Saturday 24 June 2017

Camden council. Wise decisions or blind panic?

More than 700 flats in tower blocks on an estate in the Swiss Cottage area of north-west London have been evacuated because of fire safety concerns.
Camden Council said people in four towers on the Chalcots estate were moved for "urgent fire safety works".
The council added it was booking hotels but around 100 residents have spent the night on air beds in a leisure centre.The estate's cladding is similar to Grenfell Tower in west London, where a fire is feared to have killed 79.
BBc Website.

Anyone who deals with any building or safety issues in the UK faces this dilemma. 
If you discover something is dangerous you must act. A tower block that now appears to be clad in a material that is a composite of fireworks. Phosphorus. Gunpowder. Petrol and BBQ lighters can not be considered a safe place to house people. And so the council are removing the people to alternative locations.

That this looks more like panic than action is they have not prepared. 270 rooms were rented in a hotel. And space made at a leisure centre and another building.  5 blocks were originally told to evacuate, now since reduced to 4. From the reports it appears the council decided to act as soon as the fire service said they could not guarantee residents safety. A question Camden Council must have demanded an answer too. 
The fire service report came late in the day and the evacuation began in the evening. Some resident had no idea what was happening and had only heard about from the news on TV.

 Taxis were being hired to transport people. Taxi drivers not told why. Not told that residents were coming with everything they own. Including pets and cots and all manner of personal items. Taxi drivers [heard this on the radio] were eventually paid by a council official from her own credit card as there was no method of payment available for the council to pay the cabbies.

This is obviously a really severe issue for the council. If the fire service says no, they don't have a lot of choice. 
Personally I have never known the fire service to give a guarantee of safety. They used to do a compliance check and a safety of equipment check. And when you joked 'We are all safe now then?' they always said "No building is ever safe, sir. You are legal. That's all."

The blocks have been there for years and years. Not burning down. They were happy to leave the residents in place whilst the fire service carried out checks. Nothing has happened since the tragedy at Grenfell on 14th June and now, ten days later. If the building was likely to kill all its occupants it should have been evacuated the same day, or soon as.
Could not the council have waited until it had booked all the necessary hotel rooms. Informed the residents by meetings. Explained the procedure and the reasons. Arranged buses. Explained the process of works being carried out and a timetable for eviction and return. 
And have some cash ready to dish out for the occupants.

How much extra time would that take? Another 24 hours? 

The reason  it looks more like panic than reaction is that once the fire service reports the council is now the body responsible for ensuring the safety of the occupants. And they wanted to ensure they had acted. Because if a fire did break out and hundreds died, this would be a 'Police Chief Brodie, You knew and never closed the beaches', slap in the face moment. Followed by criminal prosecutions.

Residents have reported there have already been fires in the block and it wasn't a problem. 
Some 80 people have refused to leave and are now being given eviction notices to remove them against their will. 

 "Did the council do the right thing?"

Council bosses in Camden are on the £150-£200,000 a year pay deals. Their job is to manage.

Could they not have organised 5 fire extinguishers for each flat and training on their use? 
Could they have delivered respirators, fire alarms, electric warning panels monitored from within the building to all residents? Monitored by a trained, round the clock, fire crew from the London fire brigade. Who would monitor the building inside and out at all times? 
There is an issue of the gas pipes. Could that not be turned off until the building was made safe?
Could the bottom floors [whatever number the fire service can safely manage to reach people from, up to six stories I guess] retain their tenants?
And I'm sure other ideas too. Even doing some of these ideas just for the time it took to arrange proper accommodation would have been a way of managing.

The council cannot really be blamed here. They have been told the news and it would take supreme courage and confidence to not just remove everyone immediately. 
That is the UK today. The actual likely percentage of a risk occurring {which is mostly how health and safety is measured}  is irrelevant when considering the risk of it actually occurring and the consequences of it happening. To you. The decision maker. And your decisions being judged.

Safer by far to opt for the quickest, if not the best, response.

Retail, which is my area, is subject to the most stringent and costly fire safety regulations imaginable.

Every workplace and shop in the country, by law, must have a fire extinguisher. Most have a minimum of 3.
Depending on age,and size, smoke detectors are fitted. And sprinklers. And regular checks and fire evacuations are required.

