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Life Safety Consultancy & Fire Risk Assessment in Complex Environments

The Problem with ‘Complex Buildings’

Ever since the development of the first large out of town retail shopping centre we have seen the proliferation of large building developments including large shopping centres, airport terminals, etc

Whilst we may look at these structures and consider them buildings in the traditional sense, they are in fact not single buildings but a series of buildings which have been joined together under a single roof, and they all have one thing in common – in the event of a fire incident it is only the section of the building under immediate threat that evacuates. This comparatively recent development has only come about because of improvements in construction materials and clever design, intended to limit the spread of fire, and the application of sophisticated fire engineering solutions which create the ‘place of comparative safety’ (within the ‘building’ itself) through the use of complex systems, including for example smoke control and extract systems. However these construction methods and fire engineering solutions rely equally upon the building management response to an incident when it occurs. In complex buildings it is not a case of ‘one out all out’ when a fire incident occurs. And that’s where the problem begins.

How many modern complex structures are created simply because we can create them? Just how much consideration has been given to the complexity of the management response and the number of people required to deal with an incident. In Part B Building Control documentation the construction (compartmentation) arrangements and fire engineering solutions will be well documented for building control approval. But more often than not the equally important management response will be covered by the term, ‘to be confirmed as the development progresses’. But in the heat of construction and against tight deadlines for building completion, are the management procedures properly considered in tandem with the architects and the fire engineers. Even if they are what happens over the course of a number of years when the ‘building may have changed owners or new management teams are appointed – will they necessarily be able to identify the architects and fire engineers intentions, never mind interpret and ensure the right management response is in place.

There are a myriad of other potential problems which require consideration before construction even begins. To highlight just one – how can you use a fire alarm system pre-programmed for only partial evacuation of the building, for the total simultaneous evacuation in the event of a serious major incident say a bomb alert. Can you simultaneously evacuate a complex building designed for only partial evacuation, could the means of escape routes designed for partial evacuation cope with the simultaneous evacuation of a large number of people?

What we do

NSG Security Consultants does not undertake fire engineering design but we are ideally placed to give unbiased independent advice concerning suitability of proposed designs taking into account the building’s owners / occupants’ management requirements. Ideally this would take place during the preparation of the Design Brief before construction begins, to support Building Control Part B Planning Applications; however the service can be delivered retrospectively as an interpretation of management responsibilities taking into account the documented construction and the proposed fire engineering solution.

Moreover, NSG Security Consultants will ensure that the client obligations with regards to BS 9999:2008 Code of Practice for the Fire Safety Design, Management and Use of Buildings have been fully discharged. At initial design stage NSG Security Consultants can prepare a Life (Fire) Safety Strategy encompassing the three elements, construction (compartmentation), systems and procedures to allow architects and fire engineering consultants to design ‘solutions’ that minimise operating costs to the ‘Building’s Owners whilst ensuring protection from fire incidents.

In existing complex buildings NSG Security Consultants can undertake a full life (fire) safety management review to ensure that life (fire) safety management policies and procedures meet requirements taking into account the original architects and fire engineering intentions thereby ensuring that the building’s owners and managers are compliant with regards to their legal obligations. Our fire safety management review involves, where necessary the preparation or review of the following:

Importantly, because of NSG Security Consultants expertise in security matters, we will ensure that any ‘conflict’ between life (fire) safety arrangements and security requirements are properly identified and addressed.