Stefan Truthän of hhpberlin - Ingenieure für Brandschutz GmbH

A digitalised city does not automatically become a smart city. The subject of security in a Smart City needs to be approached from a completely new angle. How can this be done? This is what Stefan Truthän, Managing Director of hhpberlin– Ingenieure für Brandschutz GmbH is looking into. For twenty years Truthän and his team have successfully dedicated their work to complex construction projects, convey their knowledge on fighting fire- and disasters and are amongst those that are right at the forefront of digitalisation. The visionary explains why this alone is not sufficient. 

When thinking of a Smart City, the subject of fire protection does not enter one’s head straight away - what has fire protection to do with a Smart City? The subject of safety and fire protection cannot be ignored in connection with a smart city. A Smart City aims to be efficient, reduces redundancies, and possibly also prevents latent issues. It stands for its care for all the citizens living in it. The city must be turned into a place that is well worth living in. And in this connection a Smart City has also to be concerned about public care: The surroundings must be safe and secure. This goes beyond the areas of security, policing, preventing and fighting criminals. Smart City subjects also include safety at workplaces, safety in connection with preventing traffic accidents and last but not least, of course, fire protection. 

Something that should not be mixed up: Smart Cities are made possible through digitalisation but a digital city is not automatically a Smart City. Smart Cities are not exclusively based on using technologies. It is much more about having intelligent solutions that turn a city into being more efficient, more resilient and finally also safer.  


What role does digitalisation play in respect of fire protection? We want to achieve that our cities are safe and remain safe. Digitalisation can contribute largely by overcoming the so-called ‘safety gaps’. Within the classic world planners and operators are obliged to follow rules and structures and buildings must be set up in accordance with these rules and regulations. However, these rules are not always interpreted correctly by all players; intended and actual safety may differ slightly. Digitalisation can visualise and possibly avoid this discrepancy of assuming that one is safe and the fact how safe one really is, the so-called ‘safety gap‘. Beyond that, digitalisation can take over tasks and support us sustainably: Digital tools can considerably help collecting data and assist in data analyses as well as making decisions. Digital simulations, IoT-scenarios, predictive analytics, or digital twins of buildings are only some examples of applying an extensive range of digital tools that will improve the quality of fire protection and safety also quantitatively. 

You are often described as being a visionary - what exactly is your vision on the subject of digitalisation and fire protection? The world is changing and is being upset time and again. In the way that I follow this change and do not accept the past as reference to go forward and that I do not want to solve the challenges of the future with tools available today, probably makes me a visionary. Digitalisation does not necessarily play a role when I talk about visionary ideas. In order to overcome future challenges one does, of course, use digital tools but they are certainly not a necessary prerequisite for visions.  


What exactly is subject to changes and affects fire protection? Urbanisation moves forward, infrastructures are growing, and the strength and frequency of natural catastrophes is increasing. At the same time we observe the phenomenon of individualisation. We are faced with a living and working world of European dimensions: In part more than one hundred nations are represented in cities. The security is, however, currently organised as it was 100 years ago: with reactive scenarios. In addition, important demographic developments are taking place:  The next few years will reveal a lack of voluntary or professional emergency personnel that will have to deal with increasing numbers of emergencies in the classic way, maintaining the same safety level. At the same time people are getting older and this means that completely new requirements to buildings and infrastructures must be established. In perspective this means that if 80 per cent of people are restricted in their mobility, accessibility and barrier-freedom must be completely re-organised. This requires need for action.

Innovations must be pushed forward and we have to tackle this proactively. Instead of continuing to carry on as before, we will have to rethink and start completely new. For the fire protection of the future this means: We need a fire protection with foresight. We need robust dynamic models of the future and easier adaptable procedures. By using intelligently linked data, risks can be recognised earlier, be communicated with and minimised. In this way we are able to make cities safer and more plannable.  

hhpberlinis one of the most successful fire protection companies -  what does it stand out for? Our success is - amongst others - based on the fact that the organisation and the employees within the organisation do not primarily want to increase the turnover and gain but our objective is to plan secure buildings. We support our customers seriously and authentically to build and operate safe surroundings. Our objective is to have sustainably safer cities. We want to create safe living spaces in Germany, Europe and also worldwide. This is our mission and our achievement. It is not about awards for the largest or most expensive projects.  And this is probably the reason why hhpberlin has been established on the market for nearly 20 years by now. 

What does a smart fire protection look like? What exactly does it mean and who will it be important to? On the one hand a smart fire protection can decisively support preventative fire protection: Security organisations such as the fire brigade can arrive at their destination faster with fewer emergency personnel and will have been informed about the incident on site beforehand - by using for instance the intelligent building.  

