York researcher is helping to save time and lives

York University researcher Ali Asgary has teamed up with CriSys Ltd., the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and Ryerson University to develop a unique system designed to drastically reduce the loss of lives and property in emergency situations.

Right: Ali Asgary 

The $600,000 project, called Fire Threat Assessment System (FTAS), focuses on the development of an advanced intelligence system – one that can perform functions such as perceiving, reasoning and action. The system will assess the threat posed by structural fires so that emergency responders can make better informed decisions more quickly and effectively. It is already being hailed by researchers and organizations in the field as a major breakthrough in the development of intelligent information and communications technologies. 

Precarn, a not-for-profit company that supports the pre-commercial development of leading-edge technologies, committed $300,000 to the project. Precarn, like York, encourages collaborative partnerships on research projects that have relevance for both Canadian and international communities.

“We are very excited to be a part of this interdisciplinary and collaborative project,” said Asgary. “Essentially, the system we are working on has the capability of not only saving time but also of saving lives. It is the first step in creating a real-time system for 9-1-1 centres that can make better-informed decisions much earlier in the emergency response process.”

Asgary is working with Dale Paus from CriSys and Ryerson University computer science Professor Alireza Sadeghian on developing a domain model – a collection of definitions, rules and facts that characterize the possible states of a real or imagined emergency – that will outline the various parties involved in response to an urban structural fire, their relationships to each other, and methods and attributes associated with each. Combined with knowledge elicited from experienced fire captains and reasoning engines, the model will act as a base for the design of the new system.

Once completed, the system will use various existing and real-time data and combine them with the rules derived from the domain model to rapidly provide informed decision choices to fire responders. It will be tested, live, at 11 fire departments across Canada including Belleville, Cambridge, Clarington, Hawkesbury, Orillia, Pickering, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor, Moncton, NB; St. John’s, NL; and St. Albert, Alta.

“FTAS will not only be more efficient at allocating limited resources to urgent situations, but it will also be far more flexible in it’s ability to deal with events involving unexpected types or combinations of threats [like, for example, a structural fire and a bomb threat],” said Asgary. “It will also – for the first time – provide municipalities with a documented record of what decisions were made in the crucial first moments of an emergency, and the basis and authority for those decisions.”

Asgary, a professor in Atkinson’s School of Administrative Studies, Disaster & Emergency Management Program at York University, is working on two other projects that may have implications for the development of FTAS. The projects include “Real-time Detection of Oil Spills Using Laser-Induced Fluorescence LIDAR, Internet-based Temporal-GIS and Mobile Emergency Asset Management”, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC); and “Real-Time Multi-Criteria Spatial Decision Support Systems Improving Fire Response in Canadian Communities” funded by Geomatics for Informed Decisions (GEOIDE). All three of Asgary’s research initiatives attempt to enhance emergency response capabilities using a combination of technologies.

“York University is expanding its reputation as a leader in disaster and emergency management both in Canada and beyond,” said Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton. “Research collaborations like the FTAS project will help to ensure that emergency management professionals are equipped with the critical policy and administrative skills needed to prepare for and respond efficiently to crises locally and internationally. This research is a perfect fit with our program’s mission to place the theory and practice of emergency management within a contemporary context that responds to and addresses the social, political and economical effects resulting from current and future challenges.”

Atkinson’s new masters program in Disaster & Emergency Management is designed to prepare students and professionals already working in the sector with the sophisticated skills and knowledge required to prevent, mitigate, prepare for and respond to local and international disasters and emergencies. Taught on a full or part-time basis by professors renowned in their field, the interdisciplinary program draws on strengths in areas such as environmental risks and management; natural hazards; business continuity; humanitarian law; public safety and security; and war and complex emergencies. Funds from Asgary’s projects will be used to hire students enrolled in the new program to help him conduct research.

For more information on FTAS, contact Ali Asgary by e-mail at asgary@yorku.ca. To learn more about the new masters program in Disaster & Emergency Management visit www.atkinson.yorku.ca/madem.