Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance FAQs

Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance: FAQs

We would urge those interested and with questions to fully read the new edition of the guidance and refer to the FAQ’s listed below. Whilst the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) is not responsible for the design, build, sign off or maintenance of buildings, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is committed to ensure the communities we serve are safe and believe this guidance helps us ensure consistent direction and understanding for those responsible for implementing it.

It is important to note that it is the Responsible Person along with their competent person in conjunction with the fire risk assessment that makes the decision to change strategy, not the FRS.

Q. What is Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance for and when should it be used?

A. If a building has been identified as high risk because of an unsuitable external wall system or other fire safety measures, interim fire safety arrangements can be adopted for the temporary, short-term management and mitigation from the risk of a fire and the risk to life if a fire occurs. These arrangements can range from simple steps to remove potential ignition sources that might give rise to a fire, through to a change in the evacuation strategy for a building, moving from Stay Put to Simultaneous Evacuation supported by the installation of a common fire alarm and/or a waking watch.

The aim of a waking watch is to ensure there is sufficient warning in the event of fire to support the evacuation strategy and has been utilised in buildings before the Grenfell Tower fire. It is intended for very short periods of time whilst the increased risk is being urgently addressed through either remediation or the installation of a common fire alarm system.

Q. Why was there a need for the guidance in the first place – surely residents should have been rehomed?

A: It was identified following the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire that there were many more buildings with similar cladding. The level of risk to life, as a result of a fire involving these external wall systems, could not be ignored. In some cases, the only alternative housing options would place people into even worse living conditions, and potentially leave others without accommodation. To enable people to continue to live in relative safety in their own homes, interim solutions were needed to mitigate the risk.

Although waking watch had been used in buildings before Grenfell it became clear following the Grenfell Tower fire that no central guidance existed on how to consistently implement these arrangements. This needed to be rectified urgently given the emerging scale of the problem and the need to support Responsible Persons to implement measures effectively and consistently.  

In response to this need, NFCC convened a group of industry professionals to produce a technical guide on arrangements to support a temporary change to the evacuation strategy. In the absence of a common fire alarm, the central premise of  this guidance is how to ensure that all residents can be alerted by the waking watch and an evacuation commenced within 10-15 minutes, with due regard to the number of flats on each floor, the height of building, travel distances, time taken to raise the alarm and the needs and vulnerabilities of all residents. In producing the guide, the group sought to ensure the safety of residents, and prevent removing people from their homes, whilst fully accepting that the principle way to reduce risk was to urgently remediate the non-compliant external wall systems.

Q. Who are the ‘experts’ involved in writing this guidance?

A. The NFCC have worked with experts from the following organisations and government departments to produce this edition of the guidance:

The Government’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; Fire Industry Association; Institution of Fire Engineers; Fire Brigades Union; Optivo; Association of Residential Managing Agents; London Councils; Local Government Association; Home Office, and London Fire Brigade.

Q: Why are we now on edition 3 of this guidance?

A. Guidance needs continually reviewing to ensure it is fit for purpose. Having liaised with leaseholders we recognise that temporary measures that were only ever expected to be in place for a short period of time, remain in place and are costly to leaseholders. Therefore, there was the need for remediation to make things more practical for leaseholders. 

The stakeholder group are deeply conscious of the impacts arising from the delays in remediating buildings and consequent extended use of interim measures have on residents and leaseholders. The same residents and leaseholders who are being protected from the risk of rapid fire spread, are instead experiencing other significant consequences through no fault of their own. These include the ongoing high costs of waking watches and insurance products, an inability to sell or re-mortgage their properties, financial stress and unacceptable impacts on mental health and wellbeing. 

In some cases, freeholders and developers have not stepped up to the expectations placed upon them to fund remediation or interim measures. NFCC, and others, have advocated for government funding for remediation, and on 11 March 2020 the Government announced £1 billion would be available for owners to apply for the removal of non-ACM combustible cladding, in addition to the £600 million for unsafe ACM.

Whilst these steps have been taken, it seems that in some cases, barriers to remediation may remain for some time and therefore the need to make clear what short term should look like in the guidance was imperative.

Q: What are the key changes to this edition?

 A. The key changes are as follows:

  • Advice to consult with residents and leaseholders to explore cost/benefit options, with emphasis placed on the need to fully and properly consider the installation of common fire alarms where measures are now, or are likely in the future to be in place for the longer term. 
  • Clear distinction between waking watch and evacuation management as separate roles.
  • Definitions for the terms:

 

  • Short-term – the time required to formulate a longer-term remediation plan, as soon as practically possible and no longer than 12 months; and
  • Temporary – non-permanent measures implemented to mitigate an unacceptable risk in a building, as an interim measure, adopted for the safety of residents while works to rectify the identified fire safety failings are carried out.

Q: What does this guidance mean for me?

A: This updated guidance means that all Responsible Persons for affected buildings should review their fire risk assessment to ensure the fire safety arrangements including the interim measures in place are appropriate, informed by this guidance and the advice of a competent person.

Q: What about buildings where remediation can’t happen in the short term – how are the leaseholders meant to afford the ongoing costs of interim solutions such as waking watches?

A: We have ensured the guidance clearly underscores the stakeholder group and NFCC’s firm and long held expectation that building owners should move to install common fire alarms as quickly as possible to reduce or remove the dependence on waking watches. This is the clear expectation for buildings where remediation cannot be undertaken in the ‘short term’. This approach should, in almost all circumstances, reduce the financial burden on residents where they are funding the waking watches.

Q: How do I ensure if a Waking Watch is provided to my building, they are fully competent to carry out this important role?

A: It is the duty of the Responsible Person for the building to ensure that the waking watch are competent to carry out the role. The updated guidance now includes appendices to advise Responsible Persons of the management considerations to take into account when specifying a waking watch and also outlines the person specifications to be considered for roles as part of the waking watch and evacuation management.

The role of the waking watch is specific to the individual building, and therefore the training needs to be building specific.

Companies providing waking watch services have their own duties as employers for the safety of their staff working in these buildings and to ensure they are competent and fully trained to carry out the role.