Exclusive: Effective evacuation procedures with Global Fire Equipment

Share this content


Paul Pope, Global Fire Equipment’s (GFE) Group Business Development Director shares his views on some of the challenges the Middle East’s fire safety sector is facing.

The Middle East is renowned for high rise buildings and so-called megastructures, such as the 75-mile-long skyscraper that is being built as part of the NEOM megacity in Saudi Arabia. A spate of high-rise fires in the region three years ago thrust the importance of having effective life safety systems for these types of buildings into the spotlight and since then there has been progress in the region’s fire safety sector, with tighter legislation governing life safety systems. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for improvement and that is why events like the IFSJ Leaders in Fire and Safety Conference are so important as they bring together fire and safety thought leaders in the region to share insight, expertise and best practice.

The importance of effective evacuation procedures

One of the most important fire safety considerations for high rise buildings is their evacuation procedures, which require the input of fire safety specialists – from the initial consultation and design stage through to the commissioning stage and ongoing building management. Although the fire detection and alarm system (FDAS) provides the main method for the early warning and the evacuation strategy to begin, a lot of work is required to make ensure that all elements come together, and that occupants are given the best possible chance to exit the premises safely and quickly in the event of an emergency.

All areas of the building must be assessed to ensure the appropriate type of detection is used for the differing fire risks. Understanding the type of fire risk, materials present, fire load, environment, sensor technology and the best detector locations is critical for early and reliable fire detection. Some elements of the evacuation strategy are less obvious, such as ensuring that the fire detection system operates and monitors any fire protection measures correctly according to the fire evacuation strategy.

Furthermore, in high rise hotels or office buildings, occupants may not be familiar with their surroundings, possibly having arrived from a different time zone and speaking different languages. It is therefore essential that fire detection and evacuation strategies provide simple and intelligible methods of notification and guidance to allow for a safe controlled evacuation in a timely manner.

Why system survivability is key

One of the most critical factors in an effective evacuation strategy is the survivability of the FDAS. The FDAS must be designed to remain fully operational while under attack by fire. Some FDASs only need to initiate an alarm if a suspected fire is found, but when systems require a phased or complex evacuation, the FDAS needs to be able to continue working while the fire is taking place as this will ensure that the fire management authorities can establish the location of the fire and monitor its spread. This information is essential to ensure a safe and controlled evacuation. If a FDAS is badly designed, this could result in premature system failure which could be catastrophic as vital information about the location of the fire will not be available where it matters.

Failure in one area due to poor survivability could result in the system being unable to activate audible and visual alarms to warn people of the imminent danger. In the case of a phased evacuation, the system might be incapable of further evacuating another alarm zone area where the fire is spreading.

Understanding the difference between a Notified Body and an approval

A challenge of particular importance in the Middle East is the inconsistent approach taken when specifying fire detection and alarm products. Unfortunately, in some countries it has become common practice to name a chosen ‘approval’ or ‘approval body’ on performance specifications as the sole mark of product certification or compliance. This misunderstanding of the certification process can have far-reaching consequences.

It is vital that specifiers understand the difference between a Notified Body and an approval. A Notified Body is authorised by the EU to assess products under the relevant EN 54 CPR regulations. Notified Bodies perform critical tasks including product testing, verifying the supporting evidence that a product meets the test requirements, and issuing a product certificate. They also undertake any required ongoing testing or surveillance activities. As long as an EU Notified Body is accredited to certify equipment or systems against the relevant EN 54 standards, manufacturers can choose them in order to achieve consistent regulatory compliance for their products.

An ‘approval’ is not the same thing as EN 54 product certification via an EU Notified Body. Whereas Notified Body work is regulated and verifies that products comply with a standard, approvals are normally voluntary schemes which certain Notified Bodies sometimes offer as an additional service. For example, some Notified Bodies run their own product directories, listings or certification schemes. These schemes may go beyond the legal EN 54 product standard requirements under their Notified Body activities and these schemes are not mandated by a regulation. This means that those approvals are the sole responsibility of the entities issuing them.

In the case of fire detection products, some of these schemes are promoted within the system performance specification and therefore may be perceived as the only route to compliance. However, the only performance route to EN 54 standard compliance is via an EU Notified Body certifying that products meet the requirements of the relevant EN 54 standards. It is important to specify the correct product and system standards within the fire detection and alarm performance specification, rather than just a specific Notified Body.

We are very much looking forward to discussing these issues – and more – with delegates at the IFSJ Leaders conference.

Global Fire Equipment is a Gold Sponsor of the IFSJ Leader in Fire & Safety Conference which will be held on Thursday 11 May 2023 at The Grosvenor Hotel, Dubai Marina. For more information please visit https://ifsjleadersinfireandsafety.com/.

This article was originally published in the March edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox