Pioneering trials measuring the ship evacuation performance of passengers in conditions including smoke and rolling motion are being conducted as part of a research project led by British Maritime Technology (BMT) and co-funded by the European Union and Precarn (funding for Canadian partners). The aim is to produce a FIRE-EXIT simulation tool for modelling ship evacuation, fire and abandonment scenarios. The software will enable the design of safer vessels, optimisation of ship layout and emergency procedures and will also assist in ensuring that, in the event of a fire, passengers move as quickly and safely as possible to their assigned lifeboat stations.
For the first time a large-scale, smoke-filled test facility capable of dynamic motion superimposed over an angle of heel is being used with volunteer "passengers" for live trials. Volunteers are timed and behaviour videotaped as they escape from muster stations via inflatable slides and vertical chutes as they cross a collection platform and enter life rafts and lifeboats. The three-year FIRE-EXIT project is scheduled to finish in August 2005 and demonstrations are likely to be available by the end of the year. FIRE-EXIT will be of particular assistance in meeting the more rigorous EU legislative measures seeking to increase maritime safety such as Council Directive 98/18/EC, which sets out requirements for new class B, C and D ro-ro passenger ships to have escape routes evaluated by an evacuation analysis early in the design process.
The FIRE-EXIT consortium also includes the University of Greenwich, AVEVA, BMT Fleet Technology, Det Norske Veritas, METTLE Groupe, the Marine Institute at the Memorial University Newfoundland and the Institute for Ocean Technology at the National Research Council of Canada.
Data collected from these trials is being incorporated within the maritime EXODUS ship evacuation software and the fire simulation software SMARTFIRE, both of which are developed by the Fire Safety Engineering Group (FSEG) of the University of Greenwich. Work to date has also highlighted the fact that the software will be useful not only in incorporating higher levels of safety at the earlier stages of design, but also in enabling owners to reassess plans for passenger movement. With potential for use in planning routine movements such as boarding or movement at meal times on large passenger ships, this could lead to smoother onboard operations in general.