A preliminary design of disaster-survivable building blackbox system for Urban disaster response

Min Hsuan Tsai, Liang Y Liu, Feniosky Peña-Mora, Carlos A. Arboleda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When natural or human-induced disasters strike an urban area, buildings are always being considered as one of the critical physical infrastructures (CPIs). Information regarding the building and its occupants is critical to disaster response operations, particularly when civil engineers need to make reliable decisions in term of the structural integrity of the building. However, as the experience of the 9/11 terrorist attack showed, access to accurate building information is often limited and inefficient due to the lack of on-site preservation of building documentation and inability to communicate with building systems. To address these issues, this paper presents a conceptual design, initial prototype and preliminary testing results of a building blackbox system to bridge the gap between first responder s and building systems and to provide reliable and accurate building information over a mobile ad hoc network (MANET). By maintaining a building information database and incorporating building sensing and control systems, the building blackbox system can provide building information on site as well as monitoring real-time building functional conditions. In order to protect the critical information from disastrous events, the building blackbox system is designed to be disaster-survivable by utilizing state-of-the-art high temperature and high strength geopolymer material and insulation technology. Additionally, sufficient data redundancy mechanisms such as information replication in a decentralized network are also employed to ensure the availability, completeness, and reliability of critical information and its access. To validate the survivability and accessibility of the building blackbox system, a series of required fire tests, strength tests, drop tests, and communication tests were conducted on the prototype according to ASTM, FAA, and EUROCAE standards. The results from the tests confirmed the potential of such building blackbox systems in supporting and improving the disaster response efforts. These preliminary tests also provide insight to the final design of the building blackbox system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-192
Number of pages14
JournalElectronic Journal of Information Technology in Construction
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008


  • Blackbox
  • Disaster response
  • Disaster-survivable
  • Geopolymer
  • Information systems
  • Mobile ad hoc network
  • Redundancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Computer Science Applications

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