The Hackitt report and recent Grenfell Inquiry report have given some clarity and direction to the housing sector regarding fire and life safety. However, the findings of these reports, while perhaps revelatory to non-housing sector readers, will be a reflection of business-as-usual for most people reading this article.
It is my strong belief that technology will play a large part in fixing the endemic fire and life safety issues within the housing sector. Furthermore, technology will be the ‘glue’ that brings together all of the stakeholders in the delivery of safe and secure housing.
What’s wrong with Hackitt’s golden thread?
The Hackitt report talks at length about the establishment of a ‘golden thread’ of building information created from detailed BIM models and offering full data portability between design, construction and management.
I fully endorse the idea of a golden thread but have significant short- to medium-term concerns about its viability as a concept:
- The delivery of an effective golden thread, as outlined in the Hackitt report, will take years to achieve. The need to substantively raise fire and life safety standards is long overdue. Residents should not be made to wait any longer.
- The golden thread could be achievable in new-builds but this overlooks the 10,000+ legacy high-rise residential buildings (HRRB) that need to be more effectively regulated.
- The technology underpinning the golden thread is likely to be complex, niche and expensive. The immediate focus should be on low-cost solutions that are readily accessible and affordable.
- Detailed modelling does very little to engage and reassure residents that their homes are safe. Clearly evidenced policies, procedures and maintenance achieve this aim.
There is a long overdue need to improve the quality, availability, effectiveness and communication of fire and life safety information across HRRBs. Multiple stakeholders, including housing providers, managing agents, maintenance companies, residents’ associations, emergency services and regulators need to be kept informed and in sync regarding fire and life safety.
How big is the problem with information sharing?
For the purposes of this article, let’s look at some of the information-sharing issues identified by the Grenfell Inquiry that could and should have been addressed:
Problem (as per Grenfell Inquiry report) and solution
There was no contingency plan for the evacuation of Grenfell Tower.
The Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP) should have been in place as part of compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This document and its associated renewal/expiry date should be held in a digital format.
Although the London Fire Brigade (LFB) purports to maintain an operational risk database (ORD) for buildings in London and has a risk assessment policy (PN800) accessible by all operational firefighters at an incident, the entry on the ORD for Grenfell Tower contained almost no information of any use to an incident commander called to a fire.
As Grenfell was deemed to be high risk and included in the LFB operational risk database, the associated digital assets should have been subject to data-quality audits. Deficiencies should have been further identified through operational training and activity/inactivity measurement of the ORD.
Such information as was contained in the ORD was many years out of date and did not reflect the changes made by the refurbishment.
Digital assets should be date-stamped on upload to the ORD and formal reviews should be triggered based on agreed maximum (backstop) dates.
The TMO had its own emergency plan, but it was not activated and was, in any case, 15 years out of date.
Emergency plans should be held digitally, securely shared with stakeholders and subject to internal/external audits. It’s apparent that the TMO didn’t have a process for the effective management of documentation.
The delay in obtaining plans of the building, which were not on site, not on the LFB’s ORD and not available to the LFB until around 08.00hrs.
Digital assets should be shared with stakeholders on an enduring basis. Relying on reactive sharing in the middle of an emergency is dangerous (as evidenced by this eight-hour delay).
How do we solve this problem?
The Grenfell Inquiry clearly identifies multiple failings regarding record-keeping, management and communication within and between stakeholders. At some point, yet to be determined, the new Building Safety Regulator (led by Dame Judith Hackitt) will be launched. At that point, all HRRB landlords will be subject to a far higher degree of regulatory oversight than they experience right now.
The simple and effective solution, in my view, is to establish a digital system of record (DSoR) for every HRRB. Think of the DSoR as a curated and evidential data management system built around a building. The DSoR should be cloud-based, with built-in expiry date tracking, version control, secure granular permissions for stakeholders and all activity within the DSoR evidentially logged and tracked.
Once the basic DSoR is embedded, HRRB landlords should have the opportunity to interface with other digital systems and build toward Hackitt’s ‘golden thread’ vision of the future.
The time to act on fire and life safety is now. The good news is that a DSoR solution is ready and in operation now with over 4,000 DSoRs deployed (see trackmyrisks.com) – we have even offered this solution to the government’s Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government in the form of the Building Safety Register.
Matt Hodges-Long is the CEO & co-founder of TrackMyRisks.