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Proactive or reactive safety?

January 2019

Today, technology helps us to avoid risk or unwanted consequences in all walks of life. This can be proactive – for example, a traffic light or an alarm clock – so as to prevent accidents or undesirable situations. Or it can be reactive – such as an airbag or a burglar alarm.

In the world currently, most technology comes under the second category – it reacts. Proactive technology is becoming more commonplace but still has a long way to go, simply because it’s much more difficult to predict or prevent accidents or emergencies than it is to detect that they have already happened.

Smoke alarm
Most fire safety technology is reactive

If we apply the above to fire safety, it’s usually quite a surprise when one realises that in almost every case, the technology available is reactive; smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, suppression systems – all of these literally wait for a fire to start before taking action. Of course, having them is infinitely better than not having them, but in the case of something as lethal as a fire, the more proactive the technology, the better. The earlier a fire is caught, the lower the risk to life and the less serious the financial consequences.

Airis is one of the few existing proactive approaches to fire safety, and it is extremely effective at preventing fires. However, whether something is reactive or proactive is not quite the whole story. Measuring data is just as important, maybe even more important. Acting on it, though, is beyond important; it’s vital, because otherwise people die.

Prevention vs reaction

If a smoke alarm reacts to smoke, it’s (obviously) because there is smoke present. At this point, there might not be a fire, though there might be a lot of smoke.

If the smoke alarm has reacted to unattended cooking which is beginning to burn, the resident – if they are able to – can rush back to the kitchen and rescue the situation, thereby avoiding a fully-developed fire.

In the above example, if Airis had been present, there would have been little to no smoke because it would have seen the warning signs and began sounding the alarm much earlier. If the resident didn’t come to the rescue, it would cut the power – disaster avoided.

Let’s assume that the person in the scenario discussed above is an elderly resident in a sheltered accommodation complex, or a university student living in student accommodation…

Case one – smoke alarm

The pan produces smoke – perhaps a lot of smoke – and the smoke alarm reacts. Assuming someone is around, he or she enters the kitchen and removes the pan off the heat.

Case two – Airis

The pan starts to reach a high temperature – higher than that of normal cooking – and Airis starts to beep. If nobody arrives to attend to the situation, Airis cuts the power.

In both cases, assuming a resident is able to get to the kitchen, the end result is the same – there is no fire. The main difference is that the smoke alarm requires a person to act, whereas Airis does this by itself.

Aftermath – the importance of data

In case one, in the aftermath of this situation, the warden or caretaker will probably arrive on the scene and investigate, hopefully making a note of who was involved and what exactly caused the situation. The fire service will be automatically or manually called out. They may have to ventilate the kitchen or property, or they may arrive on the scene to find that the kitchen is okay and be on their way. If the organisation or university has a robust and proactive approach to their data logging/incident reporting, it soon becomes clear who is most at risk of causing a fire, because there will be several recorded instances of that person having had a ‘near miss’. In the case of a sheltered accommodation complex, it might be decided that the best course of action is to disconnect the resident’s cooker for their own safety, and instead provide them with meals.

In case two, the warden or caretaker will not be alerted because there will usually be no alarm. Instead, Airis will record the incident itself. The warden or caretaker will instead visit the kitchen every few weeks to get the data off the Airis unit. This is when it becomes clear who is causing Airis to act. The big difference here, though, is that there has been no ‘near miss’, no fire service call-outs, no smoke ventilation, and in the case of sheltered accommodation there is no direct need to disconnect the person’s cooker for fear of them causing a fire in the future.

This aside, there are two important factors to take into consideration here: firstly, there has been no relying on manual incident logging. Secondly, in case one, we have assumed that someone was present and able to get to the kitchen to avoid further danger, that the manual data logging is consistent, and that the information available will be acted on effectively.

That’s a lot of assumptions. In the case that the student is asleep or the elderly resident is lying on the floor following a fall, a fire would have developed, causing significant damage – with a high chance of injury or even death. If data is not recorded properly or consistently, or acted on, there is no accurate way of telling who is most at risk.

Cooking independently

What we haven’t touched on is the possibility that the resident is neither a student nor an elderly person living in a sheltered accommodation complex. What if this person is independent and living in their own home? Let’s revisit the two cases above, looking at the aftermath.

In case one, there will be no record of the incident having ever occurred, unless the smoke alarm used is connected to telecare or another transfer system, or stores the information itself to be downloaded later. If we were to assume that the smoke alarm is one of these more advanced types (most are not), there are three courses of action typically taken as a result of the alarm being triggered by stove usage: it is decided that it’s a ‘one-off’ and that the person is unlikely to cause a fire, the cooker is disconnected, or the person is taken into care. This brings to light another consideration: the reason that someone is even in a sheltered accommodation complex in the first place may be due to the fact that they had one too many near-misses in their own home!

In case two, Airis will cut the power before a fire. If it is connected to telecare, it can be configured to send alarms automatically when it acts. Additionally it can be set to send alarms if it has been triggered more than a certain number of times within a specified time frame, or even if they have not used the cooker in a time frame (i.e. they have stopped cooking for themselves). This provides supplementary data which can be taken into consideration when carrying out assessments of the resident. In other words, it becomes more a question of their overall wellbeing, rather than whether or not their independence and right to cook should be taken away from them.

Airis removes the guess-work, dramatically increases safety and peace of mind, improves data collection, prevents damage, and saves money that would be spent on repairs, care, or meal provision. It is proactive, not reactive.

In this post: Advice, Airis, Fire safety