FDNY, IBM partner on safety database


The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The New York City Fire Department has partnered with IBM to create a central databank for all building inspection and safety information in the wake of a fatal blaze at a ground zero skyscraper.

The August 2007 fire at the former Deutsche Bank tower killed two firefighters and spurred a massive investigation that led to criminal charges last month against three construction officials and a subcontractor.

Firefighters responding to the blaze had been told that the standpipe, which supplies water to fire hoses, was working and they wasted 20 minutes before realizing it was broken. They also were unaware of other fire hazards in the building, including blocked stairwells and deactivated sprinklers.

The project, which will cost the department around $22.8 million, will be ready in October. The aim is to collect and share data in real time so firefighters can better inspect buildings and know exactly what to expect when they go into burning buildings.  

Eventually, the data will be linked with information from the Buildings Department and other agencies that also inspect buildings. The plan calls for inspection crews to use handheld devices to upload information directly to the database. Right now, the system of logging inspection and safety information is paper-based and prone to delays.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the project is among the department's top priorities, especially with city agencies being asked to cut costs in the current economic crisis. The cost of the database will be spread over four years.

"The workload will not decrease, even if we have to streamline our work force," he said. "If we're called upon to streamline, this database will enable us to handle that workload."

IBM Corp. spokeswoman Lia Davis said it was a first-of-a-kind technology that will become a model for other fire departments around the country.

The Deutsche Bank tower, which was badly damaged in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was being slowly dismantled at the time of the blaze. Careless smoking is believed to have started the fire.

More than 100 firefighters went into the tower, and firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino were killed.

In August, fire officials released a 176-page report along with 40 pages of emergency radio transmissions.

The report detailed a litany of problems and fire hazards that Scoppetta said would have been handled differently had officials known about them. The fire department's report acknowledged that its inspectors had not been to the building for over a year.

The database satisfies some of the recommendations made in the report, fire officials said.

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