On any shopping centre built since the 1990s there will be multiple exits. Shopping centres will contain many hundreds if not thousands of people so fire and evacuation are a daily concern. The average shopping centre has 100 retail units. Each of those will have one or two fire exits in addition to the door the public use to enter. Those fire exits lead to backstage corridor areas that will equally have many different exits to the outside. Human activated break glass  fire alarms are fitted throughout. Even though there are hundreds of smoke detectors that automatically activate and report a fire to the monitored fire control room. Fire hoses and axes are fitted too, in addition to automatic sprinklers. 

No rubbish or equipment of any kind is ever permitted to block corridors or fire exits. Even the smallest shop must keep its fire exit clear at all times. Night or day. A pain for retailers on delivery days. All rubbish is in one area and is managed daily. There is tons of cardboard and paper every day in a shopping centre. It is squashed and removed each day.

Shops have fire curtains fitted at huge expense as standard. These automatically drop down from the ceiling of the open entrances {shops don't really have doors  anymore in shopping centres} to head height usually, so people can pass underneath.
The smoke is trapped by the curtain for a period. And flames running along a ceiling would be too.
All areas have back up lighting. Emergency lighting, strips, flashes and everything written is in reflective  glow in the dark, so can be read. 

The fire alarms sound continuously. With the public address issuing a calm but firm, 'Do not be alarmed. But please calmly make your way to the nearest exit." 
Huge smoke sucking ventilators are on the roof to remove the toxic killer smoke from the building and push it outside. The security are also trained in basic firefighting and can assist in a small blaze. Though their main task is evacuation and containment.
Every door is fire proof. The main ones are automatically activated by a fire alert to close, as during the day they would be open.  At night, all doors in all shops are closed.

A full fire evacuation is usually complete in under five minutes. That's the results from unannounced checks sprung on unprepared retailers and from general evacuations when the system has just gone off on one by itself.  The whole system is automatically linked to the fire station who attend always unless a false alarm is phoned through from the control centre. 

That's pretty good. But then the entire building from its inception has been designed with an eye to containing fire. Removing people quickly and safely, and allowing firefighters to tackle a blaze. 

On many newer centres and outdoor centres and high streets there is a linked system whereby a fire alert in one shop triggers an alert to the neighbouring shops to evacuate too. Air conditioning units automatically shut down. Lights over exits automatically come on. The floor lights pointing the way to an exit illuminate automatically too.

As far as I am aware there have been zero deaths in shopping centres in the UK despite them being made and filled almost entirely of glass and plastic.

I cannot conceive of a reason, bar the obvious one that in the private sector, its them footing the bill, why public access buildings have an unbelievable level of fire regulation whilst domestic buildings do not.


dearieme said...

After days of telling us about Tory bastards at K&C using flammable insulation, can I depend on the Beeb to tell me that Camden is a Labour council? And list all the others affected accordingly? Wot you fink?

Bill Quango MP said...

I fink dey is too busy worshiping Jez at Glastonbury to report on stuff for a bit.

mike fowle said...

In the fascinating film "The Great British Housing Disaster" made in 1984 by Adam Curtis for the BBC, and available at Biased BBC, councils found that nearly all the system builds that were constructed to meet the rash promises of housing made by politicians, were flawed. What do they do with all the thousands, perhaps millions of residents? Worth watching the film - there is a scene from a residents'meeting where the council representative frankly admits there is not much he can do. Grenfell Tower was designed in 1967, erection started in 1972, completed in 1974.

Nick Drew said...

many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was chairman of housing in a very large London borough

one day the deputy leader of the Labour group came to me (more in hope than expectation, he said) saying that there were deplorable levels of condensation in 3 tower blocks in his ward - might something be found in the budget to do something about it? I took a look and he was right, it was pretty bad, so I got the housing director to see what was to be done

he came back with a new-fangled cladding idea that had been trialled in just a couple of places & seemed to work

so I juggled the budget a bit and we did a trial ourselves - worked a treat and we ended up doing 7, from memory: they were all the same design of flats, suffering the same problem.

