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How do you transform and modernise an abandoned 18th century linen mill into self-contained, luxury living units, while optimising fire prevention and false alarm immunity? This was the priority for Percor Capital when selecting a fire safety solution for its latest development in Scotland.
Businesses use alarms and other devices to keep their staff, property and customers safe from the risk of fire. Unfortunately, however, sometimes the devices that were installed to protect can prove damaging to a business, as false alarms can cause expensive disruptions. At best they are inconvenient and at worst they can dissuade customers from using a business at all. This threat is of particular concern for the hospitality industry, where hotels experiencing frequent false alarms can be left struggling with low occupancy rates and compensation demands from disgruntled guests.
False alarms are a significant issue. The Fire Industry Association (FIA) estimates that they cost the UK over £1bn per year in lost revenue, not to mention the costly and unnecessary burden on first responders. The majority of these false alarms are caused by conditions that make smoke or heat detectors think there is a fire. Cooking is a common cause, as is steam from showers, cigarette smoke, dust and aerosols. The risk of detectors being tricked into erroneously reporting a fire greatly increases in smaller spaces, such as hotel rooms. This was a key concern for Percor Capital with their Staybridge Suites development in Dundee.
Many of the suites retain the mill’s original 1820s features, including exposed brick ceilings and iron beams. The self-catering apartments mainly welcome extended-stay guests, offering fully equipped kitchens alongside flexible living spaces – a combination that could give rise to high levels of false alarm activations.
FMS Fire & Security, one of Scotland’s leading independent fire and security specialists, was called in to design and install a system that would ensure maximum safety levels and full regulatory compliance, while also minimising the risk of false alarms.
“Responsible hotel owners demand cutting-edge solutions that both reduce false alarms and facilitate efficient evacuations when an activation is confirmed. Honeywell Gent’s fully-addressable Vigilon Plus system and voice-enhanced multi-sensor sounders are ideally suited for this kind of application,” said FMS Fire and Security’s Fire Systems Sales Consultant, David Taylor. “The system also offers a range of features making it simple to install, configure and maintain, which was important given the structural confines of the period building,” he added.
FMS designed and installed an aspirating system that provides full coverage throughout both buildings, taking the high rooves, ceilings and limited void spaces into account. Honeywell Gent Voice enhanced multi-sensor sounders were installed in all rooms, along with Visual Alarm Devices to aid in the safe evacuation of residents, staff and visitors. The system includes three Vigilon Plus panels, five repeater panels and over 700 alarm and detection devices.
Dianna Bruce, Hotel Manager for Staybridge Suites Dundee, commented: “In addition to the opportunity to experience a piece of Dundee’s unique history, our guests of course expect a peaceful and safe stay. This is why our state-of-the-art design concept extends to our fire alarm and evacuation system.”
Stuart Brown, Honeywell Gent Business Sales Manager – Scotland, added: “Having stayed in the Staybridge suites I was very impressed by the architecture and design of the building. I was also confident that the Vigilon fire system was offering maximum protection as well as high false alarm immunity.”
We are living in a society where consumer demands for convenience and flexibility are on the rise. This culture of instant gratification has a significant impact on warehousing and logistics as a result of the large volume transactions being made online. Whether it is white goods, groceries or clothing, there is now more movement than ever before. To make things more complicated, consumers now expect same or next-day delivery and will have no problem looking elsewhere if this cannot be provided.
With these large-scale increases of goods in transit comes an increased risk of fires within warehouses and distribution centres, a matter which is too often overlooked. With retailers rushing to prepare for Brexit, the stockpiling of goods has become commonplace, and this only serves to increase the risks. It follows that the need for safer and more secure warehousing is vital not only to ensure the security of stock, but also to keep warehouse staff safe – effective fire suppression therefore becomes a priority.
Sprinkler systems are now compulsory within warehouses and distribution centres over 2,000m2 to reduce the risk of fires. With the British Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) estimating that fires in warehouses result in losses of £230 million to UK businesses each year, the impact of sprinklers cannot be overstated. What is more, losses in productivity and the disruption to the supply chain account for an additional £190 million. Clearly, the cost of fires within warehouses is a great burden, and this does not even take into account the threat to human lives.
“Intelligent sprinkler systems are currently only hypothetical in the majority of warehouses, but the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices means we will likely see connected sprinkler systems emerge within a matter of years”
Sprinkler systems are the main piece of kit when it comes to fire suppression. The fire suppression industry has been transformed as a result of technological advancements. However, the technology at the core of sprinklers has been largely unchanged for some time: the system is activated once temperatures exceed 68 degrees. The sooner the bulb in the nozzle is fractured, the better, with fires controlled or preferably extinguished as quickly as possible. Provided that the sprinkler systems are well cared for and fully functioning, fires should never get out of control, regardless of the warehouse size.
While the basic components are undoubtedly highly effective in preventing fire damage, intelligent systems go one step further. By integrating sprinkler systems with connected devices throughout the warehouse, safety teams have visibility over important data from offsite locations and will be alerted in the case of any anomalies. This has all manner of advantages, whether it is the clear benefit of increased safety for staff and stock, the added convenience for safety teams, or the reduced burden for on-site teams having to physically inspect incidents.
Intelligent sprinkler systems are currently only hypothetical in the majority of warehouses, but the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices means we will likely see connected sprinkler systems emerge within a matter of years. By analysing the activated unit, intelligent sprinklers and other safety systems can determine whether the incident was a real fire or a drill, as well as its severity.
To limit the risk of life-threatening fires in distribution centres, businesses need to know which solutions are available as well as access to a vendor that can consult and provide the most suitable equipment. Contractors have three considerations to take into account when building the safest and most secure warehouse facilities possible: familiarity with the sector, an understanding of how quickly the equipment can be implemented, and the expertise of the team employed to carry out the job.
When hiring a partner to carry out a job, the expertise of the teams fitting the systems is a key priority. After all, the more knowledge a team has of the technology, the more seamless the implementation will be. Businesses should be on the lookout for a partner with a consistent track record for high quality fire suppression solutions, enabling contractors to benefit from top of the range technical support from the start.
Employing a partner with the necessary expertise will also ensure that the project is carried out in the most efficient ways possible. Not only this, but high levels of expertise also enables teams to identify new opportunities to suit the warehouse. Having access to teams who become involved from the earliest stage is highly beneficial, enabling them to design the necessary infrastructure for the job, whether they are retrofitting around existing infrastructure or starting from scratch.
There are several things to look out for when finding the right partner. For a start, having an idea of their track record of project delivery will help to establish the efficiency of their system designs and whether they effectively consult contractors not just from start to finish, but on an ongoing basis throughout the life of the system. After all, consultation should not end once a project finishes. Ongoing maintenance should be built into the contract, meaning the partner can provide consultancy long after the installation is complete.
Secondly, identifying the most effective fire suppression partner requires an understanding of which partners can carry out the job most effectively. Warehouse projects are fast-paced – once a contract is signed, it is a race to get the products on the racks. Ensuring compliance with fire suppression regulations is a necessity, and retailers will be missing out on profits if this is not possessed.
In general terms, the larger retailers often want their warehouses operational in the quickest amount of time. For example, a contractor working with an eCommerce merchant delivering nationwide will need a partner who can deploy teams wherever and whenever, ensuring that a lack of resources is not holding anybody back. Large retailers need to partner with large companies if they are to ensure their warehouse requirements are met without constraint.
Agility and efficiency have long been top of the agenda for the most seamless projects, and this can only be carried out with careful planning. That being said, businesses must ensure that the quality of the project remains of the utmost importance, which means closely monitoring the speed of a project.
Lastly, the ability to be agile is crucial in the world of logistics, particularly in today’s landscape where consumer demands are a priority. Partners need to ensure they can be flexible in their approach, while still meeting the KPIs set out in the contract, working collaboratively to deliver a consistently good service.
Agility is especially important as projects have a tendency to change considerably between planning and execution. Having a partner who takes a flexible and agile approach will also ensure that every avenue is considered before a final decision is made on a project. Ultimately, agility serves to limit losses in time and productivity, as each and every eventuality has already been taken into account.
What is more, service partners must work alongside other partners to ensure a holistic approach is taken – this includes security, heating and lighting partners to name a few. Here, agility is a key differentiator in ensuring a seamless project rollout – after all, each partner will have different timelines to work towards, all of which need to be accommodated. Another important consideration to remember is choosing a partner that works with the most reliable supply chain partners. By choosing a supply chain with a strong track record, you can be sure that products are delivered in a timely fashion at a high quality.
That being said, agility stretches beyond being able to work with other partners. It is also important to ensure that any service partner is compliant with the latest regulatory standards. In the context of health and safety, this is essential to keep staff and assets safe – a non-compliant partner may lack the necessary expertise to meet minimum safety requirements.
Businesses must take expertise, speed and agility into account if they are to choose the most effective partner. By choosing a team with an in-depth industry understanding that can consistently deliver at speed, businesses will likely see a smooth project rollout. Taking these three elements into account on an ongoing basis, from start to finish, will means teams can deal with the changing nature of projects while ensuring compliance to health and safety regulations. Ultimately, by combining all three elements, retailers can ensure that employees are working in a safe environment, that stock is protected and that the business can continue driving growth.
Paul Berry is a Director at Johnson Controls, which in 2016 merged with Tyco, the world’s largest dedicated fire protection and security company. He is responsible for Johnson Controls’ fire suppression portfolio in the UK, specialising in helping businesses across a range of industries comply with regulation and protect their assets. He has more than two decades of experience in the industry at Wormald and Tyco before joining Johnson Controls.
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