William Roszczyk covers talks at this year’s first RISCAuthority seminar, on topics such as drones, DNA marking and the switch to IP networks
AT THE start of this latest event, RISCAuthority chairman and Axa technical director David Williams declared that he was ‘very proud’ of the work undertaken by RISCAuthority and the FPA in the last year, and pointed to the ‘very relevant’ timetable of talks that were outlined for the day.
The first talk saw Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire explore the fire toxicity of building products, which she described as ‘the elephant in the room coming out’.
This ‘very important aspect’ of fire ‘should be taken seriously’, as most people die from gas inhalation in a fire due to effluents produced, with Professor Stec ‘trying to bring awareness’ of the risks by showing the number of fire deaths and injuries caused by inhalation in the UK. She commented that this is an area ‘completely unregulated despite being the biggest fire killer’, with synthetic material and plastic use increasing and in turn increasing risks.
She focused then on the heat release rate of different materials, pointing out that this increased with plastic, while dwelling fires with furniture containing polyurethane foam filling see hydrocyanide released. Other materials that emit toxic fumes include wood, PVC, and nylon carpets, all of which have a ‘huge influence’ on toxicity.
While it was not possible to ‘control’ contents of dwellings, the materials used in products and construction can be changed. The European Union (EU) had tried to put toxicity regulations into fire safety law but had been unable to provide enough evidence, though five EU nations already have toxicity regulations within their laws. As a consequence of Grenfell, the EU is now redebating the issue.
Common insulation products used include phenolic foam, rigid polyurethane foam, Styrofoam, stonewool and polyisocyanurate (PIR), and Professor Stec examined the toxic product yields of each in fires. Within 30 seconds, the chemicals emitting from many of these materials can cause disorientation and irritation, while two minutes in spreading smoke and a growing plume releases more gases, an underventilated room providing the ‘highest threat’.
Phenolic foam produces a type of smoke that the human body cannot easily break down, while rigid polyurethane foam emits three different gases, and PIR foam features more nitrogen, resulting in more smoke, and a higher concentration of toxic gases. Styrofoam meanwhile emits carbon monoxide, while stonewool does not burn, and only the binding material – depending entirely on the manufacturer – will burn.
In terms of acute toxicity, the gases released by these materials have an ‘immediate effect’ on people, including smoke obscuration which causes impaired vision and irritation. Irritant gases create breathing difficulties but, depending on concentration, can cause lung inflammation and death; while chronic, long term effects can persist if an individual survives.
Asphyxiant gases meanwhile create confusion and then loss of consciousness, with carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide most culpable here – survivors of Grenfell were treated with cyanide kits. Carbon monoxide provides a slow ‘insidious’ toxification by quickly replacing oxygen and remaining stable in the blood, whereas hydrogen cyanide is far more toxic, rapidly circulating to the lungs, heart and brain and causing unconsciousness.
This gas is a ‘major cause of rapid incapacitation’ – Polish house fire deaths examined found a soot presence in 80% of deaths (if the percentage is above 50%, carbon monoxide is to blame). Of these people, 83% died in the room of fire origin close to the furniture or floor containing toxic materials.
Professor Stec then examined the fraction of lethal doses (FEDs) in fires, and the toxicity of certain polymers and the gases they create, before looking at insulation materials in the same way. Stonewool and glasswool emit the least number of gases, while PIR emits the most. Referring back to chronic toxicity, she remarked that firefighters suffer most with this due to the increased absorption of soot particulates through their skin and throat.
As flame retardents increase fire toxicity, many of these materials have been banned in Europe and replaced. Professor Stec explained that the bigger threat now is from soot on walls, in ash and in residues, which if inhaled can achieve deep lung penetration. Phosphorus fire retardents are increasingly used due to bromine and chlorine source retardents being banned, but she pointed out that these can potentially emit neurotoxins, and so are restricted in sofa or chair foams, but are used on buildings.
Dr Rory Haddon of the University of Edinburgh spoke on the fire risks in modern timber construction, and cited examples of such construction including the proposed ‘Matchstick’ tower at the Barbican in London. Asking why timber was ‘having a renaissance’, he noted that this was not regarding timber frames but cross laminated timber beams, which are lightweight, can be quickly constructed and appear natural, though they behave in a way in fire that is ‘difficult to predict’.