[Matey and indeed the whole Labour group - not to mention the residents - were unfailingly grateful, and believe it or not there are still people who shake my hand for it to this day]

But I digress. Thing is: I don't recall any fire issues being raised or discussed or weighed up, pros & cons. Equally, I don't recall what the material was that we used, and maybe there is some cladding that is perfectly OK - I bloody hope so! (I can tell you, we've never had a fire). As a politician, though, (and in my day, being a councillor, even a chairman, was very much part-time: we got a miniscule allowance back then + your busfare, none of the tens of thousands they pay themselves these days), you pretty much rely on the professional council officers to take care of all the technical stuff

but (not being a building engineer) now I think of it, the 'flue effect' would seem to be intrinsic to external bolted-on cladding, wouldn't it? I wait with bated breath while this detailed inspection& testing is done

John in Cheshire said...

Are they going to do a head count and compare it to the official data about who is supposed to be living there!

Anonymous said...

@ "head count and compare"

They (Corbyn's lot) will take the opportunity to demand an amnesty for everyone:

(a) illegal sub-letting
(b) illegal pets
(c) illegal people

K said...

I thought it was hilarious that Corbyn was at Glastonbury. Of all the festivals to choose...

Meanwhile elsewhere on the BBC News website they're posting articles complaining about how white, male, and upper class the lineups at Glastonbury are. How could the BBC's annual summer party possibly be so racist?

Never actually did Glastonbury myself. Even 10-20 years ago it was considered a toff's festival and too focused on pop music to be worth the money.

Bill Quango MP said...

I should also mention the real concern of retailers is not fire, it is theft.
So not only do all the fire doors have to be able to be opened for exit immediately, they must also prevent people passing through them on the nick.

So they are either alarmed. Electronically activated or monitored by cctv.
And of course the security cctv in all shops and shopping centers also doubles as a method of spotting a fire occurring.

Corbyn at Glastonbury.
The old grey whistle test himself.
only his whistle is from the rag trade sitcom of his 1970s utopia. phhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep...Everybody out!

James Higham said...

Blind panic.

Scrobs. said...

Back in the eighties, I worked for a company supplying and installing composite metal cladding for roofs and walls.

The insulation was Polyisocyanurate which is still deemed fire retardant, but back then, our biggest problem was getting the insurance companies to agree. Factory Mutual were pretty stubborn, but eventually allowed the material to be used, and as you're in retail, Bill, you'd know that most of the supermarkets used the stuff for all their stores.

Of course there have been fires in all sorts of steel clad buildings, but I'd prefer to have a couple of sealed sheets of steel on the roof or walls to protect me rather than skimpy lookalikes. The smoke from any burning was contained, usually because a shed has minimal construction deficit problems like fancy windows etc., unless the architect was one of those prats trying to build a monument to his or her vanity.

Nearly all modern prisons are built using the stuff, and places like Franklands and Sheppey were designed around the panels as they were safe and easy to retain the sort of residents they would have to endure. We did the first steel building on revived The Isle of Dogs using the steel cladding and roofing too. (Thank you Col Seifert)!

(And I still have a compost heap made from a few off-cuts, and that hasn't caught fire yet, although it got bloody hot when I gave it a load of fresh horse manure...)!

dustybloke said...

Interesting digestive system you have there, Michael...

amcluesent said...

FWIW, I assumed the insurers informed the COuncil their cover was voided once the fire inspection returned the damning findings. In Camden's case, it seems less about the panels per se and more about multiple aggravating factors within the towers.

With no insurance, the Council leadership would have been facing jail and unlimited fines if they had done nothing and there was an incident of any sort.

dearieme said...

Out of interest I looked at the instruction book for the fridge/freezer in our kitchen. Dear God, the refrigerant is iso-butane. Oh well, it was the one my wife wanted, and it has lasted 16 years without frying us to a crisp, but this preference for flammable refrigerants goes back further than I knew. I had merrily assumed that everyone would use freon-replacements.

Electro-Kevin said...

A dilemma.

We're already in a deep housing crisis. Any amnesty will mean *proper* housing allocated to those who shouldn't be here - to the back of the queue those penniless, returning 'expat' pensioners... they're lower than illegal immigrants even - scum of the earth.

The housing stock depleted because of the cladding crisis and a sudden upsurge in the official population numbers. 40,000 displaced ? And the rest !

Just how do we check that amnesty illegals were actually from those flats ?

Retiring abroad always did seem a risk to me. Be it the exchange rate, funny local property laws, the reliance on budget airlines with dodgy bosses - or our position in the EU.

Not to be done unless you have lots of money, and plenty of spare on top of that.

As for overreacting on evacuation ? I expect they're worried about terrorism both Islamic and racist.

