Public safety systems scoop the top awards

Two systems that help protect public safety by modelling railways and people's behaviour in big building fires have won this...

Two systems that help protect public safety by modelling railways and people's behaviour in big building fires have won this year's BCS IT Awards.

The projects were so outstanding that the judges picked only two winners instead of the usual three. The seven finalists had been chosen from 63 entrants in this 29th year of the industry's longest running and most rigorously judged competition.

Software developed by the Fire Safety Engineering Group at Greenwich University, the world's leading fire research centre, simulates the movement of people in buildings, aircraft and ships.

The team consisted not only of IT people but also of psychologists, engineers and other specialists. The system uses studies of people's behaviour rather than just building layouts and the positioning of exits. It can track the paths of individuals or show the movement of a crowd, which can be specified mixes of people familiar with the building, tourists or casual visitors, and disabled people.

Building models can be set up from computer-aided design drawings or using the system itself. A simple function room, complete with a mixture of people, can be set up in 20 minutes. The system has been used by designers of the Millennium Dome, the Sydney Olympics stadium and the new Airbus superjumbo.

The other award winner was a team effort by Railtrack, engineering group Bechtel and software company Infrasoft Solutions, which put together a system to enable railway engineers in disciplines ranging from track design to signalling and communications to work together. The aim was to ensure that new or redesigned stretches of track were right first time.

"Previously, refurbishment could start at a site and it might not quite work," says Andy Todd, modelling manager for the Thameslink refurbishment programme. "The simulation this system provides means experts can see if something's wrong before work starts, so big savings can be made."

The system gives a driver's three-dimensional view of track, signals and stations. A simulation of the entire Thameslink route from the south coast up to Bedford is planned, and the system will also be used by London Underground.

BCS medals were awarded to the five other finalists: Bracknell Forest Borough Council for what is claimed to be the most advanced e-government system around: the Department for Work and Pensions for Web access to job and training databases; for a service that can create Web sites fast; Consignia for an online address change service for people moving home; and York University and Cybula for a pattern recognition search system.

The awards and medals were presented by Stephanie Shirley, founder of IT services group Xansa (formerly FI), at a gala dinner.

This year's sponsors were Barclaycard, British Telecom, Consignia, the Department of Trade & Industry, IBM, ICL, KnowledgePool, Logica, Nortel Networks, Shopcreator and Text 100.

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