What can we learn from Grenfell

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What can we learn from Grenfell

On 14th June, 2017, the United Kingdom and the rest of the world were thrown into panic as residents of the Grenfell Tower scampered to find safety in a fire incident which has claimed the lives of probably 80 persons.

The Grenfell Tower is a 24-floor residential building, housing 129 flats, in Kensington, an area of West London. According to reports, the fire was caused by a faulty refrigerator in an apartment on the fourth floor and then spread rapidly to other floors.

While the initial fire was put out within minutes of the arrival of firefighters, it had moved quickly upwards and eventually engulfed the entire block. Investigations are still ongoing, however, according to the BBC , fire safety experts have suggested that the external cladding could be the reason why the fire spread so quickly.

As the world still mourned the Grenfell tragedy, another incident was reported by the Telegraph just two days ago. A block of uncompleted flats on the east side of the same city was engulfed in flames on 2nd July, 2017. Eyewitness reports claimed the fire was started by the solar panel on one of the houses. Luckily, these were uncompleted apartments so no life was lost .

However, these incidents occurring barely a month after each other highlights a concern about proper management of structural facilities. This need has been further heightened following the barrage of criticisms received by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, for its poor management of the Grenfell Tower and its neglect of complaints by residents over the years.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Cladding is a type of “skin” or extra layer on the outside of a building.’ It is normally used to provide a form of insulation for a building or to make it more attractive. Although beneficial, cladding can pose a fire risk either when poorly designed or when substandard materials are used. The same challenge applies to solar panels which require proper management to be viable as a reliable power source .

The recent fire outbreaks simply indicates how important it is to have buildings properly overseen by competent facility managers. As the website of the International Facility Management Association states, the profession encompasses not just caring for buildings, but ‘integrating people, place, process and technology’ . Among other things, facility managers oversee services like Building maintenance, Security services, Surveillance, Housekeeping, as well as Technical installations. They also oversee functions like Pest and Waste management, Vendor management, and Engineering services. Since the Grenfell tragedy was caused by a malfunctioning refrigerator, it might have been averted through proper facility management.

This challenge is not unique to buildings, however. In 2014, two trolley fires in the United States were traced to poor management by the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) . Safety was compromised and the result was a huge disaster. A massive explosion also occurred at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited (HOSL) in the UK in December 2005. The fires lasted five days with severe environmental costs. Investigations into the cause of the disaster revealed that ‘Management systems in place at HOSL relating to tank filling were both deficient and not properly followed’ .

Thus managing a property or facility goes beyond ensuring that the structure is well built (like Grenfell was); it also requires that basic factors like Electro-mechanical installations and Energy and safety are sound – factors which, sadly, were not properly addressed in the two incidents discussed earlier.

Vital components of the Facility Management profession are Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity, as well as Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability. And these are areas which must be taken into account in preventing future occurrences like these in our own clime.

London fire: A visual guide to what happened at Grenfell Tower http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-40301289. Retrieved on 4th July 2017
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/02/fire-sweeps-new-block-london-flats-witness-claims-started-solar/ Retrieved on 4th July 2017
http://www.smh.com.au/national/what-is-cladding-and-why-it-is-used-on-buildings-20170615-gwrir6.html. Retrieved on 4th July 2017
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/the-unexpected-challenges-of-solar-power/ Retrieved on 4th July 2017
https://www.ifma.org/about/what-is-facility-management Retrieved on 4th July 2017

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