Electro-Kevin said...

Off topic:

The PTA appointed Head Girl not only feigned tripping over daisies during the race on sports day she stopped to plant a few – just to let the remedial boy catch her up… and then she tumbled (almost too spectacularly) over the very last daisy just before the finishing tape. Not only did she drop the egg… she dropped THE SPOON too !




And if not then can anyone explain why ???

Nick Drew said...

why what, Kev? Why the Tories "lost", unless they threw it deliberately?

come on, you can't keep dodging the much simpler explanation!

Electro-Kevin said...

Well the simpler explanation is this:

This country is incapable of ever producing another Gladstone, Churchill, Thatcher, Disraeli...

The reason being that we cannot reach any sort of radical consensus and must pull to a centre (Blairist) ground.

We cannot opt for anything which offends LGBT, BLT, PC, MCB, IRA, WC, SNP, MILF ... sensibilities.

So we got safe-pair-of-hands May who went to the country and did a Heath (when she didn't have to) and lost a decent majority.

I say it was a put up job. A Remainer put in place because - not only do Remainers run the MSM - Remainer tell us who we can and can't have to conduct Brexit.

Electro-Kevin said...

Another blog. My response to someone disparaging snowflakes and their idea that being unable to afford housing was because they spent money of fripperies:

You did not face 20x average salary for the average home (London.)

I did not make this figure up.

What is needed is:

– People to move on when they no longer need the space

– limit immigration seriously

– Get property back from the hands of landlords.

The Tories are doomed on these issues:

– they pander to a democraphic which is on its way out

– we immigrate a Labour client class apace

– the landlord class offer a minority of votes, the renter class many

As I saw it the Tories were never meant to stand up for greedy fat cats but for the independence and aspiration of the responsible class.

The buy-to-let fetish is a distortion of capitalist conservatism.

Pure greed and selfishness, which will ultimately lead to confiscation – soon, the way Corbyn is going.

He is reaching Che Guevara status among the youth.

HTF did that happen ?

I’ll tell you.

The Tories put a fake in number 10 to deliberately thwart Brexit whilst making out she was fighting for it.

Now she looks like a gonk – because that’s what happens when you’re a fake. It’s not a matter of Corbyn’s brilliance but one of contrasts.

And the fact that the Tories have completely forgotten who it is they are meant to be standing up for.

Nick Drew said...

The Tories put a fake in number 10 to deliberately thwart Brexit whilst making out she was fighting for it

Kev: to make this stick you need either to (a) name the names of your actual cabal-conspiracy, or (b) adduce a deep subconscious 'process' at work at the top of the Tory Party - both of which will always be a stretch when simpler explanations are available

A year ago the Party (and many more besides) was divided by the Referendum result in a passive sort of way - i.e. not 'split assunder', just 'finding itself astride both sets of arguments & viewpoints'); and surprised also to be finding itself overnight without Cameron. However it swiftly got down to the business at hand. Let's start with the odd cast of characters that presented itself:

- Liam Fox: arch chancer, completely out of the question, everyone knew it
- Stephen Crabb: who he? (but he got more votes than Fox)
- Andrea Leadsom: utter featherweight & deeply implausible (but got more votes than Gove)
- Boris: evidently more dazed than most, and with enough (belated) self knowledge to know he didn't really want it in those circumstances, thereby disorienting his quite powerful support-posse
- Gove: in national political terms just a little prick, whatever his delightful personal qualities; and who started behaving very badly indeed, further disqualifying him
- May: looking extremely ambitious, calm, calculating and purposeful, which always encourages the dog-pack to rally round

What we didn't get was Osborne, who was temporarily off the field being checked for concussion; or David Davis, of whch more anon

No conspiracy theory required to spot the only candidate looking even vaguely plausible.

So: (a) the specific conspiracy theory

You can shout 'what about Boris?!' all day long, but what about him? {That's an invitation for someone to fill in the missing description of Boris as the man in whose hands we'd obviously now be heading for a triumphant Brexit result.] The one thing you might say about Boris is, if anyone was the sort of person to be nobbled by a cabal, it's him. Fair enough: please name names.

Osborne, conniving to maneouvre a no-hoper into position for the inevitable crash-and-burn? He's a compulsive plotter alright, but not that time: (i) he was seriously wounded (self-inflicted) by the campaign / punishment-budget etc; and (ii) he'd have stayed in Parliament, and would be limbering up to take over as PM right at this very moment.

