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10th Feb 2021|News|BTR & Asset Management|Estate Management|

Waking Watch – Guardian angels or unnecessary expense?

Whenever I receive a message from a member of the team at 7:47am on a Saturday I am almost certain something untoward has occurred at someone’s home we look after. Last Saturday was no exception when it was confirmed to be a fire within an apartment.

The building in question is already subject to an application to the BSF (Building Safety Fund) for the removal of an unsafe external wall system, but there is the added complication, and risk, of a number of internal defects that need to be rectified. Coupled together it is no surprise that this building is subject to a waking watch presence.

Over the last 12 months I have held countless discussions with clients, industry peers and residents on the waking watch requirements within buildings, where manned patrols are required on site 24/7. I do not intend to deliberate here on the requirement for it, as I feel this is a consideration that needs to be reviewed on a building-by-building scenario. There is also published data to show that fires, and fatalities from fires, are in the lowest figures within purpose-built high-rise flats when compared to other dwelling types (such as houses of single occupancy). Nevertheless, I want to highlight some of the learnings gathered here at Centrick where it has been necessary to have a waking watch presence, and what we feel are the important items.

The route to achieving a safe and compliant building is often complex

What is clear in all cases is that the provision of waking watch is expensive. Typically, it will become a requirement following the completion of a survey, review by a fire engineer and consultation with local fire authorities. From a resident’s perspective this means it can happen quickly and will be an unbudgeted cost – and with this amounting to c£4,000 a week (or more in many cases) for a 2 person waking watch, questions are promptly raised by those responsible for this unexpected financial burden.

The route to achieving a safe and compliant building is often complex and if communication and transparency is not provided by the agent then this will breed distrust and contribute to a lack of confidence that you are acting in the best interests of the customer. Managing agents are finding themselves custodians of large-scale projects that are laden with risk and will often be subject to a long timeline. Therefore, interim measures such as waking watch or installations of a more comprehensive fire alarm system must be managed closely and diligently to ensure maximum value.

Early reports from leaseholder groups were that many waking watch services were not fulfilling their obligations; stating patrols were not being completed or a lack of knowledge of the procedures that need to be followed. At Centrick we introduced the adoption of QR scanning and reporting which provides transparency for the residents.

It’s crucial that the waking watch, managing agent, client and local fire authority all work in tandem to ensure that the best solution is in place. By way of example, all waking watch personnel should be able to competently answer questions or provide evidence on things such as:

  • How will the Waking Watch manage the evacuation?
  • Does the person acting as Waking Watch know the address of the premises?
  • Does the person acting as Waking Watch know the total number of floors to the building?
  • Does the person acting as Waking Watch know where known, the number and location of any people who may not be able to self-evacuate
  • Does the person acting as Waking Watch know that they need to meet the FRS service
  • Does the person acting as Waking Watch know the location of the keys to the premises information boxes?
  • Does the person acting as Waking Watch know the shut offs for services?
  • How many Waking watch personnel are on duty at any one time?
  • How do the waking watch contact each other?
  • How do the Waking Watch ring the fire service?
  • What information do the Waking Watch include in the fire call?
  • Is a Mobile Phone provided by the Responsible Person?
  • When are Fire Evacuation Drills carried out?
  • Evidence of drills seen

Some of these may sound straight forward, but with changing shifts and personnel there must be a continuous process of training and checking back.

So, as I reflect on the apartment fire we recently attended to at Brindley House, it was reassuring that the waking watch team knew what the required protocols were and ensured that events were handled appropriately. The local fire service too commented on how satisfied they were with performance on site. The fire was contained within the apartment where it started but things could easily have escalated had the alarm not been raised quickly and procedures not followed correctly.

Thankfully, it will be true that the waking watches in place within dozens of buildings up and down the country will not be required to spring into action, however, our recent event evidences that it was indeed an important interim measure, but only if the training and management of this provision is adequate and collaborative with all other stakeholders.

 

Phil Johns

Group Managing Director