Analysis of rail and road tunnel incidents indicates that theres a direct coupling between the fire & rescue personnels activity and the passengers behavior, which being mediated by the evolution of fire.
Poor visibility and a feeling of claustrophobia, coupled with a hinted supply of breathing air, are probably some of the most difficult conditions which fire fighters may find themselves facing. All this and more is typical of a tunnel fire. If you then add poor communication between emergency services and authorities, saving lives may be even more difficult.
According to the Norwegian Tunneling Society and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, Norway has between 1000-1100 road tunnels with a total length of 843 km (524 mi) and 700 railway tunnels with a total length of 316 km (196 mi). All are in rock. The majority of Norwegian road tunnels have one tunnel tube with two-way traffic.
The traffic crash rate in Norwegian tunnels is 0.13 incidents per million vehicle-kilometers, compared to 0.30 incidents per million vehicle-kilometers outside tunnels. The entrance-exit zones (portal areas) are the least safe areas of the tunnel. Norway has well-developed tunnel design specifications, and tunnels over 500 m (1,640 ft) long require a specific response plan for tunnel incidents.
Recently in Norway more than 30 tourists was rescued from an 11 km long tunnel after a coach taking foreign passengers on a trip around Norway caught fire.
This and other recent incidents made Bergen Fire Department look into new ways of getting a clear image of what’s going on when an incident occurs in a road tunnel.
The current Norwegian evacuation strategies for road tunnels focus on issues from the recent Mont Blanc, Tauern, and Gotthard tunnel fires. In addition, in London in 1987 an event occurred at King’s Cross Rail Station that contributed additional data. A modest fire in an escalator developed into a disaster in which 31 people died. Also the 2005 London bombings has delivered data including some recent incidents in Bergen area.
In Norway, single-tube tunnels with two-way traffic typically have natural ventilation. In general, portals are the only possible evacuation directions. If on the wrong side of a tunnel fire, a motorist’s only chance is to turn the car around and leave. However, airflow direction may dictate the direction of evacuation.
A frequent problem is that motorists do not recognize the seriousness of a fire; they are worried about possessions and make bad decisions on what to do. The high-traffic tunnels in Oslo and Bergen have systems that can override vehicle radios, but radios must be turned on to receive the messages. A question has arisen on whether more information would increase user anxiety about tunnels. Simulations also raise the question of whether people follow posted instructions or a leader.
The Norwegian crisis management procedure for tunnels is to immediately close all tubes when a crash occurs. Users at the incident location must decide whether to sound the alarm, provide first aid, assist in fighting the fire, leave the car and evacuate on foot, or evacuate by car. Rescue personnel must find their way to the right tunnel entrance. Drivers outside the tunnel must find an alternate route. For all events, motorists in the tunnel are their own first rescuers, and self-rescue provides the most effective evacuation strategy. To be able to rescue themselves, motorists need to know the location of emergency exits and should be guided to the direction of the fresh air supply.
Based on all these known procedures Bergen Fire Department held a tunnel fire drill last week. New into the simulation was Incendium’s Stream Pack. Based on the last months test with streaming from fire trucks and incident vehicles the Stream Pack was placed inside the tunnel in order to stream live video from the inside of the tunnel fire in order for the command central, fire brigade management and police could view what was happening during the flash over training scenario.
The live video clearly gave Bergen Fire Department an overview of the situation in a completely new way and will help them finding better and more safe techniques for their emergency service personnel for furure tunnel incidents.
“We are very excited that Bergen Fire Department is taking our streaming products into new exciting use cases and are impressed of what we see and hope that our streaming platform can help them increasing their communication in all chain of commands from the incident Commander and back to the Command Central”, says Asger Plæhn, Incendium Sales & Marketing Director.