SA fire-spotting tech could be informal settlement lifesaver

Date:26 October 2016 Author: Lumka Nofemele Tags:, ,

It’s 2 am and a blaze is about. For those of us in formal residential areas tucked away safely in bed, secure in solidly built homes with easy access to emergency services, that’s not an issue. But, as we sleep peacefully, another fire has ravaged an informal settlement.

Early this morning, news broke of a fire that reportedly claimed six victims, including two children, in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town. Although Bonteheuwel largely comprises formal housing, the blaze is an ominous warning of onset of the Cape’s “fire season”, when the hot, dry season and crowded informal settlements combine to raise the risk of fire significantly.

But with a new heat detector specifically designed for informal settlements, stories like this might be on the decrease.

Lumkani is a heat detector like no other. Meaning ‘watch out’ in Xhosa, Lumkani lets communities know when they are in danger of fire.

Developed in 2014 by UCT student Francois Petousis and his supervisor Samuel Ginsberg, Lumkani measures the rate of increase of heat in homes and sets on an alarm if the rate is rising too fast.

This not only alerts the community to take the necessary precautions, but if it is confirmed that there is indeed a fire, emergency services are also alerted to the danger so they too can act quickly.

Lumkani’s developers have also rolled out smart centralised devices that connect every heat detector in the community. The central device constantly checks the system’s health and, in the event of fire, stores GPS coordinates and simultaneously sends text-message warnings to members of the affected community and to Lumkani headquarters in Cape Town.

Lumkani has distributed detectors to more than 5 000 households in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and is looking to expand across the country and the rest of Africa.