Tall buildings are vulnerable to safety threats, but technology can help provide the answer

Buildings and the safety of the people inside them are a growing cause of concern for our society. Buildings are getting taller and more complex and the range of risks to which they are exposed seem to be expanding. Flooding in downtown Manhattan, skyscraper fires in London and Dubai, terrorist attacks in numerous locations.

Of course many of these risks are not new at all, but the vulnerability of people living or working inside the buildings is certainly growing as they reach towards the sky. Many different types of building are at risk, commercial offices, private and public housing, and even entertainment venues.

Building managers for the more high profile locations, office buildings in the City of London and Manhattan, or sports stadia around the world, are used to operating risk registers that assess and attempt to mitigate the range of threats posed to their buildings and people. But now the managers of bars and restaurants, local authority housing and all types of entertainment venues also have a job on their hands.

Into this matrix of ever taller buildings and ever greater threats comes ever increasing regulation. Governments around the world are demanding that building owners and managers take their responsibilities for keeping people safe very seriously. If they fail in this duty then they risk fines or even prosecution by the authorities, as well as compensation claims from their victims.

There are many practical measures that those responsible for buildings can put into place to mitigate the risks, increased security at access points, improved emergency exit routes, sprinkler systems and, last but not least, robust alerting systems to warn people of danger. The owners of the Torch Tower in Dubai seem to have got this right at least. They may have suffered two fires in two years, but they have leant how to alert and evacuate a building safely.

Not only did they have sprinkler systems in the multiple escape routes from their tower, but they also appeared to have in place an emergency alerting system that warned residents by phone, SMS and e-mail of the fire and the need to evacuate the building ASAP, as well as the usual fire alarm.

There are a number of products on the market that apply the massive benefits of new technology to emergency alerting systems. Crises Control is one. These products can provide multi-channel communications to mass audiences by e-mail, SMS message, text-to-voice phone calls and even mobile app push notifications. In a matter of seconds, with a couple of clicks on the screen of a fixed or mobile device, an emergency alert message can be sent out to hundreds or thousands of employees, students or tenants.

Just as easily, detailed instructions can be sent to a response team to activate an incident and implement an action plan to clear a building, or lock it down depending on the threat being faced. These emergency alerting systems also have the benefit of automatically logging a detailed audit trail of communications sent out and actions taken. In the event of a post-incident review or investigation this audit trail will provide much of the evidence needed to defend the building managers against allegations of negligence, assuming of course that their response has been adequate.

The risks may be growing for buildings, but technology is more than keeping pace in terms of providing solutions that can help building managers to keep the people living, working, studying or being entertained in their buildings safe. It would be irresponsible not to take advantage of them.

Richard Barnes