A smart fire protection also plays an important role from a planning point of view. There are quite a number of approaches for a smart, preventative fire protection, that will contribute to a fast and efficient planning of buildings and which offer a high level of safety at the same time: Checking models and simulations will recognise inconsistencies in the architect’s planning and will be able to help to combine the correct measures upfront. An intelligent planning will discover mistakes that may lead to a lack in safety across the overall life cycle of a building. Specific sensory- and detection procedures will be able to identify deficiencies and disruptions at an early stage. A digital cooperation helps to accelerate building regulation procedures and planning applications can be approved faster by using blockchains. Beyond that a smart fire protection can also help that parts of a building contribute by thinking intelligently in respect of safety, for example, simulate evacuation scenarios beforehand and control a dynamic escape route.  In this way living spaces remain safer across the life span of buildings.   

Are there any disadvantages compared to the classic fire protection? The way players of the safety industry cooperate in a digital world, creates new links and new ways of cooperation, does, however, also require new rules. Once smart approaches point out shortcomings or disruptions time and again, one cannot shirk the responsibility and possibly make the operator liable for them. A proactively digitalised world requires a proactive action. Linear ways of working of the reactive world do not apply any longer. One is faced with a larger responsibility. This means that a smart fire protection needs engineers who can sometimes ignore decisions made by Artificial Intelligence or algorithms. They will have to control the context more holistically than it is perhaps expected still today. 


How much has the work of a today’s fire protection engineer changed and what will employees but also companies and citizens have to expect? The most important change that goes together with a smart or digital city is certainly the acceleration of communication, decisions and work steps. It will certainly be a challenge not to feel driven by all this. Instead one should be in a position in future to plan the next steps with caution. 

The engineers of the future will not be relieved from having to make decisions by digitalisation and they must be fully aware of their new holistic responsibility. They must join the digital world with intuition and experience. Engineers of the future will have to work increasingly more in interdisciplinary linked teams and search for a holistic approach of solutions that will have a long-term effect on the overall security of a city. Engineers of tomorrow are generalists, linkers and navigators in an increasingly faster rotating network of players, information and data. 

hhpberlinis the leader of this industry across Europe. What kind of experiences in respect of Smart City developments did you come across in other cities? Other countries do not consider changes and digitalisation as an obstacle as is the case in Germany. Here any type of data analysis creates anxieties. Other cities have already achieved to de-construct out-of-date work processes and to combine these in a new and clever way. The decisive factor is to overcome a silo mentality. Interdisciplinary teams or groups that cooperate logically with each other and do not think compartmentalised, are an essential feature of other smart cities. 

Clinging firmly to classic structures prevent that something ’smart‘ is created.  The co-existence of the Parks and Garden Department, Traffic Department, Transport Services, City Cleaners, Fire Brigade, and Police stops progress. Linking these institutions is a smart approach: If, for example, traffic planning signalises that traffic is currently light, the waste management can plan accordingly in order to clean these less frequented streets. 

Do you recall a ‘Best Practice‘ example from other cities? Copenhagen or Vancouver are good examples. In these cities logic components interlink that what formerly existed on its own. Traffic management and public transport are working more or less as one. This makes sense and turns the cities into places worthwhile living in. In my opinion Berlin has still a long way to go to achieve the same.  

What turns Berlin into a Smart City? And what are the potentials and advantages Berlin has compared to other cities? Unfortunately Berlin still thinks too technologically and digitally. This does not have to be this way as digitalisation is not the main criteria for a Smart City. And Berlin certainly has the potential to be a sustainable smart city. This is mainly due to its size and individuality as well as the openness of the citizens living here. All this can turn Berlin into a laboratory of change. I am convinced that the Berlin citizens are basically ready to accept the risk to become beta-testers for changes. But this has to be done holistically and not be limited to technologies. Berlin’s potential could be to venture something, but to question it also; but this requires courage, also in politics. 

What would the city of the future look like to you? The city of the future creates interesting and liveable surroundings and adapts to the individual requirements of its citizens. To achieve this it must be able to change extremely fast in respect of its abilities: a building, for instance, could be a school in the mornings and a party location in the evenings; it could be a co-working space now and perhaps a shopping mall in future. I do not view the city of the future as a monolithic system made of concrete but as an infrastructure that has been well thought through and is always ready for a change. It must be able to breathe and grow naturally by including its future requirements and living spaces in its thinking. Responsive, dynamically robust and resilient - this is how I view the city of the future. 

And finally: Could you please complete the following sentence: “Berlin is smart, because…Berlin is smart, because the people here are like Sisyphus. They never give up.