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Waking Watch vs Hybrid Wireless

All across the UK the effects of the Grenfell Tower tragedy are still with us today with many local authorities and private housing organisations declaring the presence of highly combustible cladding and/or insulation within their housing portfolios, rendering these assets dangerous and uncompliant until remedial work to remove and replace the cladding materials can begin. The scope of work to replace all of the cladding so far identified is enormous and will take years to rectify.

In the meantime, residents are forced to remain in these buildings, unable to secure insurance or mortgages on properties that are currently unsaleable, unsure of their safety in the long-term. In the short-term there have been several solutions to mitigate the dangerous cladding issue proposed, and one of them is the “Waking Watch” scheme.


What is Waking Watch?


Waking watches were introduced by the National Fire Chiefs Council in October 2017, four months after Grenfell, as a temporary measure to keep residents of high-rise buildings with suspected dangerous cladding safe in the short-term.  A waking watch involves teams of trained fire wardens being present on site 24/7, to monitor a building’s interior and exterior, raise an alarm in the event of a fire and assist in the safe evacuation of the residents.  The guidance was then amended in 2018 to also incorporate a simultaneous evacuation approach for some buildings based on risk assessment.


But almost four years after Grenfell, hundreds of buildings across the UK still have 24-hour safety patrols in place, costing building owners tens of thousands of pounds every month.  In some instances, the majority of these costs are being passed on to the leaseholders.


But recent updated guidance from the Council now advises that building owners should move to install common fire alarm systems as quickly as possible to reduce or remove the need for the 24-hour warden patrols.


Government Funding


On 17th December 2020 the UK government announced a new £30m fund to help pay for the installation of fire alarms in high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding, the Waking Watch Relief Fund, and also urged building owners to apply for the government's £1bn Building Safety Fund (BSF) as soon as possible.  The deadline for building owners to complete their BSF applications by was granted a six-month extension at the beginning of 2021, with a new deadline for submissions of 30 June 2021. The BSF was set up in May 2020 to pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe, non-ACM combustible cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings in England that are 18 metres or higher.


Intelligent Fire Detection vs Waking Watch


According to a recent study by The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the cost of employing one individual undertaking Waking Watch duties exceeds the average cost of installing an alarm system in 3 to 7 months, depending on the hourly rate charged. It should be noted that some buildings may require more than one Waking Watch individual to provide adequate interim fire safety measures.


Real Life Case Study


The Association of Residential Managing Agents provided a waking watch case study of one site in London consisting of 4 residential blocks and 191 dwelling units which received quotes for both installing an alarm system and employing a waking watch service. Quotes were received from three waking watch providers and were based on the provision of two people undertaking waking watch duties per block 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 


The costs of installing a fire alarm system across all 4 blocks was quoted at £112,000 for a wireless system, this worked out as £586 per dwelling. The three waking watch quotes received all exceeded the cost of installing a wireless alarm system by the seventh week.


Waking Watch Alternative


In our opinion, an intelligent, reliable, well maintained hybrid wireless fire detection system is the best temporary solution for protecting both lives and properties in these scenarios. And it seems the UK Government agrees, stating on its waking watch relief fund web page that “Whilst waking watch, when established and operated in accordance with NFCC guidance, is an acceptable risk mitigation strategy, the guidance is clear alarms are preferable on the grounds of both safety and cost efficiency”.


Advice issued to local authority chief executives and housing association chief executives by the Department for Communities and Local Government following the Grenfell disaster recommended a range of interim measures to protect residents within multi-storey housing with unsafe cladding issues. These were recommended by an independent panel of experts and also included the provision of a temporary communal fire alarm system, to provide early detection of a fire condition:


"Provision of a temporary communal fire alarm system, comprising smoke detectors in circulation areas and plant rooms, and fire detectors (possibly heat detectors, rather than smoke detectors) in conjunction with fire alarm sounders in each flat. This will enable the entire block to be evacuated simultaneously in the event of fire…the system may comprise a wireless system, using radio to link devices."


The recommendation for using a wireless fire detection system, installed as a temporary solution in this scenario has many benefits to both the building owner and residents:


  • No cabling required, easy and quick to install, with minimum disruption to residents
  • Operates on a robust, fast response intelligent radio link
  • Offers 24/7 monitoring and reporting
  • Can be maintained from one location within the building, via a fire control panel
  • Doesn’t affect the fire compartmentation of the individual flats
  • Easy to uninstall once cladding removed, with no damage to building structure 
  • One off investment plus small maintenance costs
  • On site staff kept to a minimum


“An appropriate communal fire alarm and detection system will generally provide more certainty that a fire will be detected and warned at the earliest opportunity rather than rely on using trained staff”. 


Guidance to support a temporary change to a simultaneous evacuation strategy in purpose-built block of flats, National Fire Chiefs Council


Ekho – the perfect solution for the temporary protection of buildings


Ekho is Hochiki’s hybrid wireless intelligent fire detection system, is perfectly suited to provide a cost-effective alternative to a waking watch scheme. Providing 24/7 monitoring of individual living spaces within a high-rise building and able to be integrated to an existing building’s existing control panel, Ekho can be installed quickly to instantly mitigate waking watch costs.


As the system is wireless, it can easily be removed after the remedial cladding work has been carried out, without damaging the fabric of the building. Alternatively, the system can be permanently incorporated into the existing life safety systems.


Next Steps for Building Owners


Hochiki have already consulted and advised on several waking watch replacement schemes in the UK and we are here to advise you and your clients further on this issue if required.  For further information on waking watch, our prescribed solution, the Ekho hybrid wireless system and details on receiving free advice visit: