Thursday 23 December 2021

Gone for the Holidays - Keeping Buildings Fire Safe and Secure

As the holidays approach, how can temporarily vacant buildings remain fire safe and secure? Allegion UK outline the best practices.

The holiday period is synonymous with festivity, family, food and fun - but it’s also a time rife with empty buildings and heightened security concerns. As most of the nation winds down for a stint packed with celebration and enjoyment, schools, workplaces and commercial facilities momentarily shut their doors, but in doing so, invite potential safety and security threats.

In fact, the weeks surrounding Christmas signify a steep increase in burglaries, with the rate doubling in the UK between November and December. And despite research showing a 33% reduction in domestic burglary offences in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 (much to the help of a national lockdown), building owners must remain vigilant in protecting their property.

Security measures aren’t the only item on the agenda either, as statistics suggest that up to 60 fires begin in or next to empty buildings every day. Idle, unmonitored buildings unfortunately make an easy target for arson attacks, which accounted for 50.5% of all fires attended by Fire and Rescue Services in 2017/18. Each year, buildings are proven vulnerable to these seasonal breaches, and so responsible parties must now take the appropriate measures to ensure they too don’t fall victim.

Doors shut
With the winter months showing a notable peak in security concerns, the first step is to assess any vulnerabilities in your building’s security measures - starting with potential entry points. The most common point of entry for burglars is through a door, with almost three-quarters of domestic incidents occurring this way. Commercial properties are commonly targeted in the same way and according to research by the National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses (FSB), around 50% of small businesses in the UK have been the victim of a crime in the last two years, accounting for £12.9 billion of costs.

Expectedly, unoccupied or older properties with ageing door components are more routinely targeted in trespassing, vandalism and theft cases. To combat this, it’s vital to plan for adequate security, and decision makers can benefit from going back to the basics. When it comes to entry points, all doors - and windows - must operate as intended, with any damaged or compromised components repaired or replaced quickly and professionally. As is recommended by the West Yorkshire Police Force, properties should make sure doors and their hardware are of high-quality, comply to minimum standards and that windows, doors and panic escape bars are well locked upon closing - helping to firmly shut the door on any outside threats.

For additional security, larger estates with multiple access points can also benefit from installing access control systems. As part of a centralised solution, digital locks can be installed, providing an added layer of security through the process of revoking and reissuing digital credentials. These systems can keep owners informed about the activity in their building, providing peace of mind that only authorized access is possible to the site, even when vacant.

Why maintenance matters

With ageing entry points a primary target for offenders, the importance of correctly maintained door hardware can’t be understated - especially over the holidays. In winter for example, the drop in temperature can sometimes affect the operation of a door, with the weather causing components to swell or shrink in some cases. A swollen door can damage its closing mechanism, which in turn can lead to jamming - making it more difficult to open or close and more suspectable to break-ins.

On the other hand, a shrunken door can leave unwanted gaps between itself and its hinges which poses risks to security as well as fire safety compliance. In the event of a fire, a shrunken door creates additional complications, with the door’s ability to compartmentalise smoke and fire severely hindered. The gap around a door frame must remain constant at around 3 to 4mm, and with arson being a threat at this time of year, decision makers must ensure their fire doors adhere to this and can therefore be trusted to perform while the building is vacant. Routine maintenance is key here, and responsible parties have an obligation to perform sufficient risk assessments in a bid to address these potential damages and further reduce vulnerabilities.

Upon assessment, responsible parties must recognize the areas of a door and its hardware that need examining. Aside from assuring fire doors are not propped open, attention should immediately turn to the door’s certification, apertures, gaps and seals, closers and operation. When conducting an assessment, a five-step checklist is commonly referred to which can aid responsible parties through the process. However, if maintenance is required it’s important to seek the advice of a professional. For those who remain unsure, manufacturers can provide proficient guidance on topics such as certification and door closer adjustments if required.

To further guarantee the reliability of doors and their hardware, decision makers should also look for the BSI Kitemark Certification which signifies hardware has passed the British Standards Institution test. By definition, door closing devices must conform to Standards EN 1154 and EN 1155 whereas exit devices, must also meet the mandatory EN 1125 and EN 179.

While the holidays have always been a time for winding down, nobody can afford to relax on their building’s fire safety and security standards, especially when vacant. Suitably maintained entry points with certified hardware can be the changing factor in the fight against theft and arson - but only by taking the time to plan and address any potential issues can property managers and owners alike rest easy this Christmas.

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