Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
January 7, 2015

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Working with the insider threat

False Fire Alarm Study First Ever to Gather Data from Live Incidents

A multi-agency partnership examining solutions to the false alarm problem is the first of its kind.

Two Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) watch managers seconded from Glasgow’s group of fire safety enforcement officers are working alongside a fire alarm industry expert to gather live intelligence on incidents – making the project unique compared to previous studies, which only used historical data (for example the BRE study, ‘The causes of false fire alarms in buildings’)

Started in November the project involves the SFRS, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE), the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the CBRE Group, CS Todd & Associates Ltd, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and Glasgow City Council.

The universal nature of fire alarm systems means the research’s conclusions could have far-reaching benefits across not just the UK but Europe too. Improvements to standards and codes of practice regarding automatic fire alarm systems could be among the benefits, the project organisers hope.

The cost of false fire alarms to both businesses and fire and rescue services is estimated to exceed £1bn each year, with each incident costing businesses around £2,900 and the fire and rescue services £300 on average.

“Unwanted false alarm signals are a significant issue for fire and rescue services so it’s important we join with our partners to see them reduced,” says Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) Lewis Ramsay, SFRS Director of Prevention and Protection.

“The scale of the problem is clear. Over the past three years Scotland’s firefighters have been called to in excess of 100,000 of these incidents, which equates to over 40% of all the incidents we attend.

“Not only is there a substantial financial cost but attending needless incidents also means firefighters and resources are taken away from their communities.

“In a real emergency every second counts. The time taken for firefighters to get to a house fire, a road traffic collision or any other incident can be absolutely crucial to saving the lives of people in danger.

“By working together with our partners we can gather information on the common causes of false alarms and identify approaches to reduce the number that occur.”

Automatic benefits

The project, which is focused on Glasgow, is also promoting the benefits of automatic fire alarm systems in facilitating safe evacuations and summoning the fire service as soon as possible.

ACO Ramsay continues: “This is a joint project overseen by an executive subgroup of the Business Engagement Forum, bringing us together with Glasgow City Council and other partners, including representatives from the insurance and fire protection industries.

“Our designated officers and the researcher will attend incidents in the city to gather data and gain an accurate understanding of false alarm causes, which is crucial to developing effective strategies to prevent recurrences.

“Where appropriate the team will also attend incidents where fire alarms have detected an actual fire. This will enhance the understanding of potential consequences had the alarm system not been in place, demonstrating where such systems do provide value.

“The project involves the same partnership that helped develop the new SFRS Unwanted False Alarm Signals Policy, which will replace the eight different policies used by the antecedent services.

“Under this single nationwide approach, firefighters across Scotland will engage with duty-holders and advocate a multi-stage action plan in response to the actuation of a fire alarm system.

“Cutting the number of unwanted false alarm signal incidents will reduce financial costs to ourselves and businesses, and reduce the demand placed on a community’s fire and rescue resources.

“One clear and immediate benefit will be to reduce the number of times our appliances have to travel under blue lights, which will lower the risk to our crews and other road users.

“We want to build on this work and the research project will help Fire and Rescue Services and businesses to tackle the issue.”

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Robert Yates
Robert Yates

The danger here is that they seem to be reviewing only bad false alarm sites and not sites where false alarm issues have been solved. In particular they need to review technologies that exist to eradicate false alarms but still provide smoke detection.