RISCAuthority insight - October 2018
Dr Jim Glockling shares his view that it’s time for a little bit of clarity with regard to resilience in fire
THERE IS little more destructive to those trying to promote the need for resilience than the obsessive preference for ‘positive messaging’ by fire stakeholders, which leads to a reluctance to admit the limitations of contributions to end users. By definition, resilience measures demand absolute assurances of function, and determination of need must start with analysis of the protections in place – from regulations, standards, protection systems, fire service intervention, insurance etc – and what they guarantee to deliver, so that any additionally required measures can fill the gaps. Best endeavours, assumed levels of protection and unproven methods are simply not good enough.
A recent government survey showed that most people assume building regulations protect property in addition to life… and they are wrong. These same people (perhaps) might also believe that fire and rescue services (FRSs) must take risks to save properties and businesses in a fire… and they are wrong about that too. It may also be the case that they consider being insured to be enough protection for property and business, but again, business recovery statistics following major fires show, in many instances, that this is wrong as well.
The starting point therefore when engaging with businesses and property owners on the need for resilience is breaking down these misconceptions; otherwise everyone works from a false perception of the level of protection they currently have. Here too, the preference for ‘positive messaging’ can quickly defeat – the fact that our universally loved FRSs may not be in a position to meaningfully contribute to
the commercial estate’s resilience requirements is awkward for many.
To analyse and highlight differences in cover available nationwide – in terms of turn out policy, weight and speed of response – raises the spectre of ‘postcode lottery’ provisioning (troublesome for some); but the point is, we are talking about business and property protection, not life safety, so it should be OK. The idea that insurance might not be enough protection similarly flies in the face of every TV
advertisement. A claim can put back in place what has materially been destroyed, and some products assist for a time as a lost customer base is resought, but what if they don’t want to come back and
what about the stress placed on all involved? Noone emerges better off from a disaster, insured or not.
At the risk of upsetting the entire fire community and even my own paymasters, perhaps now is the time to remarket capability using the ‘Marmite’ approach: clear messaging that what you are required to do is done well, but outside of that, deficiency is OK. Engaging on resilience would become a great deal easier if (flippantly):
- building regulations had this cover note: ‘These regulations are designed to protect you, not your property or business. A property burning to the ground, the associated business failing, loss of services/heritage etc, is a satisfactory outcome so long as it is not accompanied by loss of life.’
- FRSs adopted the slogan: ‘We are here to protect you, not your property or business, but we assist where safe to do so.’
- British standards’ front covers read: ‘All responsibility for the suitability and use of this standard in relation to your protection needs rests with you.’
- fire engineer business cards said: ‘If you fail to provide a brief that says otherwise, we will design to the low grey bar set for life safety only (see bullet 1) – ask for additional resilience measures, and fire engineering is an admirable toolkit for achieving these ends, as described in BS 7974 Part 8.’
- insurance provider advertising stated: ‘We can cover the material loss and a period of recovery, but occasionally even that’s not enough to ensure survival.’
Granted, it’s unlikely to happen, but ultimately property owners need to understand that properties, businesses conducted in them and services provided from them are by default unprotected. The decision to provide protection over and above that required for life safety is down to them alone.
Whilst a grim revelation to many, the good news is that the UK has an unparalleled supply chain for protecting property and incorporating resilience: guidance, toolkits, systems and methods are there for the taking. It just needs that first moment of realisation, made more likely by everyone being more open about the contribution they can assuredly make.
Dr Jim Glockling is technical director of the FPA and director of RISCAuthority