David Davis? Has a following in an odd, sentimental and unorganised sort of way; but wouldn't be many people's choice of Chief-Manipulator-for-Remain

Murdoch, everyone's favourite cabal-master? Tell us more.

Soros? Carney? Dacre? BBC? Putin? Juncker? Tell us more.

[ - insert your nominees here - ]

But if you are simply going to finger "a nameless grey financial interest / party paymaster / secret Common Purpose sub-committee embedded in the Tory upper echelons", I'm going to reply that this is actually just theory (b) ...

[continues below]

Nick Drew said...

(b) 'deep subconscious process' theory. I'd enjoy reading this one. If forced to come up with such an explanation myself, it would run something like this ...

- - - - -

[fantasy sequence] The body of Tory MPs was, as a collective group, utterly appalled by the Referendum result, seeing it as tantamount to national suicide (i.e. the view actually espoused by Damian Green), to the point where they were aching for a let-out. Even though a large number of them were campaigning for Leave; and an even larger group would have, had not Cameron made it a loyalty issue; and all of them knew that significant numbers of their activists were extremely pro-Leave; their fondest collective wish was to scupper the process [even at the cost of having Jeremy Corbyn as PM?], seeing no way it could ever be made to work in the national interest

They (we are talking of a mass sentiment, not a committee meeting) intuitively identified

(i) Boris as the man who, like Churchill in 1940, might come in from left-field and rally the nation behind a difficult but ultimately 'successful' campaign - in a purely technical, Parliamentary sense - to achieve a phyrric victory for the Brexit process (negotiations followed by Parliamentary ratification). But, like the pro-Halifax sentiment in 1940, they conceived that this 'victory' would be hollow, leaving Britain needlessly weakened forever:

(ii) Osborne as fatally damaged goods for immediate purposes

(iii) May as the perfect alternative: wanting the gig; looking the part from the grass-roots Tory point of view; only too willing to utter the necessary words "B = B", if that's what it took; commanding support from Dacre etc; utterly ineffectual and guaranteed to screw it up beyond repair - which was even better than being secretly onside for Remain and a deliberate saboteur

Fox, Leadsom and Gove could be relied upon to self-destruct. So the whole thing became a matter of stopping Boris. Notwithstanding his enthusiastic tribe of supporters and hangers-on (who thought all their dreams might just have come true) and army of grass-roots fans that cut clean across trad. party lines, they exuded a [spurious but] powerful sense of deep conservative responsibility for the national well-being. This so pervaded the Westminster bubble, Boris could not but be affected by it. Everywhere he turned, Tories he respected quietly, even non-articulately, gave him to understand that, while he'd certainly showed what a great populist campaigner he was, it was time to be a grown-up and recognise that Referendum game for what it was - a rather unbecoming way of putting up two fingers to the ungrateful Cameron and spiteful Osborne. But now, he could save the nation.

And Boris, an intelligent man with a good sense of history, and at the same time quite easily flattered, was overcome by the force of this thought, overpowering as it was in these cloistered surroundings full of congenial, sophisticated colleagues. Somewhat abashed by what he had done, he decided to let his campaign rumble on for a bit (to hole Gove below the water-line) and then to pull the plug, guaranteeing May's accession by acclaim.

And so it came to pass, with barely a word needing to be spoken.

- - - - -

Except I don't believe it, & prefer simpler explanations. But, as above, I'd like to hear other versions.

Anonymous said...

Boris was pro-EU before he was against it. A brilliant, brilliant campaigner, good company, real people-person - I remember the BBC reporting from a cattle-market somewhere like Malton in Yorkshire and even their reporter saying that as word went round he'd arrived, everyone was smiling (and of course then he stepped up and auctioned a couple of beasts) - but utterly untrustworthy.

I suppose it's just possible he'd be a Brexit PM just to ensure his legacy, but more likely he'd be the guy who sold us out.

Great guy to be alongside in the trench, dreadful guy to have as your C.O.

Electro-Kevin said...

Thank you for putting meat on the bones, Nick. Humbled indeed.

My 'conspiracy' theory is only in so far that it was half hearted and reluctant - and that was all that was needed to jeopardise things.

OK OK. Occam's Razor gives us that Mrs May is a bit thick and out of her depth.