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‘Black box recorder’ developed for buildings

A smart structural monitoring system has been developed to assess the state of buildings and key infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of earthquakes, explosions and fires.

Scientists from the Reconass project – led by government organisations, businesses and universities in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Greece and Italy – said that it was able to provide near real-time data on the safety of structures following major incidents.

Anglia Ruskin University professor Hassan Shirvani is director of the Engineering Analysis Simulation and Tribology Research Group, and is leading a team that has designed some of the Reconass sensors as well as the packaging to protect them.

“The system is equivalent to a black box recorder for a building,” explained Shirvani. “In the same way that an aircraft’s black box can survive a crash, this system is being designed to withstand the most extreme conditions following a disaster or terrorist attack and continue transmitting data.”

He said that at the heart of Reconass was a local positioning system (LPS) that included sensors providing information about the condition of the building by measuring the displacement of structural elements. These updates could provide invaluable information to disaster management agencies and emergency services during search and rescue missions, he said.

“There are essentially two stages,” added Shirvani. “In the initial stage following an incident or disaster, the sensors report back to the emergency services telling them whether the building is safe to enter. Then, once the rescue phase is over, they can provide structural reports to help planners decide whether to renovate or demolish the building.

“Mass production will help to drive down the cost of these sensors and we hope that Reconass will be installed as standard in all major structures in the future.”

In addition to developing the temperature sensors, Anglia Ruskin University said that its scientists had designed the protective packaging for all other sensors in the system. The Swedish Defence Research Agency, also a member of the Reconass consortium, has recently subjected the sensors to destructive testing, with the trials simulating earthquakes and explosions.

Shirvani said that it was anticipated that Reconass could be used in any building or structure of strategic interest such as hospitals, schools, government buildings, airports, harbours, bridges and the headquarters of large organisations.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Surely the idea of storing the data within the building is suspect. This has been the problem with recent aircraft crashes. You need to find the recorder. If however the data is transmitted for storage elsewhere then it remains available.


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  • What makes you think post disaster that any telecoms would be up and running in time for the data to be sent out? and would a thousand submittals crash the system...and how would emergency responders find and analyse the data?

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