The panels are made by gluing individual panels together in a sandwich, and this provides efficient structural performance, but also a ‘unique set of risks’. While all materials present some risk element, Dr Haddon highlighted the myths around timber, including that it doesn’t burn, but chars. To this, he retorted that the length of time campfires last are enough to suggest that charring still radiates heat and continues a fire.
Another myth is that it burns in a ‘slow, predictable manner’, though he didn’t disagree with this so much as the claim that if timber can achieve 120 minutes’ fire resistance, a building constructed with it can survive for two hours, calling this a ‘huge misconception’. While sprinklers may help in such an event, you ‘can’t blindly apply one solution to this issue’ and can miss other challenges posed, with 120 minutes’ resistance not two hours of real time in a fire.
On the idea of timber burning slowly but predictably, he notes that fires increase rapidly at the start and then remain steady when a solid piece of timber is burned. However, cross laminated timber when exposed to the same tests has ‘huge spikes’ of heat and flame. Solid wood in this sense is ‘predictable’, but engineered products are not.
Within a compartment, cross laminated timber can increase the fuel load and, asking how to account for this in a design, Dr Haddon cited a 1968 study of wood fuel on floors and walls that showed how they change fire behaviour. On what makes exposed timber different, he said that the tests involved different placement of the fuel, with the first only on the floor and the fire not increasing, while the other two placed fuel on the walls and ceilings.
In this case, he asked ‘what happens when they have burned out’ to the structure, asking ‘does the fire go out?’. He noted that this raised questions of property protection and fire development. A general trend has been to make fires harder to ignite in their growth period, as well as to deal with a developed fire, but no work has been done to study the decay period of a fire. Dr Haddon wondered what would be left of a building, stating that this was important in terms of using timber.
On that subject, looking at how compartments change fire dynamics and what can be done to ensure safe design, he and colleagues undertook three test experiments with cross laminated timber in compartments. The first used timber on the back and side of a compartment, the second on the roof and the back, and the third on two walls and the back and side. Videos were shown to delegates of
all three tests.
The second and third tests were remarkable in that the second cooled quickly after a hot surge, as expected, but on a retest the fire restarted twice when they expected it to cool, which was ‘confusing’. The third test meanwhile got hot and stayed hot, and both tests illuminated the fall off of char onto five layers of cross laminated timber ‘ready to burn’, which continues the cycle, as well as radiation, with multiple wooden surfaces keeping the temperature high.
He stated that the issues can be designed out, but that risks must be understood, including that fire ‘doesn’t burn out’ due to encapsulation integrity and exposed surfaces that can cause it to burn until collapse. In turn, external fire spread might mean more fuel to increase the fire and liberate toxic gases – the tests showed that a third of the energy went outside the compartment.
This in itself meant that the fire could pose a ‘significant risk’ to both adjacent compartments and buildings. Finally, structural collapse was the biggest risk, as char and other wood on fire remains hot due to radiation, and high temperatures can persist a long time after the fire has extinguished. He concluded that while timber is an ‘interesting product’, it ‘brings in new challenges’, and if processes are understood and the design community is onside, then issues can be solved.
Lithium ion batteries
Carsten Heumann of Denios explored managing fire risks when it comes to safe storage of lithium ion batteries, particularly as the automotive industry moves to use more of the batteries for electric cars. The company’s focus is on storing dangerous materials, so it looked into batteries. Mr Heumann gave details on the cabinets that the company manufactures from steel sheets covered in rockwool, which can withstand 1,100 degrees for 120 minutes.
The issue with using compartments for storage is that there is no legislation, even in Germany, for such storage of batteries, except in transportation. The company tried to work with others but each ‘wanted to keep to themselves’; so building an industry consensus was ‘challenging’, and the risks of lithium ion batteries were increasing.
Discussing these in detail, Mr Heumann stated that the metal oxide within the batteries is destroyed either when overcharged or on reaching a high temperature, creating an exothermic reaction. The electrolyte fluid burns and creates a highly flammable gas. Should the temperature of the battery reach flash point, thermal runaway can begin, and extinguishing it can be difficult because of the oxygen being produced by the cells that are on fire.
In turn, an ‘aggressive, hazardous’ acid is created when water contacts the battery cells, while gases released include carbon monoxide, methane, hydrogen, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbonates. The cells burst on ignition due to thermal runaway, and thus the volume of the fire increases. Denios’ cabinets for such batteries, therefore, would need to have a pressure and relief system built in, as well as storage for acid.
