Research and Development Efforts in Fire Safety and Disaster Preparedness
Chief, Planning for Community-Based Cooperation National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster, Fire and Disaster Management Agency Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
Fire departments are expected to respond quickly and effectively to disasters by extinguishing fires and rescuing those in harm’s way, for example. They are also required to prevent fires and disasters by enforcing fire-prevention measures at hotels and care facilities and to monitor safety measures in facilities storing hazardous materials. Concerns have arisen that destructive disasters may occur due to environmental changes in local communities or due to the Tokyo Metropolitan earthquake or Nankai Trough earthquake. To ensure that fire departments use their firefighters, materials and equipment effectively to prevent or control fires and reduce damage of disasters, research and development (R&D) on fire safety and disaster preparedness must be conducted actively and resulting findings must be applied in advanced fire safety and disaster preparedness activities.
Fire safety R&D in Japan is undertaken by the National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster,which is the research organ of the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Here R&D is being conducted on safety measures for facilities storing hazardous materials, fire-fighting robot technology, and fire extinguishing techniques. Fire departments in major cities also study firefighting operations and advanced materials and equipment. Although the number of institutions directly conducting fire safety R&D is limited and allotted research and development budget is extremely small. Private-sector R&D in fire safety unfortunately cannot be described as vigorous because it focuses on equipment used by fire department personnel and fire-safety facilities required by law, such as fire engines and rescue materials and equipment, fire sensors, fire extinguishing systems, etc., whose market is limited. To conduct innovative fire extinguishing R&D on equipment that could dramatically improve fire-fighting efficiency, it is important to inform research institutions and private firms of the issues and needs in fire safety rather than to make efforts solely among organizations involved in fire safety and to conduct research by engaging a wide range of researchers from the pure sciences in practical technologies.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications set up a competitive research funding effort in fiscal 2003 called Promoting Program for Scientific Fire and Disaster Prevention Technologies (Competitive Research Funding Program) to promote R&D based on the collaboration of industry, academia, and the national government. This competitive research program solicits research proposals for promoting advances in fire safety and disaster preparedness science and technology and achieving safe and secure society. It involves researchers in industry, academia, and government and provides funding for proposals considered worth promoting. Some 104 studies had been completed under this program by fiscal 2014. The Kitakyushu municipal fire department, for instance, proposed developing a fire extinguishing composition able to extinguish fires using only a small amount of water. After building a system for collaboration with the University of Kitakyushu and local industries, they developed such a composition based on a natural surfactant whose use has greatly reduced the environmental load and whose performance meets the needs of fire-fighting operations conducted by fire department personnel in general fires. The team earned the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Award in the Fifth Merit Awards for Industry/Academia/Government Collaboration in fiscal 2007.
In publishing the special issue on Fire and Disaster Prevention Technologies edited by Prof.Tomonori Kawano, Prof. Kazuya Uezu, and Prof. Takaaki Kato of the Research and Development Center of Fire and Environmental Safety, the University of Kitakyushu, it is shown that fire safety and disaster preparedness R&D undertaken by universities, local industries, and fire departments in Kitakyushu is proceeding on in an expanded scale. It is hoped that such undertakings and their findings will be extended to other areas, thus further promoting R&D in fire safety.