With the fire cladding crisis making headline news, industry experts are looking at the role of technology to improve fire safety standards today, and in the future.
In response to evidence heard at the Grenfell Inquiry, the Government’s White Paper¹ on social housing and the draft Building Safety Bill, there has never been more intense focus on improving fire prevention and response infrastructure for social housing.
The Government’s White Paper on social housing sets out how it will deliver fundamental change, to ensure people feel safe and secure in their homes. Two key steps are to legislate to strengthen the objective of the Regulator of Social Housing so that it will explicitly include fire safety, and to require social landlords to be regulated and remain transparent. Furthermore, the Government will launch a consultation on requiring smoke alarms in social housing. Also, the Government has set out that it will expect the Regulator of Social Housing to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding with the Health and Safety Executive, to ensure effective sharing of information with the Building Safety Regulator.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that success will require new approaches to how social housing providers monitor and manage fire risk in their buildings. James King, Connected Homes Director of fire safety technology experts FireAngel, says: “We welcome the Government’s White Paper on social housing and its new Charter for social housing residents, which aims to ensure greater landlord accountability and transparent communication with tenants. This and the draft Building Safety Bill point to a lot of work around fire prevention.
‘We’re at a stage where technology can shoulder some of the responsibility of fire safety, and housing providers, fire services and regulators can use it to protect tenants and homes more effectively.
‘Since the Grenfell tragedy, the relationship between the Fire Rescue Service and social landlords has strengthened and there is huge interest on both sides in how connected technology can provide real-time information, assess risk and engage with tenants to ensure they are and feel safe. With the right technologies, fire prevention and response can become easier, more effective and more proactive.
‘By introducing connected technologies such as IoT and AI, social landlords can create serious efficiencies and relieve some of the burden of fire prevention, and can also make life safer and easier for their tenants. Post-Grenfell, more than 400 ‘waking watches’ were established around the country to monitor buildings. However, they’re expensive and only designed to work as an interim measure; relying on humans for fire prevention shouldn’t be the only intervention and it certainly isn’t sustainable long term”, adds James King. “With remote monitoring and cloud connectivity of smoke detectors, social landlords can streamline fire prevention, as it creates an opportunity for centralised, off-site monitoring so that multiple sites can be managed from a single place.
‘Connected technology can be installed within the parameters of an existing budget, and potentially provide more protection.
‘This combination of IOT and AI technologies provides 24/7 oversight of buildings and their changing fire risks, collecting data that can be analysed for trends and patterns. AI can even offer predictive analysis based on these trends, which gets more accurate the more data it processes. With the right technologies, today we can automate these processes, highlighting who needs more support to help housing providers engage directly with at-risk tenants, encouraging independent living and proactive intervention.
‘From the fire services’ perspective, connected technology and remote monitoring enable them to assess data relating to, not only the condition of the building materials, but also vulnerable tenants, managing and preventing risks. From a tenant’s perspective, digitisation means they can be informed on the state of the safety system within their own homes and they can report concerns and engage with social landlords easily. For the fire service, connected technology can enable them not only to monitor but to prevent risk, before it becomes a 999 call,” adds James King.