The Geospatial Research Innovation Development team is implementing technology to improve crisis response for Fire and Rescue NSW.

The lack of up-to-date 3D indoor models for many large buildings and offices is an issue for organisations that deal with the safety management of public spaces. With advances in the geospatial field, 3D modelling technology can better prepare public services to manage safety in the environments they operate in.

A team from UNSW Built Environment led by Professor Sisi Zlatanova has worked alongside Fire and Rescue NSW in developing and implementing 3D modelling technology to improve crisis response.

The Geospatial Research Innovation Development (GRID) team processed point clouds – a set of data points in space – from a range of scanners in real-time to create an interactive 3D digital scan of the new Fire and Rescue NSW Emergency Services Academy in Orchard Hills in Western Sydney. According to Professor Zlatanova, the 3D scan of the building is a 'reality map' – it is an accurate and reactive model that represents the building in three-dimensional space. However, the scan is ‘dummy data’; while appealing to humans, computers can’t understand it.

The scan was then developed into an innovative 3D model using voxels, or ‘volumetric cells’. Voxel models provide a structure for 3D spatial analysis which makes the computing of navigation routes quick and flexible.

The combination of the scans and voxel models can potentially be used as a navigation tool in emergency response situations. For example, the 3D scan can be used to visualise the best path of navigation between indoor and outdoor space, and entry and exit points to a building. It can also improve hazard perception by analysing infrastructure, including pipelines, cables and electric wiring. All the computations and simulations can be performed on the voxel models.

Professor Zlatanova says selecting different scanning technologies can create up-to-date models with different indoor/outdoor details.

"What we've done is assess different 3D data collection methods to reconstruct the indoor environment and we have created an integrated 3D reality map, which we have further processed to a 3D voxel model."

"Recent advances in technology allow for quick collection of 3D data and reconstruction of realistic 3D models ... which has particular application for the [emergency response] sector."

"Plans of buildings can be very different from the reality, mostly two-dimensional, static or dated. They also don't contain accurate information as to what is inside the building, especially in aftermath, if there are blockages or hazards like hidden fire spots, melted plastic and steel."

She says the scans can lead to an improvement in operational response time by better enabling public services’ intelligence in hazard and risk assessment.

"We were able to create a 3D model and a visual 3D plan of the building which can give Fire and Rescue NSW a fast method to understand what happens in the building environment, like a post-disaster event, when they need to get information quickly."

Depending on the scenario, a combination of sensors can be used to capture the information needed to generate the 3D model promptly.

"It increases safety, and it can be processed quickly, within about half-an-hour to scan and map the building in its entirety, but we can process smaller parts or individual rooms more quickly," she says. "With this project, we can show the safest and most appropriate ways to navigate in a post-disaster situation, particularly when the environment is uncertain, and the [structure] of the building is unknown."

According to Michael Morris, Chief Superintendent Fire and Rescue NSW, the challenge for emergency response services is being able to guide and navigate firefighters in environments they're unfamiliar with in real-time. He says Fire and Rescue NSW were impressed by the work of the GRID team and were interested in exploring the application in the fire safety space.

"We want to explore how 3D mapping technology can help us navigate buildings in-situation and assist with operational intelligence and risk assessment through automation."

Mr Morris says the demonstration of the technology on the Orchard Hills Academy showed its potential usefulness for pre-operational and operational emergency response planning.

"Knowing the layout of the building is crucial to our operations, and having the increased ability to familiarise our crews remotely with the building is important," he says. "Prior to this, we've been limited to two-dimensional floor plans in terms of pre-operational planning, so being able to use this technology has particular use in that stage.

"Having the 3D model also allows us to have a more accurate, increased understanding of the sizes of spaces we're operating in."

Mr Morris says the collaboration with UNSW Built Environment is important to the organisation.

"This engagement is ongoing ... and we're interested in exploring further what the applications of this technology are and how we can further link it to pre-operational and operational activities to improve fire safety and community outcomes."

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