image of Bart van Leeuwen and fellow fire fighters in front of burning buildingBart van Leeuwen, software executive (netage.nl) and firefighter (Amsterdam Fire Department), has a story of practical application of Semantic Web technologies that we have covered before here at SemanticWeb.com and in our Semantic Technology & Business Conference series. Below, we offer the video of the keynote address he delivered in June at the San Francisco event.

His, like many of the most successful Semantic Web case studies, is a story of iterative growth and agile development, a mixing of technical and cultural challenges and solutions. Even since Bart’s keynote at the recent London SemTechBiz conference, there have been developments, and we caught up with him to hear the latest (video after the jump).

Growth and Adoption

Photo of Bart van LeeuwenAs of last spring, the effort van Leeuwen originally discussed with us in this 2010 webcast had grown to encompass no fewer than twenty fire stations in Amsterdam. He now says, “within one year, we could see twenty additional stations from the Netherlands using this solution.”

Also exciting are the new ways in which the technologies are being applied. Bart’s original vision of using Linked Data to help get teams of fire fighter from stations to incidents faster and more reliably has grown to creating a system that aims to provide emergency responders with all the information they could potentially need to have on hand. For example, what kind of data could be gained from fire trucks themselves?

Van Leeuwen reported that he has been given the green light to work on a new effort to gather and include information about and from fire trucks. Specifically, he wants to be able to collect data on things like the physical location of trucks. “At often large incident sites, it currently requires walking around the site to locate and identify specific trucks and station teams. If we can collect and expose that information as linked data, it will be a huge improvement.”

Additionally, he is working toward collecting (and exposing as linked data) data related to specific truck functions such as water pressure and water volume. Van Leeuwen speculated on a scenario where this could be used. “We had a situation with a chemical fire and were faced with a difficult challenge. The quickest way to control the blaze — which was our highest priority — was to use large amounts of water to douse the flames. However, this approach also led to a lot of toxic chemicals being pushed into public waterways. We could have prevented, or at least mitigated, that.  If there had been a good understanding of the amount of water used, maybe a basin could have been created, instead of just letting it flow out in the open.” (This incident is shown in the video at around 10 minutes in).

Originally, this idea was sparked when van Leeuwen and colleagues were asked about what they might want to see in the next round of fire trucks. The fleet is aging, and it’s time to start purchasing new trucks. When Bart suggested collecting and linking data directly from the trucks, the idea was so enthusiastically received, he got the directive, “don’t wait for new trucks; do it now!”

Another recent success in achieving more widespread adoption involves “Safety Regions” in the Netherlands. The country used to have over 450 separate, local fire departments, each with its own approach to information management and sharing. This challenge has been addressed with the creation of “Safety Regions,” described by Interpol in this document as,

“The Netherlands has 25 safety regions, which coincide geographically with the police regions. In each safety region, the police and fire services, the municipalities, and the accident and disaster medical teams work together to deal with complex and severe crises and disasters. The emergency services are organised at regional level and work closely with the provincial and municipal authorities in the areas of:

  • fire fighting;
  • disaster response;
  • crisis management;
  • medical assistance in disasters and accidents;
  • maintaining public order and safety.”

Recently, reference documentation was published (in Dutch) for these Safety Regions that mentions semantics and free form data models for a Safety Council that sets standards for emergency responders.  The document is a recommendation of how these safety regions should organize their data.

Of course, improving these systems isn’t only a matter of adding semantics into the mix. Currently, some emergency vehicles have as many as 6-7 devices with SIM cards – the only way for them to connect to a network and share data. “What about adding access points for fire trucks?” asks van Leeuwen.

To hear more about the work he is doing at the Amsterdam Fire Department, watch Bart Van Leeuwen’s keynote address from the San Francisco Semantic Technology and Business Conference.

To hear more exciting case studies and practical applications of Semantic Technologies, check out the Semantic Technology & Business Conference – New York, taking place October 15-17, 2012.

Save $100 from on-site prices when you register before October 15.