An explosion relief hatch opens during the explosive chain reaction, closing afterwards and withstanding fire for up to 120 minutes – it is also heat insulated. Other elements of the cabinets include: a gas detector to check for temperature rises, automatically closing doors; a dry riser sprinkler system that cools the cells; a water extraction system which drains contaminated water to a safe storage tank; and a smoke and heat alarm that shuts doors and ventilation as well as stopping the cycle.
Other elements consist of: a technical ventilation system which stops the concentration of hazardous gases automatically; fire rated cable and pipe penetration that is both explosion proof and watertight; an automatic carbon dioxide extinguishant; a spill sump and an acid spill sump that cools acid for storage; as well as automatic magnetic door restraints.
Ofcom’s Huw Saunders explained the switchover or migration from the public switch telephone network (PTSN) to internet protocol or IP networks by 2025, outlining what was happening, why it was happening and how it was relevant to insurers. He also explored solutions, future mitigation, what to keep in mind and what the advisory body would be doing to assist the transition.
The older technology provides fixed voice services, with major players including BT, Virgin and KCOM, and as these systems are reaching end of life they are both obsolete and expensive to support, having been launched in the early 1980s.
As hardware and software is difficult to both replace and maintain, the plan is to have fully replaced it by 2025, and this move is irreversible. In its place will be voice over internet protocol (VOIP) technology, which will begin by emulating PTSN as an interim measure, with voluntary migration to VOIP.
Mr Saunders acknowledged that ‘at some point customers will be forced to migrate’, with no set date for a UK wide switch off. Interim measures are being undertaken by internet service providers such as Sky and Talk Talk, while voluntary migration has begun, and he said to expect a ‘fairly steady’ changeover process.
Internationally, the transition is already underway in nations including Switzerland, Germany and the USA, while it has already been completed in other nations such as Macedonia. Issues with the transition include that copper based services such as Redcare ‘will cease to work’, though BT is revamping this in house, and security alarms services due to receiving centres malfunctioning. Again, BT had opened – on the day of the seminar – a testing centre for exactly this purpose.
The lines are currently live powered at the moment, so a new source of power will be required, and Ofcom is currently working with different sectors on the impacts, including telecare for health and fire, which it notes is a ‘concern’. Finance (card payments and ATMs), alongside transport (traffic control and monitoring, as well as ticket machines), are two sectors likely to be affected, along with utilities (network and control monitoring).
Interim solutions include analogue telephone adapters on the back of routers, into which phones can be plugged in. Alarms may not have full functionality, but the BT centre and others like it will assist manufacturers in that regard, while re-engineering and finetuning is already underway. However, these short term solutions should not get in the way of the fact that in the long term ‘we need to think about coverage, resilience and data protocols’, he added.
Future considerations include whether to take a data centric or all IP approach, as existing broadband facilitates a lot of use, and alarm requirements may have to override broadband use elsewhere. There may also be issues with router compatibility, and wireless technology may work better, and be more secure and resilient for many to use, especially considering the internet of things and smart metering, which already focus on wireless technology.
Mr Saunders highlighted Ofcom’s role in leading the migration and informing consumers. It was helping with the transition, identifying those in need of replacement technology, and talking through the changes with them to ensure they understand what will change and have the time to migrate technologies.
The body is also making sure providers are aware of their responsibilities to stakeholders and consumers, and works alongside the Network Interoperability Consultative Committee and the providers as well as ‘monitoring overall progress’. He concluded that the transition is ‘inescapable’, that services ‘will be impacted’ and that Ofcom is ‘intending to manage changes’. The provider testing facilities are key and providers will need to inform customers of the change.
James Brown of Selectamark Security Systems explained the company’s background and creation of the SelectaDNA synthetic DNA product, which is used by 40 UK police forces and sold to more than 30 international countries. The product is purchased by the police to drive down crime through marking property to reduce burglaries, and the company works alongside police certification body, Secured by Design, as well as adhering to a wide range of standards.
DNA marking is used on both assets and property, in addition to criminals, with the synthetic DNA featuring a unique marker to prove either ownership or offence. The covert marks are visible under UV light and identifiable through a forensic signature, and are said to be ‘robust and secure enough’ to survive attack and harsh environmental conditions. Each signature is linked to a secure database that the police can access, while each canister on the market has a unique DNA code.
