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Fire Alarm 'Not Fit For Purpose' - Using an alternative system?

Guest D.Hazelwood

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Guest D.Hazelwood

I have been approached by a local charity with regard to an annual event they hold, where they have historically experienced a number of malicious activated false alarms.  

Due to the nature of the event (Disco & Band Entertainment) the sound level can be quite high and renders the ability of the alarm system to be heard useless.

A proposal has been put together to replace the venue alarm system with a manual procedure for raising the alarm and informing the event attendees and initiating an evacuation if required.

I would like thoughts and legalities of the following proposal.  I can see reason to use a safe system that will be heard and acted upon by the guests, but wonder if removing the electronic alarm is reasonable and permissible?


•    Annual Charity Event for 1650 guests + up to 150 staff/volunteers
•    Venue is large open plan hall (toilets are off one end) all other parts of hall are part of the open plan.
•    Hall size approx. 63m x 35m with 6m high ceiling.
•    Sufficient fire exits for the capacity.  Doors spread down both sides.
•    Hall has an old alarm system with manual call points by each exit door.  No automatic detection.
•    Event features a band and DJ – thus relatively loud music is throughout the hall.
•    Hall alarm system could be considered ‘not fit for purpose’ as it cannot be heard when the music is playing.  A few people stood under the bells may hear the alarm and have previously become confused as to what action to take.
•    Onsite Event Management Team (volunteers) consists of approx. 20 people along with 34 SIA Security Staff.  All on a two way radio system.
•    There are also around another 30 stewards (Volunteers) working the event.

•    A fire risk assessment and a risk assessment for proposal has been carried out and deem it to be a reasonable solution to the problem.  Risk of fire within the building is low.


Background information to consider relating to our plan:
•    Historically high number of malicious false alarms (activated break glass).
•    We have a team of around 75 people made up of Charity Management/Event Management Team, stewards, staff and security distributed around the venue.  Giving suitable coverage and visibility of the whole venue to spot issue and raise alarm.
•    Approx 50 of these are connected via two way radio.
•    The current alarm cannot be heard by the majority of guests in the building whilst the entertainment is playing (deemed ‘not fit for purpose’), – so has little effect but to confuse others – those who do hear it ignore it awaiting instructions of what to do.
•    The following is an outline proposed emergency response plan including raising the alarm and evacuation – final wording to be confirmed.
•    The proposed plan would be to:

Pre actions:
•    Disarm the current alarm system in the hall and appoint a designated responsible person to hold the key throughout the event.
•    Mark call points (break glass) out of use - ‘In case of emergency alert a steward’.
•    Position security staff adjacent to where there is currently a call point (this is part of our security plan, but historically hasn’t always managed to prevent malicious activations)
•    Full detailed briefing to all event team staff and security prior to doors open – including fire drill practice.

Reporting of Incident (Raising the Alarm) and Identification:
•    If an incident (such as fire) is reported to a steward or spotted they radio to the Event Manager a ‘Priority Call’ and define the report.
•    Event Manager becomes Incident Manager and puts all units on ‘Standby’ and to maintain radio silence unless priority - Stewards deploy to pre determined locations/areas; including to the stage and each exit door.
•    Reporting Steward to, if possible safely investigate and ID the incident (if real or false) and report and update Incident Manager.  Or Incident Manager to deploy a steward. 
•    2 minutes has been assigned to the identification of a hazard - after which, if the incident cannot be identified as a false alarm or there is an incident, the alarm is raised and evacuation plan initiated.

Evacuation of Building:
•    Once it has been deemed that the need to evacuate the building is real, the Incident Manager will initiate the evacuation plan; Top line actions below: (Detailed version in draft form and to be finalised)
•    Radio communication to all to confirm need to commence evac.
•    Incident command to call Emergency Services and deploy person to RVP to meet them.
•    Stage steward instructs band/DJ to cease and uses their PA systems to make and repeat a Plain English announcement to leave the building and follow the direction of the stewards.  A loud hailer will be available in case of power failure.
•    Designated person to rearm the alarm system and sound the alarm.
•    Stewards to evacuate their designated area and confirm to Incident Command area clear or if there are problems.
•    Security stewards to secure the perimeter of the building and prevent re-entry.

Assessment of risk relating to the change in procedure for raising the alarm:
•    The current system already requires human activation as there is no fire detection within the hall.
•    All current locations for activating the alarm will be manned by security personnel in radio contact – and can confirm if the threat is real much quicker that having to first locate the activation point via the control panel and then ID if the threat is real (which would likely take at minimum 2 minutes to access, may be longer) Therefore in the case of confirmed threat we can commence evacuation sooner.
•    Current system is not fit for purpose for this type of event as it cannot be heard over the music – therefore the proposed cutting of music and plain English message is more likely to be heard, understood and acted upon.  (Modification of the alarm system is financially not possible for the charity.  Venue owners want to pass the large cost on)
•    Reduces likelihood of initiating an evacuation due to a false alarm and therefore reducing risk of panic and confusion.
•    This is the only event the Charity operates with high attendance that has any kind of fixed alarm system in place in the venue; and as such the above procedure is one which they have tried and tested are used to operating by successfully.

•    Is the disabling of the current alarm – with the implementation of the proposed alternative response – permissible? 
•    Are the above proposed procedures reasonable?

Thank you for your thoughts and advise.



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The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 article 13 says a fire alarm is required when necessary and taking into account what you are proposing, would it be necessary, I think not, for a definitive answer you would need to contact a solicitor.

What you are proposing is Staff alarms, voice evacuation systems and public address systems that are used in national guidance for large places of assembly, although it will not fully meet the requirements of that guidance.

Providing adequate training of the stewards in human response and immediate closure of the bar are also necessary to the plan.  Rapid response and well initiated evacuation is vital and the role of the entertainers is important, good communications needed and predetermined messages. Stewards should draw persons to the exits whilst others sweep them out, also toilets need to be checked.

However this is a temporary situation and the owners should review their alarm arrangement in accordance with national guidance for large places of assembly.

Check out https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-risk-assessment-large-places-of-assembly .

Thank you Kurnal

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  • 1 month later...

Emergency escape lighting may be a more important feature - in the early days many permanent venues of the type you described were not required by licensing (which was the only way fire safety conditions were imposed prior to the Fire Safety Order) to have an electrical fire alarm system but all had to have escape lighting even if it was just illuminated exit signs over the doorways. Power failure doesn't require a fire and is probably more likely than a fire on the list of things that could go wrong.

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