Road tunnel fire evacuation will be safer with smart sensor technology

Motorists will receive specific evacuation instructions in the event of a road tunnel fire. Sensor technology forms the basis of a new evacuation system that will soon be implemented in several tunnels situated in Western Norway.

Published Apr 10, 2019
Tunnel-gudvanga
Currently, there are no self-evacuation systems in place in Norwegian tunnels. There have been several serious fires in Gudvanga tunnel in Sogn og Fjordane. (Photo: Colourbox)

When a heavy goods vehicle began to burn in Gudvanga tunnel on the 30th of March this year, over 30 people were in the 11.4 kilometre-long tunnel, which has experienced three serious fires since 2013.

As of today, there are no systems in place in Norwegian tunnels, or anywhere else in the world, that inform people of the safest evacuation route in the event of a fire.

This will soon change.

NORCE is contributing with smart sensor technology

Trafsys is a Bergen-based company and is leading a new project based on self-evacuation in tunnels. They have recently signed a provision of service agreement with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, while Innovation Norway is funding the project.

The evacuation system to be delivered by Trafsys is called EvacSound. It will employ coordinated sound and light signals to direct people situated in the tunnel to the best evacuation route in an efficient and intuitive manner.

Researchers at NORCE are developing the system’s fire detection sensors. The fire detection system will alert where a fire is located by using the Internet of Things.

“By utilising many sensors and redundant communication, it will be possible to indicate the location of a fire, even if the sensors are damaged by the fire itself. These are smart, cost-effective sensors, that can both detect and indicate the exact location of a fire”, says senior project developer Jeremy Cook at NORCE.

Evac Sound_illustration
EvacSound will employ coordinated sound and light signals to direct people situated in the tunnel to the best evacuation route in an efficient and intuitive manner. (Illustration: Trafsys AS)

“The detection of tunnel fires may sound relatively simple, but sensors must be installed every 20 metres along one side of the tunnel. If you have a tunnel that is 20 kilometres long, you need over 1000 sensors that have to communicate with each other”, says Cook.

“And we must avoid situations where the sensors indicate there is a fire when there has only been a rise in temperature due to hot summer weather outside, for example. In addition, this must be done in a cost-effective manner”, he continues.

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Sensor Jeremy Hoved
Jeremy Cook, senior project developer at NORCE. (Photo: Andreas R. Graven)

NORCE and SINTEF are research partners and are contributing their expertise so that Trafsys can complete its innovative evacuation system.

The solution will consist of directional evacuation lighting, speakers with incorporated temperature sensors and microphones. Research will be conducted on sounds that encourage evacuation (SINTEF). The Norwegian Public Roads Administration stated that speech and two-way communication is also a possibility in regard to this project.

Utilising disused tunnels for fire testing

NORCE researchers will test where sensors should be placed in order to detect and indicate the location of a fire in the most effective way. System testing will take place in the autumn and will utilise disused tunnels in Norway which are reserved for fire testing.

“We shall develop methods to determine where a fire is located. We will establish how temperature develops in tunnels, and confirm the time it takes from the first flames to when the sensors detect the actual fire and produce an alarm”, says Jeremy Cook.

Before the plan is approved in 2020 and can be installed in the first tunnels, the system will go through final testing in 2019. It has not yet been clarified how many tunnels will be initially installed with EvacSound.