How a Fire Alarm Zone Plan Will Make Your Campus A Safer Place

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In 2004, there was a devastating fire at Rosepark Care Home in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire. It broke out in a cupboard and proceeded to rip through the building. The fire took the lives of four elderly residents and left the community in shock.

The fatal accident inquiry (FAI) began in February 2010 and finished taking evidence in August. The sheriff who gave his findings after the 141-day probe said: “some or all” of the deaths were preventable. If only the home had a “suitable and sufficient” fire safety plan in place. He believed that the management of fire safety at Rosepark was seriously defective.

Another, more recent example was the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017. A fire broke out at 1:00 am in the kitchen of a fourth-floor flat at the 23-story tower block in North Kensington, West London. Within minutes, the fire had raced up the exterior of the building and spread to all four sides. By 3:00 am, most of the upper floors were alight. Seventy-two people died. The recent Grenfell inquiry has revealed negligence in a number of areas, all of which combined to hinder rescue and escape attempts, and exacerbated the disaster.

Even with these high profile stories, there may still be campus heads that are unaware of the importance of Fire Alarm Zone Plans.

What is a Fire Alarm Zone Plan?

A Fire Alarm Zone Plan shows the layout of the building. And, should clearly highlight the separate fire alarm zones to help evacuations in an emergency situation.

The plan should also include:

  • Building levels
  • Escape routes and final exits (exits that open out into a place of safety, such as the car park or school field)
  • Circulation areas (corridors, stairs, lifts etc)
  • A “You are Here” sign so that visitors and employees can map out their exit route

It is critical that your Fire Alarm Zone Plan corresponds to the orientation of the building. For instance, if there is a fire exit door to your immediate right, it should also be to the immediate right of the “you are here” sign on the plan.

Most importantly, the plan needs to be quick, easy and clear for all staff and visitors to understand in order to effectively evacuate in the case of a fire safety drill, or a real fire emergency.

Does my Campus Really Need a Fire Alarm Zone Plan?

Every campus, no matter how small or large needs a suitable Fire Alarm Zone Plan. The type of strategy depends on the nature of operations, the size of the building, and occupancy characteristics. A fire safety strategy is a changeable document structured around the operations of a suitably managed building.

In addition to aiding the evacuation of staff and visitors in a fire, a  Fire Alarm Zone Plan helps the emergency services to quickly identify the origin of the alarm, and therefore where the fire started and the direction it’s most likely to spread. This information is absolutely critical in a fire.

Case in Point

The victims of the Rosepark Care Home are a real example of what can happen if you neglect these small fire safety details. Zone plans could have helped some of the victims escaped the fire in the complex building layout, though there were other factors that contributed to the deaths:

  1. Staff waited 9 minutes after the alarm first sounded to contact the Fire Brigade
  2. Fire dampers in the ducting were never installed
  3. The self-closers on all bedroom doors had been disabled
  4. The bedroom doors had all been wedged open – allowing in the smoke and gases that directly killed some of the residents.

Ways to Improve Your Access Control System

You might think an Access Control System is something you only need if you have quite large premises. But actually, access control is for absolutely any campus that wants to improve overall safety and security. Access control systems range from simple stand-alone systems like a keypad on a door, to complex networked systems that use a variety of security technologies.

Some access control systems can provide information and reports very quickly which can be beneficial In an emergency situation. For example, it’s incredibly beneficial to rapidly generate a roll-call of everyone who is currently inside the building during evacuation. An Access Control System can also help firefighters to understand a building’s layout and thus control the spread of the fire. After an incident, the system can also provide data that can assist with the investigation.

The Responsible Person Must Understand Their Role

Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart, who investigated the Rosepark Fire, said: “The management of fire safety at Rosepark was systematically and seriously defective. The deficiencies in the management of fire safety at Rosepark contributed to the deaths…Management did not have a proper appreciation of its role and responsibilities in relation to issues of fire safety“.

To avoid a disaster like this, a campus head needs to check that fire safety precautions are in place. A fire risk assessment needs to be correctly carried out. And you must optimize your access control system for such an emergency. By not having a proper plan in place, campuses, and the people they employ, are at great risk. 

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