Maintaining social housing and providing meaningful support to tenants is full of challenges. Fire safety is one of the most important, but it can be one of the most difficult to overcome. FireAngel’s connected homes director, James King, discusses how, with the right technologies, fire prevention and response can become easier, more effective and more proactive.
The fire risk in social housing
Last year, fire and rescue services attended almost 30,000 house fires in England alone. 26 per cent of those were in purpose-built flats, with 775 fires in high rises over 10 storeys, putting hundreds of people at potential risk.
With 67 per cent of house fires caused by human error, proactive intervention is vital to help tenants protect themselves, but their environments have a role to play too. Recent research has shown that more than 70 per cent of social housing high-rise schemes have fire safety issues, such as the wrong type of fire doors or a lack of sprinklers. To keep people safe in social housing, something needs to change.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, all eyes were on how fire safety could be improved in high-rise buildings. In many areas, progress has been slow, but there’s renewed focus on managing fire risk for tenants and communities as the inquiry continues.
From the government down, there’s ongoing investment in fire prevention and response infrastructure for social housing. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that success will require new approaches to how housing providers monitor and manage fire risk in their buildings.
Understanding your communities and reducing their risk
Providing meaningful support for communities is vital for the health and wellbeing of tenants, and safety is a major component of that.
Vulnerable individuals may be more likely to leave a pan on the stove, for example, or use an electric heater for long periods of time, increasing their risk further. Understanding why particular tenants are at greater risk can help housing providers prevent fire-related emergencies.
To make this process simpler and less obtrusive for tenants, housing providers need accurate digital methods to monitor their building’s various risk profiles and target interventions.
Introducing IoT and AI for better-connected fire prevention
Preventing fires, and responding to them effectively when they do happen, is a round-the-clock task.
Post-Grenfell, more than 400 ‘waking watches’ were established around the country to monitor buildings. However, they’re expensive and only designed to work as an interim measure; relying on humans for fire prevention shouldn’t be the only intervention and it certainly isn’t sustainable long term.
By introducing technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence, housing providers can not only relieve some of the burden of fire prevention from their employees, they can also make life safer and easier for their tenants.
This combination of technologies provides 24/7 oversight of buildings and their changing fire risks, collecting data that can be analysed for trends and patterns, such as if a particular tenant repeatedly sets off their smoke alarm. AI can even offer predictive analysis based on these trends, which gets more accurate the more data it processes. FireAngel Predict automates this process, highlighting who needs more support to help housing providers engage directly with their at-risk tenants, encouraging independent living and proactive intervention.
IoT sensors that are remotely connected to a central base of operations enable housing providers to complete routine maintenance checks without needing physical entry to properties due to sensors being able to self-report on their condition.
This cloud connectivity is instrumental for streamlining fire prevention on the housing provider’s side, too. It creates an opportunity for centralised, off-site monitoring so that multiple sites can be managed from a single place.
Housing providers and local councils are starting to embrace the IoT opportunity and see the positive impact it can have on their communities. For example, Ealing Council is in the process of rolling out FireAngel Connected across 17,000 of its properties, making it one of the first housing providers of its size to make the transition to connected technologies.
Ealing Council’s interim health and safety manager, Paul Cook, said, “This will transform the way we manage and monitor not only our entire housing stock, but also the safety of every tenant living in each of our properties.”
Finding the right technologies for social housing
Of course, not all technologies are created equal; there are a lot of boxes to tick for social housing, and housing providers will need to make intelligent, informed decisions about which solutions they choose.
Here are a few things housing providers should consider:
- Compliant: As the government continues to publish new regulations and guidance, solutions need to meet compliance requirements and adapt to changing legislation.
- Cost-effective: Solutions with budget-friendly installation and manageable ongoing costs allow vital resources to be redirected to high-priority tasks such as replacing cladding, fire breaks and fire doors.
- Streamlined: New solutions mustn’t add to the workloads of housing providers’ staff; technology needs to make things simpler and faster to be worthwhile.
- Data-led: Systems must contribute to a single source of truth; a golden thread that can support a clear audit trail and highlight risks.
FireAngel Connected is a purpose-built cloud and IoT-based solution that covers all these requirements, with a futureproof model that we’re constantly updating and refining to help housing providers and their tenants monitor and mitigate fire risks throughout their properties. With the automated capabilities of FireAngel Predict built in, it helps to create the reliable, accurate insight housing providers need to protect their tenants, while maintaining a manageable and secure audit trail of data for each dwelling.
Social responsibility, safety, and community
We’re at a stage where technology can shoulder some of the responsibility of fire safety, and it’s time for housing providers to use that opportunity to protect their tenants and their homes more effectively.
With IoT and AI, housing providers can help their communities take a proactive role in their own safety, with 24/7 visibility and clear intervention opportunities that provide peace of mind to tenants and support staff alike.
At FireAngel, we’re channelling our years of industry-leading expertise and working partnerships into connected, data-driven solutions to support ongoing fire prevention and response.
Together we can overcome some of the biggest and most complex safety challenges facing social housing providers and their tenants – it just takes the right technology.
James King is the connected homes director at FireAngel Safety Technology.