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6th April 2022

Evacuation Alert Systems

This blog concerns the recently released new standard (BS 8629:2019) which covers ‘the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of evacuation alert systems for use by the Fire and Rescue Service in buildings containing flats.’ which came about after the Grenfell Fire tragedy.

What is an evacuation alert system (EAS)?

An evacuation alert system is an alarm system operated by a control panel inside an apartment block for use by the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) when they attend an emergency. BS 8629 requires an alarm sounder to be situated in each flat in a block – with the control panel capable of triggering evacuation alerts for specific areas or floors within a building. It does not need to incorporate a two-way communication mechanism or a Voice Alarm System, but each flat must be fitted with an alarm sounder and a visual alarm device (VAD).

Is an EAS a fire alarm system?

No. It is separate from a fire alarm system. It is not triggered by heat or smoke sensors. Instead, it should only be operated by the FRS via a control panel also known as an EACIE (evacuation alert control and indicating equipment).

Grenfell in mind: why BS 8629: 2019 was necessary

As the tragedy of Grenfell tower proved, managing evacuation in blocks of flats is a complex process.

The ‘stay put’ strategy recommended in previous standards considered that in the event of a fire, tower block residents were safer staying in their apartments while the blaze was fought and contained. This would control the risk of extra confusion caused by a mass, uncontrolled evacuation.

It was thought firefighters were better deployed tackling the blaze than individually knocking on the doors of flats to organise a safe exit from the building.

‘Stay put’ is no longer the best advice in many blocks

Where flats are properly fire-rated this containment policy is sensible. But in Grenfell ‘stay put’ advice has been cited as a contributory factor to the disaster. Successive refurbishments had compromised the ability of individual flats to remain insulated from the spread of fire. Tragically, ‘staying put’ was precisely the wrong thing for many occupants to do.

What is the requirement for an EAS and EACIE?

In the wake of Grenfell, then, the new standard recommends the installation of an EAS so that alerts can be triggered to support whatever evacuation process is most suited to the emergency at hand.

Instead of wasting time going door to door to give instructions, attending firefighters can sound alarms in specific parts of the building to support an orderly and prioritised evacuation plan. The committee designing the standard specified the need for an EAIC that responded to the unique challenges of each incident:

Why adopt the standard?

Adoption of the standard is important to ensure that the FRS does not have to learn how each individual system works before they can handle an evacuation.   Universal standards of installation and operation also ensure quality is maintained and the risk of failure is understood and contained.

Building managers particularly need to understand how to retrofit buildings and meet a standard that will most likely end up as a legal requirement across the UK.

Once an EAS is in place, understanding maintenance and testing requirements will be paramount to keep the system in good order and ready for use in the event of the worst happening.

If you have any queries regarding this new standard, or indeed a wider fire safety issue then don’t hesitate to call our advice line today on 0300 303 5528.

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