In 2017, the tragic Grenfell Tower fire shocked the nation. This shock was keenly felt throughout the Fire Safety industry and led, among other things, to the ongoing “cladding crisis” in the United Kingdom. While the fire that consumed the Grenfell Tower building was started by an electrical fault in a refrigerator, what made the fire spread so far from its initial location was the presence of highly combustible exterior cladding. This cladding (aluminium composite material, abbreviated to “ACM”) facilitated the rapid spread of the fire that ultimately burned for over 60 hours and claimed 72 lives, with many more injured.

The standard fire evacuation practice at the time was to contain the fire to a single dwelling, evacuating only those occupants inside and having the residents in the rest of the building stay put. The Grenfell Tower tragedy highlighted how this policy, in conjunction with buildings that do not meet the proper safety requirements, was a disaster waiting to happen. Therefore, in the wake of Grenfell standard practice shifted to “simultaneous evacuation”, which is where the total population of a building is evacuated as soon as possible. The problem was that most buildings were not equipped with alarm systems that alerted the entire building. And so, in order to make simultaneous evacuation possible, waking watches were put in place as a short-term solution.

But what are waking watches? Today, our expert team at Sovereign Fire and Security are here to answer that question for you- and give you a proper overview of their strengths and weaknesses.

What Are Waking Watches?

It was decided that until buildings were outfitted with the appropriate fire alarm systems, and flammable materials replaced with safe alternatives, a 24/7 personnel of qualified fire marshals would have to be established, known as a waking watch. These wardens actively patrol the building, looking for any signs of a fire. Essentially, they fulfil the function that would otherwise be supplied by a site-wide alarm system. Naturally, wardens cannot be everywhere at once and manpower is limited. Especially big buildings, such as tower blocks, are therefore subject to a greater degree of human error.

It should be noted that waking watches are not there to put out fires; their purpose is simply to alert the residents to the presence of a fire and help coordinate the subsequent evacuation. Now that the “Stay Put” policy has been changed to “Simultaneous Evacuation”, waking watches have become a necessary interim measure to ensure fire safety until sites are installed with proper alarm systems. It’s been reported that, presently, over 1,000 buildings in London alone do not meet safety requirements, due to flammable building materials and improper alarm systems.

This is understandably a source of immense frustration for residents, who, over five years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, do not have access to the safety they deserve. Not only that, but they have to help cover the expensive cost of waking watch manpower, as these wardens are supplied by building owners and are not a part of the fire brigade.

So what are the relative pros and cons of waking watch systems?

The Benefits of Waking Watch Systems

  • The presence of a trained professional can give residents peace of mind during normalcy and provide them reassurance during events such as power outages or system failures which are extremely rare.
  • In the event of a building evacuation, waking watch fire wardens can help to organise, calm, and direct residents in what can be a confusing and stressful process. This can prevent other dangerous situations such as stamedes and crushes.
  • Waking watches can serve as an excellent short-term safety measure during emergency situations. For example, if building works obstruct evacuation routes or alarm systems suffer a fault, then a waking watch unit can be rapidly deployed to the site to maintain fire safety until the status quo is restored.

The Drawbacks of Having a Waking Watch

  • Maintaining the presence of a waking watch costs building owners and residents alike a lot of money. For more information on the cost breakdown of waking watch services, click here to review the government’s official guidance on the subject.
  • A waking watch is only as effective as the individual(s) carrying it out. Therefore, the consistency of waking watches varies from site to site, as each one is staffed with different personnel. This means that some buildings will be safer than others due to individual competence, motivation, ability, and all the other variables that characterise human efficacy.
  • Following on from the above point, waking watches are further limited by their available manpower. Compared to a quality fire alarm system, one or two fire wardens will not be able to detect a fire in a large property with the same speed.

What is the Best Use of Waking Watches?

In the short term, waking watches can provide a rapid solution for fire and life safety systems this is what they were initially intended to be.

Long-term, waking watches can be both costly and inefficient- meaning that residents are less safe whilst paying more money.

The optimal situation is for buildings to be outfitted with high-quality alarm systems capable of facilitating Simultaneous Evacuation, with waking watches supplementing those systems in the case of emergencies, such as a black out or system failure. Providing residents of the building with human interactions while having the 24/7 protection of a dedicated fire and security system.

At Sovereign we can offer a bespoke solution for your building and needs, from security systems including CCTV and access panels to sophisticated fire prevention and life safety systems.

Learn more about the wide range of fire alarm and monitoring systems Sovereign Fire and Security have to offer >

Safe & Secure with Sovereign

At Sovereign Fire and Safety, our business runs on innovation. From fire alarm systems to CCTV, and temperature screening to access control, we use the latest technology to install and maintain robust safety measures that ensure our clients’ peace of mind. Based in Bristol, Sovereign’s award-winning services cater to properties across the United Kingdom and beyond- be they commercial, residential, construction, or private in nature.

For more information on our industry-leading fire safety services, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly staff today for a bespoke quote.

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