Theories of evolution
28 May 2022
THE INTERNET of Things, Artificial Intelligence, connected data, wireless systems and Government guidance are all going to play their part in how fire safety evolves during the remainder of this year and into 2023. Nick Rutter shares his predictions for the sector.
Going forward, residents will need alternative strategies to the Waking Watch Relief Fund. The Government has recently boosted the latter with an additional £27 million to cover the cost of installing alarm systems in high-rise residential buildings with potentially dangerous cladding, in turn removing or otherwise reducing the need for ‘Waking Watch’ provision.
The additional funding, which takes the total budget to £57 million, will bring some relief to leaseholders living with the financial burden of ‘Waking Watch’ and the emotional toll of waiting months – if not years – for their buildings to be made safe.
Questions remain, however, in terms of whether the extended Waking Watch Relief Fund will stretch far enough and provide what is much-needed assistance for all those who require it.
As things stand, £24.1 million from the Waking Watch Relief Fund has been approved for applications covering circa 281 buildings across England. However, nearly 800 blocks of flats in England and Wales have a ‘Waking Watch’ provision in place. That represents an 85% increase in less than a year, meaning the number of buildings failing safety inspections is growing faster than owners can make them safe.
With limited Waking Watch Relief Fund monies available, thousands may be left paying for fire marshals to patrol blocks of flats on a 24/7 basis, costing over £11,000 on average per building every month.
In addition, those who fall outside the scope of the Waking Watch Relief Fund may continue to face excessive costs.
A ‘Waking Watch’ is required when buildings have potentially dangerous cladding attached or fire safety issues change the evacuation policy from ‘Stay Put’ to simultaneous evacuation.
The Government’s Waking Watch Relief Fund generally only covers the upfront capital costs of installing a fire safety system in buildings with unsafe cladding. Therefore, leaseholders impacted by non-cladding issues rendering their buildings unsafe may continue to face ongoing ‘Waking Watch’ costs and remediation bills.
As it becomes clear that a change in fire safety tactics is essential, industry experts will continue to look at alternative strategies that can maximise safety while minimising costs.
For companies like ourselves, this means the ongoing development of connected technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help cut fire risks within the parameters of an existing budget, offering residents, building safety managers and landlords alike more intelligent ways in which to manage their properties.
Looking to the future, a combination of the IoT, robust fire detection and alert systems and evacuation plans could replace the need for ‘Waking Watch’ provision altogether, thereby helping tenants who fall outside the scope of the Waking Watch Relief Fund to feel safe in their own homes.
Through the remainder of this year and into 2023, there will be a greater understanding of how connected data can improve residents’ quality of life. Industry experts such as those at the Fire Industry Association (FIA) have started a productive and necessary dialogue centred on the IoT in the fire industry. In recent times, the Trade Association’s comprehensive IoT report has highlighted how the IoT can (and will) impact us all, with estimates suggesting that 87% of businesses might be working with the IoT in the future.
Cutting-edge technology that remotely monitors the residential environment on a 24/7 basis has the potential to prevent life-threatening events. Using remote alarm monitoring, the IoT and predictive data analysis, connected safety technology has the potential to identify a fire risk before it escalates to a 999 call. Not only can the data monitored in real-time alert social landlords to the status of alarms in the property when they’re triggered, but also when they are removed or otherwise when they need to be replaced.
Connection to the IoT could enable landlords to monitor important features such as the building’s age and condition as well as the ‘wear and tear’ of electrical appliances. Being able to combine this information with data on individuals’ physical or mental status is also important. If a given individual has dementia, is partially sighted or uses a wheelchair, their ability to respond to a fire event may well be somewhat limited.
Beyond fire safety, we now have the technology to assess temperature and humidity within a property. As we look ahead to the remainder of 2022 and into the New Year, there’s the potential for integration of other care and protection technologies to look after the more vulnerable people in society and, ultimately, keep more individuals safe.
Following on from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ published responses to the Government’s consultation on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, people living in the social rented sector will soon be safer in their homes.
Housing providers will be required by law to install smoke alarms in all social housing, while carbon monoxide alarms will have to be fitted in social and private rented properties where there’s a fixed combustion appliance (excluding gas cookers).
The regulatory changes will also require carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted when new appliances such as gas boilers or fires are installed in any home.
Additionally, the response to the consultation indicates that landlords and housing providers in the social and private rented sectors will need to repair or replace smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once told the latter are faulty.
Guidance on the positioning of alarms and the type of carbon monoxide alarms installed will also be reviewed and may be brought into line with BS EN 50292 and BS EN 50291. These standards show that the alarms have been extensively tested to ensure their quality (including sensor reaction times, minimum alarm sound levels and stability over their working life).
Given that fire safety guidance continues to evolve at a rapid pace, housing providers should not wait for further guidance changes to reinforce their Duty of Care. They can demonstrate Best Practice through the installation of alarms that meet an LD1 category (ie the highest level of domestic protection available). LD1 alarms can future-proof properties from regulatory changes and avoid an average £100 fee per call-out to update devices in order to meet any further new standards.
Housing providers should also ensure that any carbon monoxide alarms they purchase are fully certified to BS EN 50291-1 and carry a third party approval mark, such as the BSI Kitemark.
Shifting to wireless
Interconnected smoke alarms have been a requirement of UK Building Regulations since the 1990s. The latest (ie 2019) revision to the British Standard BS 5839:6 also requires interconnected smoke alarms in all rental properties. Historically, this has been achieved using a physical wire to link all of the alarms in a given property.
However, this method is cost-prohibitive in retrofit. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that, in the wake of the new Scottish Tolerable Standard, the industry has seen a marked shift towards the wireless interlinking of alarms. Beyond the speed of installation, it’s far easier – and faster – to add additional smoke, heat or carbon monoxide alarms to a wireless system. This is paramount when, as stated, UK legislation continues to evolve at a rapid speed.
Choosing the right alarms and wireless interconnection technology also enables cost-effective IoT integration of new and existing installations simply by adding a connected gateway to the alarm network. This delivers further benefits as gateway devices can harbour on-board sensors such as temperature and humidity monitoring, thereby enabling a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on in the property.
In addition, gateway devices can be connected to an open system, bringing together a range of devices in the home such as smart health monitors, panic buttons and connected smoke alarms. Having a hub that different technologies are able to feed into can ensure that more residents in assisted living arrangements receive holistic support, increasing the likelihood of preventing additional risks to health and decreasing associated costs in the long-term.
Nick Rutter is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at FireAngel (www.fireangel.co.uk)