With over 30 years of experience within the fire industry, Head of Building Products Fire Safety in the UK and Ireland for Siemens, Rob Yates, reveals the importance of cloud-based technology and how it can elevate protection in a care home

All buildings have their own specific requirements in terms of fire safety and risk assessments are the primary method of ensuring that a fire alarm system meets those needs. Care homes are no different, although the nature of the elderly occupants and their mobility issues need to be a particular focus in selecting an appropriate method of protecting the occupants and the care home itself from the threat of fire.

In the majority of buildings, evacuation plans are a core element of fire safety procedures and while this is also true of a care home, the fact that it may be impossible to evacuate some of the residents has a direct impact on the requirements outlined in the respective standards. In BS5839-1, for example, the following clauses need to be considered:

  • If occupants need assistance from staff to escape and there are more than 10 sleeping persons the system should be addressable
  • Residential care premises should be provided with automatic connection to Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC)
  • Signals to Alarm Receiving Centres cannot be delayed from residential care homes

Addressing the specifics

Given all of the above, it is easy to appreciate that early detection of a fire incident is particularly important in a care home. Many care homes operate with older conventional fire alarm systems. These need to be upgraded to addressable systems to enable the location of an incident to be identified quickly. In doing so, it is important to consider the options in terms of cost implications associated with this migration. Some systems will require replacement of not only the devices but also reconfiguration of the wiring into a loop. Others do not, thereby offering considerable savings in installation costs.

The ability to identify the location of an incident quickly can be further enhanced through powered floor repeater panels, allowing the situation to be reviewed without needing to go to the location of the main fire panel. The ever-increasing use of cloud-based technology can take this a stage further, with apps available which allow monitoring of fire safety on a mobile phone.

In many applications delays in sending a fire alarm signal to an ARC are often deliberate to allow time to investigate to see if it is a false alarm or of a scale that can be tackled safely with a fire extinguisher. However, as is clearly stated in the British Standard, this is not the case in a care home.

Cloud-based technology

Increasingly, as in so many of our day-to-day activities, the internet and the cloud are becoming pivotal in the latest fire detection solutions. Digitalisation has made significant advances in terms of ease of use of fire safety systems. 

Online portals can provide an overview of a care home’s fire safety, or, for those organisations operating a number of facilities, across all connected sites. Multi-site dashboards can provide locations of all sites in one place, with a status bar indicating the respective status of each in real-time, with a simple colour-coded approach to identify sites where problems may be occurring. 

‘Interoperability’ is a phrase that has been around now for some time in terms of building management systems and it is gathering momentum as digitalisation increases. This is the potential to connect multiple systems which can then compliment each other. An example would be a CCTV camera able to zoom in on a fire location or record the operation of a call point, while a lift can report return status or louvres can be automatically activated in the event of an alarm activation to aid smoke ventilation.

Care homes offer their own specific challenges in terms of fire safety. By understanding those challenges and adopting a fire safety approach which reflects them, residents and the buildings themselves can be effectively protected.