GLANSER System Locates and Tracks Firefighters in Buildings

(1) The GLANSER geospatial locator unit (GLU) is shown here to the right of the SCBA on the back of a member of the Plymouth (MN) Fire Department, which is assisting S&T and Honeywell in testing the GLANSER system.
(1) The GLANSER geospatial locator unit (GLU) is shown here to the right of the SCBA on the back of a member of the Plymouth (MN) Fire Department, which is assisting S&T and Honeywell in testing the GLANSER system. (Photo by author.)
 (2) GLANSER's incident commander unit (ICU) allows an IC to view the tracks and locations of firefighters in a building in both two- and three-dimensional representations. Shown here is the three-dimensional screen the IC sees on his laptop.
(2) GLANSER's incident commander unit (ICU) allows an IC to view the tracks and locations of firefighters in a building in both two- and three-dimensional representations. Shown here is the three-dimensional screen the IC sees on his laptop. (Photo courtesy of Honeywell First Responder Products.)
 (3) The two-dimensional screen available to the IC can display not only the incident building and floor plan but also the external surroundings.
(3) The two-dimensional screen available to the IC can display not only the incident building and floor plan but also the external surroundings. (Photo courtesy of Honeywell First Responder Products.)

The inability to track and locate firefighters inside buildings, especially structures of multiple floors, has been a thorn in the side of fire commanders since the inception of organized fire protection. But that situation is changing with the introduction of GLANSER, a locating and tracking system funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and Honeywell First Responder Products. Honeywell and DHS S&T will demonstrate a field testing prototype of the GLANSER system at the 2012 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC).

The System

GLANSER-Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders-can track and locate firefighters within multistory buildings, indicating the room they are in, the floor they are on, and if they need assistance.

DHS S&T asked Honeywell to overcome a number of challenges in developing the GLANSER system, says Jeff Shipley, Honeywell's senior product manager for SCBA and technology, including incorporating highly reliable data communications to get firefighter location information out to the incident commander (IC), maintaining three-meter accuracy even when the firefighter is waiting for brief periods, and being able to scale from a few devices to hundreds for use at any type of incident.

Also, Shipley points out, the system has to work in small residential buildings as well as in tall structures and in buildings without maps and be "invisible" to first responders yet instantly usable. GLANSER's field testing prototype is being developed to meet all those requirements, he says.

Three Parts

GLANSER consists of three major components: a geospatial locator unit (GLU), an incident commander unit (ICU), and an anchor panel unit. The GLU is a compact, multisensor unit integrated into a firefighter's personal protective equipment (PPE) that provides location, sensing, radio-frequency ranging, and communication to the command display. The ICU allows two-dimensional and three-dimensional display of firefighter status information to the IC. The anchor panel unit is a truck-mounted housing for GLU charging and initialization and also provides reference position corrections to the locator unit.

Jalal Mapar, GLANSER program manager at DHS S&T, says fire departments have consistently identified firefighter tracking and locating as a priority need, which led DHS to put the issue on a fast track for development. "DHS S&T experimented with prototypes several years ago, then polished the user requirements before making awards to two companies-Honeywell and Argon ST," Mapar says. "We found there was about 70 percent to 80 percent commonality between their two systems. Honeywell and Argon ST combined their teams and, with TRX Systems, were selected to develop and commercialize GLANSER."

That development came as a result of a Phase II contract with Honeywell from DHS S&T. The three players on the Honeywell team each brought a different area of expertise to the project, Shipley says. Argon ST handled the wireless communication infrastructure, TRX Systems the IC user interface, and Honeywell the integration and navigation solutions.

Mapar points out that GLANSER will begin field testing with a metropolitan fire department by summer, with the results of those trials providing S&T and Honeywell with valuable hands-on user feedback. "We expect GLANSER will have a three-meter accuracy in the X, Y, and Z axes," Mapar notes, adding that as the system is refined and user feedback is incorporated, the GLANSER units should likely track under the three-meter mark.

Shipley elaborated on the functions of the various system components. The GLU consists of an inertial movement unit (IMU), a two-antenna Doppler radar velocimeter, 900-MHz ranging and communication modules, and a pressure sensor, he says.

Viewing Location Information

The ICU is a two- and three-dimensional display of location and status information that connects to the GLANSER backbone network over a standard Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. The system provides identical ICU information on any computer that is connected to the GLANSER backbone network, Shipley notes. "The ICU can track multiple firefighters and display their tracks and has replay capabilities," Shipley says. "It also has map-building tools that allow the system to create floor plans and can dynamically construct building maps based on a firefighter's tracks and motifs."

The anchor panel unit is rack-mounted in a fire apparatus to charge locator units, Shipley notes, and provides en route initialization, power management, and location corrections to the system. "The incident start triggers the initialization, GPS, and collaborative navigation used to track the units en route to the scene," Shipley says. "The unit has GPS and a ranging radio to provide reference position. That information is integrated into the portable backbone network."

Shipley notes that the key requirements asked of the GLANSER system were that it be transparent, self-forming, self-healing, and secure. "The GLANSER network automatically connects the first responder to the IC," he says. "As new units arrive on the scene, GLANSER forms clusters that are connected to nodes on the backbone network. The IC views all connected nodes and is notified of any unconnected nodes."

A cluster consists of a single base station and up to 11 host nodes. Arriving apparatus and their GLUs automatically link into a cluster either directly or through multihop-using another node on the system as a relay.

Mapar notes that DHS is looking forward to the upcoming GLANSER field testing because firefighter feedback is critical to the system's development. "Fire departments asked us to make the system transparent and easy to use, which we did," he says, "and they wanted a unit that is accurate, which GLANSER is. Now we want to see if there are any operational issues to be dealt with so we can move forward with the project and get GLANSER into the hands of the firefighters who are going into the buildings and give the IC a better situational awareness perspective."

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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