The DNA itself is manufactured to be a shorter chain than that of human DNA, making it more difficult to break down, and the SelectaDNA products are patented. One case study example was a partnership with Merseyside Police, which purchased around 5,000 kits and used them in homes to deter burglaries, recording a 60% fall in the crime. It also used visible signage for streets and in windows to put off criminals.
Mr Brown pointed out that DNA provides a ‘fear factor’ for criminals and prompts a ‘question mark’ in their plans for thefts, because they tend to go for the easy target. After listing a series of case studies in which criminals were caught by DNA marking, he also highlighted some of the common and stranger situations in which the company has been asked to mark property.
These included defibrillators; tools and equipment (which the company is most regularly called about); rural farming equipment; post boxes; crayfish; beehives; police vehicles; churches (metal thefts from roofs); shops and retail; boilers; containers and trucks; and moped crime. He went into more detail on the company’s solutions for retail and crimefighting, which entail marking the criminal as they escape the scene.
Here, a spray can be activated by a panic button near the checkout, with the offender marked as they leave the shop. In some cases a moneyclip inserted into the till is handed to the thief, which once removed from the till is activated and marks them. ATM gas attack protection is also available, in which the cash cassettes within the machines are armed with marker and spray functions.
On moped crime and vehicle theft, the police has started to use the company’s DNA aerosols to spray offenders, with one persistent West Yorkshire thief convicted via marking after 43 arrests. Mr Brown noted that the Metropolitan Police has a larger and longer distance aerosol that helped them to cut the crime rates by 38.5% between February and May this year.
Mr Brown concluded by providing examples of other uses and applications, including those against trespassing (small beads on the floor mark shoes or tyres); waste crime (such as a partnership with the Environment Agency to mark waste bales that ‘dramatically reduced’ incidents); public order (an adjusted paintball gun can be used to mark rioters); and canine detection (sniffer dogs have been trained to detect and find marked property).
Iprosurv’s Shane Jones said that the last decade has seen huge advances in technology and stability, and that there are expected to be 76,000 commercial drones in the UK by 2030, with 629,000 people employed and a market value of £42.5bn.
The UK is by far the biggest importer, with 33.9% of the market, and ‘significant increases’ mean more licences are required, as applications are seeing a 52% year on year growth, though Mr Jones highlighted the issues facing the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which licenses commercial drones for use.
He was also keen to state differences between the commercial drones the company uses and ‘hobby’ drones, with the former being geofenced to prevent them reaching important locations, unlike the latter. Commercial drones can cost between £5,000 and £120,000, while hobby drones can be purchased for less than a few hundred pounds.
Insurance is a small ‘but changing’ market with $6.5bn of the global sector, and Mr Jones discussed the company’s main customer brackets, including utilities such as power stations, oil rigs, wind turbines and train networks. Its drones look for defects with thermal cameras, but no data is analysed by the company unless requested, Mr Jones calling the drones the ‘tool in the box’.
Potential insurance uses include claims footage, post claims, surge in terms of floods, contractor auditing, pre risks and escape of water, while ground penetrating radar could also prove useful. Construction uses include land mapping of large sites, facilities and project management, site auditing, overlaid project updates and analytics, with ground levels studied via mapping.
The drones map thousands of pictures taken within the software, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) featuring built in algorithms to detect corrosion or faults. A 3D model allows access to each individual image and the option to comment and see volumetric measurements, while a cost analysis tool and building algorithm are available. AI can also flag up points of interest or anomalies, though is more effective with newer sites.
In terms of ‘near future impact’, the ‘future depends on you’, Mr Jones said, showcasing diverse uses including defibrillator drones, drones flying blood samples, and a solar powered drone providing 5G internet. The European Aviation Safety Agency will, from July 2019, require drones over £250,000 to be registered, and Mr Jones outlined regulations and tests to pass for operators.
The company’s Greg Gladwell added that drones are becoming ‘quicker, better and cheaper’, with new use cases or users each month in ‘unexpected guises’. For insurers, drones can refly over areas ‘at different times for different perspectives’, provide mid claims inspections to ‘keep on track’ and final claims inspections to ‘see how it has gone’. He warned that technological changes are ‘happening now’, this being a risk for insurers not involved, as the industry is ‘picking up pace’.
William Roszczyk is editor of Fire & Risk Management. For more information, view page 5