Experts develop ‘black box recorder’ for buildings

Published: 8 September 2016 at 10:30

An explosion inside a building

Anglia Ruskin academics develop sensors to assess state of structures after disaster

Scientists have developed a smart structural monitoring system to assess the state of buildings and key infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of earthquakes, explosions and fires.

The RECONASS project, which is being led by government organisations, businesses and universities in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Greece and Italy, is able to provide near real-time data on the safety of structures following major incidents. 

Professor Hassan Shirvani, the Director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Engineering Analysis Simulation and Tribology Research Group, is leading a team that has designed some of the RECONASS sensors as well as the packaging to protect them.
Rubble following a blast

Professor Shirvani said: 

“The system is equivalent to a black box recorder for a building.  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.”

At the heart of RECONASS is a Local Positioning System (LPS) that includes 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.  

Black box sensor without cover

Professor Shirvani added: 

“There are essentially two stages.  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 scientists have 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.

It is 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.

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