Fire & Rescue, Fire Safety, Social Housing
Advancements around the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are driving a digitally powered evolution for housing associations and strengthening the golden thread of information for buildings.
But there is a general risk-aversion and need for greater collaboration among stakeholders to accelerate progress, according to experts.
In FireAngel’s Roundtable ‘How is innovative technology enabling better management of fire risk and empowering communities’, held November 2021, our panel of experts discussed just this.
Oliver Pickup, business and technology journalist
Jason Avery, assistant director for prevention and protection at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service
Paul Cook, interim health and safety manager, Ealing Council
Nick Rutter, co-founder and chief product officer, FireAngel
Sarah Stevenson-Jones, vice chair, National Social Housing Fire Strategy Group
According to government data, there were 249 fire-related deaths in England in the year ending June 2021. Although figures from recent years seem to be plateauing, the advancements in technology – in particular the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence – open the door to smart fire safety.
But how is this innovative technology enabling better management of fire risk and empowering connected communities?
During the Roundtable, FireAngel Co-founder & Chief Product Officer Nick Rutter said: “There is massive scope for improvement by being able to connect a whole host of different devices.
“Through applying technology such as AI we can move from passive or responsive fire safety—using alarms to keep people alive, out of fire situations—to active or preventative fire safety.
“By employing predictive, AI-powered technology, we’re able to prevent fires even happening in the first place. It gives a fantastic insight into what’s happening in a situation, which allows fires to be more accurately pinpointed and for nuisance alarms to be more accurately rejected.”
Although new tech solutions won’t automatically change everyone’s behaviour, it arms residents with real-time data allowing them to be better informed about their fire risk and to look after one another in the community.
Speaking on what fire safety in the near future will look like from a Fire & Rescue perspective, Jason Avery said: “In private dwellings, we have no legal precedent to cross the threshold unless there is an emergency, so the referral pathways need to be better established—for example, going out to meet the public, educating them, and identifying those that are vulnerable.
“At the moment, we heavily rely on upstream referrals from agencies, such as health, ambulance service, housing providers. Still, with more data and better collaboration, it would help us prevent more fires.”
Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, there has been a period of dramatic change in the industry from both a cultural and technology perspective.
“Many new tech systems are coming to the market, which will enable evolution,” says Sarah Stevenson-Jones during the Roundtable. “In addition, the Building Safety Act, which will hopefully be introduced by 2023, should drive further change.
“However, there are barriers to progress. For example, there are financial pressures in the social housing sector. Housing providers also don’t clearly understand what’s available in the marketplace and how they can benefit.”
Paul Cook agrees that to accelerate progress a mindset change is required from housing associations. “The first step is to question why you are doing what you are doing,” he asked. “Is it because you have always done it that way?
“There might be some difficult conversations with colleagues around standards. But by committing to technology solutions and upgrading infrastructure, it creates an opportunity to educate residents, change behaviours, and share knowledge and best practices across the sector for a more holistic approach.”
With an ageing population and a higher percentage of vulnerable people, there is a challenge to reduce the number of fire deaths, however Nick Rutter wants the industry to focus on getting the number down to zero.
“Technology can help us understand where the risk is, drive us in that direction, and offer insights to change behaviours,” he says. “The most important thing is not giving up on that long-term vision, keep that downward trajectory going, and technology and greater collaboration are essential. It’s all about attitude.”