct full-scale fire experiments in a complex geometry. The CPS test bed was created by choosing the sensors that fulfill the fire safety goals and objectives of this project. For this project the data was focused on measurements that not only provide information about the environment, but also can be used for fire safety such as determining a fire source. Past studies similar to the one by Price1, determined that temperature, smoke layer heights, room geometries, and ventilation conditions can be used to determine the size and location of the fire. These data types not only can be used to determine the characteristics of the fire, but also give a direct measurement that is useful for emergency first responders (EFR) such as temperature.

Figure 2: MFRI Structural Fire Fighting Building First Floor Experiment Set Up


It was determined that using past fire safety research with specific fire event information such as temperature, smoke concentration, fire size, and occupant location could aid in an EFR’s response. Specific commercial sensors were installed into the training structure to monitor these key dynamic environmental conditions during the fire tests. Multi-criteria smoke detectors monitored temperature, smoke obscuration, and carbon monoxide concentrations. Contact sensors monitored the condition of windows (ventilation characteristics) and occupancy sensors monitored if an occupant was present in the area. A customized Fire Safety System Fire Alarm Control Panel was used to manage, record, and store the data gathered by the sensors.

Figure 3: Customized Fire Safety System Fire Alarm Control Panel

Experimental sensors such as thermocouples and a load cell supplemented the commercial sensors. The information gathered by these sensors demonstrated a rich dataset of dynamic information that is not only integrated into this study’s CPS but can also be used for more elaborate CPSs that may include data assimilation and inverse modeling features.


The fire environment was controlled by well-characterized source and ventilation conditions. The fuel sources varied in size and growth, with 1.5 MW peak HRR and 0.4 MW peak HRR. The experimental methods were predetermined by first creating the desired environment in the Fire Dynamic Simulator (FDS)2. The desired environment was achieved when certain given ventilation and fuel conditions resulted in substantial environment changes but aren’t so extreme that would exceed the capabilities of the training facility and instrumentation. The desired controlled environment safely allowed the experiments to be measured at all stages of the fire from growth, peak, decay, and during ventilation until normal conditions were reached.


The cyber element of this study utilized Microstation, a BIM software created by Bentley Systems3. This BIM was coupled with physical environmental information gathered by conventional fire and non-fire sensors and laboratory instruments during well-controlled full-scale fire experiments at the training structure. The data gathered during fire experiments was transformed into fire safety information and visualized in BIM. The framework of the CPS determined what information an EFR could need and how to display that information. It is demonstrated that collaboration of sensor data and BIM is the start of a CPS that can be useful for EFRs to make more informed decisions in the event of an emergency. If EFRs could make more informed decisions, respond faster, and more effectively to the continuously and often rapidly changing hazards associated with modern fires, they could save more lives while minimizing their exposure to hazards and risk of injury.


The visualization exploration examined current fire safety needs and BIM capabilities. The virtual framework consisted of a detailed BIM representation and custom visual cues based on fire safety research guidance. Two different methods of displaying information was realized to be useful, one in a timeline form and another in a real-time form. The timeline could be used by EFRs while responding to and on the fire scene to provide a history of fire development. Additionally, a visualization of the current real-time information of the fire environment will allow EFRs to make informed decisions on the fire scene. The CPS test bed developed produced remarkable evidence about the opportunities created by the communication between sensors, BIM, and fire.


Rosalie Wills is with Arup



  1. M. Price. (2014). "Using Inverse Fire Modeling With Multiple Input Signals to Obtain Heat Release Rates in Compartment Fire Scenarios,” University of Maryland, Department of Fire Protection Engineering.
  2. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Fire Dynamics Simulator,
    Version 6.0,
  3. Bentley, AECOsim Building Designer V8i. Multi-discipline Building
    Information Modeling (BIM) Software, 2014,

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