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How the fire and security worlds can cooperate productively

The relationship between fire and security is often marred by talk of conflict. Is this conflict due to incompatibility, or more to do with a lack of understanding between these new companions? Both disciplines are in their infancy and the early stages of any relationship is often fragile, yet these two disciplines are maturing.

The question is, as they mature, will their relationship blossom?

The basis of this relationship is founded on admirable motivations: the protection of life, property and mission continuity.

As risk-based disciplines, they both concern themselves with hazards, threats, likelihood, vulnerability and consequence or impact; however, they are often kept apart and only get to know one another where they interface at perhaps their most vulnerable points – putting an undue strain on their growing relationship.

Conflict

While in pursuit of shared objectives, their risk mitigation efforts can be at odds. The fire strategy may seek to provide appropriate means of escape in case of fire, capable of being safely and effectively used at all material times. The security strategy, meanwhile, may seek to prevent unauthorised access into and within a building.

Access control systems must consider access for (among other emergency services) the fire and rescue service. A failure to do so does not only cause issues for fire situations but can also result in insecurity – especially in a chaotic scenario such as an evacuation.

When conflicts arise here, surely they are simply down to poor design? We have the technology, knowledge and understanding to identify, rationalise and prevent a conflict arising in the first place, but there are more benefits than simply access and egress considerations.

Prevention (deter & deny)

Fire prevention is often a matter of simple common sense and does not always involve sophisticated measures or high technology. Arson is a crime and security measures such as perimeter security, access control, lighting, effective patrols and general staff vigilance are crime prevention measures with fire prevention benefits.

Good security can also benefit housekeeping. Observance of smoking laws, disposal of smoking material and improper use of portable heating appliances and control of contractors can be policed by security. Effective security can deter crime, deny unauthorised access and support fire prevention efforts.

Protection (detect & defend)

The capital expenditure associated with fire protection measures, is often considered on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. Sadly fire protection is often considered in isolation from security, yet well-informed security solutions can mitigate security threats and enhance fire protection levels.

When a fire starts and grows, the first barrier to its development is first-aid fire-fighting. Security staff, who are used to responding quickly and effectively to emerging situations, with relevant extinguisher training, ebbing a core competency of all security staff, can provide this essential first line of defence and help to stop a fire developing and causing a full-scale evacuation.

CCTV can increase provision of early warning in case of fire. It can be used to assist and direct seek and search procedures undertaken by fire wardens (often security), prior to initiating a full evacuation, which can improve business continuity.

Public address announcements can also be aided by CCTV. Combined with well-trained security to assist in managing fire/bomb evacuations these benefits improve pre-movement time. This could be a means to mitigate the risk posed by slightly longer travel distances or increased occupancies.

Convergence is not a widely used term in the fire-safety profession yet security professionals are increasingly interested in the integration of fire and security systems, including panels and building information systems.

But does this relationship have a darker side?

In security, considerable thought and a growing body of research has supported consideration of methodologies employed by would-be attackers.

While a host of situations and human behaviours – such as complacency, a willingness to trust and a lack of understanding – are readily exploited by these people, the relationship between fire and security is never more fragile than where it interfaces during a chaotic event like fire evacuation.

Chaos is a great opportunity for attackers to exploit panic and confusion and utilise less-well covered points of access to systems, buildings and sites.

Simple relationship enhancing solutions can be developed, so long as communication channels are maintained and extended between these two disciplines to ensure that each takes heed of the other.

Emergency planning & crisis management

In complex premises well trained staff are needed to implement procedures on the discovery of a fire. Security professionals are often the first to raise the alarm, call the fire and rescue service, initiate the evacuation and assist occupants who are unfamiliar with the building.

Once the building has been safely evacuated, salvage operations may be coordinated with fire-fighting activities.

Integrated risk-management systems

Organisations with multiple sites and facilities often suffer from a haphazard and inconsistent approach to risk management, which can present challenges for governance of organisational risk.

Regardless of whether we’re thinking about fire, security, continuity or even health and safety, the management system is founded on a statement of organisational intent – ie a policy.

A policy is underpinned by a strategy detailing the ‘who, how and when’. Beneath this lie the operational procedures.

Formalising an organisation’s risk-management system is a sensible, grown-up approach to risk management. While we do not advocate integrated policy, an integrated approach to issues such as communication, resources and authority, training, maintenance and testing, management review, and performance evaluation can be advantageous.

The convergence of these disciplines is an area of great interest. The areas where these disciplines overlap can conflict, if poorly designed, but can also provide substantial cost-cutting benefits and improved risk mitigation, once understood.

Professionals within each of these disciplines would surely benefit from closer cooperation and should consider ways of promoting this embryonic relationship’s development so that they remain friends, with benefits, long into the future.

Ben Bradford
Managing Director
BSc Hon’s MSc MBA FCIBSE FRICS FIFireE
benbradford@bbseven.com

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