New Center for Fire and Evacuation Safety

Ever since the sinking of the Titanic, experts have occupied themselves with the question of how passengers can be evacuated from a ship in the fastest possible way. Passengers and crew rarely have a chance to prepare themselves for the consequences of a disaster. In this context, ongoing efforts are being made to further the tightening-up of the standards and procedures governing evacuation and safety on board ships. With the opening of a new research and training centre for fire and evacuation safety, Beele Engineering of Aalten (the Netherlands) expects to enhance its capability to contribute towards these efforts.

Going back to the Titanic disaster, the time available for crew and passengers to abandon ship has been significantly extended, among other things by the introduction of smoke and fire detectors as well as sprinkler systems. Even so, time and again it later emerges that in emergency situations there was 'just too little time'. The human panic factor plays a role here. Again and again, it becomes clear that both passengers and crew tend to panic when there is an outbreak of fire or a power failure. As a result of the panic, people take wrong evacuation routes and their sense of disorientation is only heightened. In the case of fire, the dense and suffocating smoke is an additional complicating factor.

In such cases, the significance of luminescent EXIT signs and pictograms indicating staircases, evacuation routes and deck plans becomes questionable.

How many people will take the time to study the deck plan when they arrive on board an unfamiliar cruise ship? And will persons in a panic be in a fit state to recognize the signs and pictograms, which were developed in peace and quiet on the drawing board?

In the research and training center, all possible attempts are made to find the answers to these questions. At the heart of the new centre lies a demonstration mock-up facility covering approximately 500 sq. m. The facility is so constructed that a variety of practical situations can be simulated in a lifelike way.

For instance, it can be used to simulate a ship's cabins and corridors, including raised areas and open spaces. Emergency situations can then be imitated by switching off all the lighting and playing sound recordings.

Under these conditions, the people present in the mock-up facility then have to find their way out. While they do so, the behavior of the test persons and the effectiveness of the evacuation route signposting system are recorded by means of infrared cameras and an audio system.

The mock-up is divided into two parts: one part is fitted with an evacuation route signposting system, while the other part has no signposting. In this way it can be determined to what extent the existing signs are effective, and in what respects these may require modification or even new product development. The actions of the 'fleeing' persons can be observed on closed-circuit TV screens from a control room, which is also used as a showroom.

Besides the evacuation research effort, the center also acts as the headquarters for the general R&D effort of Beele Engineering. For this purpose a total area of 300 sq. m. is reserved for three laboratories in which light emission investigations, large-scale fire tests and mechanical tests are performed. The fire tests are intended to make it possible to examine the behavior during fire of various materials that are used in shipping. In addition, investigations are carried out into how fire is able to spread in a short time, and what measures can and must be taken in order to contain that spread. The light emission laboratory concentrates in particular on research into the effectiveness of luminescent evacuation route signs (pictograms etc.) in a wide range of lighting conditions.

The center is open not only to people who are professionally involved with fire, fire prevention and evacuation safety (firefighting personnel, safety professionals, surveyors, shipping authorities, etc.) but also to other interested people. For that purpose the center also contains a presentation theatre seating up to 45 persons.

Next year, Beele Engineering will have been engaged in the field of passive fire prevention for 30 years. The company's product range include the Yfestos range of products that glow in the dark, which was nominated for the category 'Best safety innovation' of the Cruise & Ferry Award.

In addition, the company supplies a versatile and comprehensive range of fire resistant, watergas- and smoke-tight sealing systems for cable and pipe conduits. In the event of an outbreak of fire, these systems ensure as far as possible that the fire is contained and prevented from spreading.

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Other stories from September 2002 issue


Maritime Reporter

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