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Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
July 5, 2022

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

Evacuation procedures

Lack of government commitment to PEEPs in high rise residential blocks is a ‘kick in the teeth’ for disabled people

The day before Elspeth Grant gave her presentation on the importance of personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) during the Tall Building Conference at FIREX in May, the Government announced that it would not implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on PEEPs. Instead, it was launching a new consultation on sharing the location of disabled residents with fire services.

Speaking at the Conference, Grant pulled no punches about the Government’s move. “It’s a kick in the teeth for disabled people in the UK, for all the experts who have shared information with the Home Office, and for housing associations who have been diligently implementing PEEPs.”

She added that she didn’t think the Government’s move would succeed, as there would need to be changes to primary legislation such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and disability discrimination legislation.

EvacChair-SHE-DisabledEvacuation-22

Image from Safety & Health Expo and FIREX, London ExCeL, May 2022


The issue of disability and housing is a big one. 14.6 million people in the UK (18% of the population) are believed to be disabled, while 54% of social rent households have at least one disabled member or someone who has a long-term illness. 41% of all the disabled residents at Grenfell Tower died as a result of the fire, and almost half of all the people who died were disabled people or children.

Disability is defined as having a long term impairment that has a substantial effect on someone’s life. “It can be any of us tomorrow or someone we love,” said Grant.

Legal position

The Fire Safety Order does not discriminate against any class of people. Article 14(b) says that “in the event of danger, it must be possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and as safely as possible” and Article 15 makes no discrimination either, referring to “relevant persons”.

During phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Equality and Human Rights Commission submitted that the lack of evacuation planning for the disabled people in the building had been an ongoing breach of the right to life, and that authorities failed to protect vulnerable groups and meet equality/non-discrimination obligations.

The inquiry recommended that PEEPs should be prepared for all disabled people, and that the plans should be placed in Premises Information Boxes for fire and rescue service access. Without PEEPs, said Grant, it would have taken 74 firefighters just to evacuate the disabled people at Grenfell Tower.

Grant pointed to London Fire Brigade data, which shows that significant numbers of people evacuate before the arrival of the fire and rescue service. Moreover, research by the University of Leeds and Phil Murphy suggests that in purpose-built blocks of flats, it can take up to 25 minutes from an emergency call to when the fire service actually intervenes. “Would anyone want their loved one stuck like that for 25 minutes?”

Government response

The Government’s response is that implementing PEEPs for all disabled people in residential blocks is not practical, not proportionate and unsafe in terms of potentially hindering other people to evacuate or firefighters to tackle the fire. “This ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude is absolutely appalling,” Grant said.

Grant recounted several of what she termed ‘myth-busters’. Not all disabled people:

  • are wheelchair users
  • are safer staying put
  • will cause injury to others evacuating
  • have the propensity to start fires and lack the incentive to evacuate
  • spend all their time in their flats
  • have no partners, family or friends who care about them and who would refuse to evacuate without them

It’s also untrue that a buddy has to be an employee, residents don’t talk or care about each other, and nobody has worked out how to deliver PEEPs in general needs accommodation (22 councils have done so, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea).

In conclusion, Grant said there is a legal requirement to take into account the fire safety needs of all relevant people, including disabled people, and guidance states they must be able to move away from immediate danger and leave a building as quickly and safely as possible – without the help of the fire and rescue service. In any event, in spite of government reluctance to legislate, many councils and housing associations were implementing PEEPs for their disabled occupants.

 

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