Learning from the Derbyshire School Fires

Oct 13, 2020

Earlier this month, two primary schools in Derbyshire were burned down in an apparent act of arson. Local families are devastated, their community is scared and people up and down the country are shocked. What’s more, organisations with property are now asking ‘could this happen to us’? In this interview, Oracle Integrated Systems co-founder Chris Lakin shares his perspective on the Derbyshire school fires, and what organisations can learn from this awful incident.

What was your reaction to the news story about the Derbyshire school fires this month?

This is a really upsetting news story. Those kids had only just gone back to school, and they’ll be gutted to see it in that state. However, once the emotion passed, I started to ask, ‘could this happen to someone else?’ Then I went into process mode, thinking about what they would need to avoid the same disaster happening again. We’ve got to take something good from something so bad.

Have you seen anything like this before?

Unfortunately, we see it all too often – it’s the nature of our job. If there were never any incidents like this then there would be no need for us to be here. From my point of view, this is a security breach. While the end result – a fire – may be different to others we see, it is still a security breach. Looking at the site security would be my first recommendation to any organisation then tackle the fire prevention and detection. There are some key tools that site managers should use to help identify and reasonably predict risks. Of course, you can’t foresee every possibility, but by carrying out a decent security assessment, you’ll at least get some guidelines for what you need to do.

How are Oracle Vision’s clients responding to the news?

I think news like this makes anyone who works in site management and security, regardless of industry, sit up and check their own processes. No one wants to be responsible for something as awful as these Derbyshire school fires, or even worse – it’s lucky nobody was hurt. Our clients will be looking inwards at their own site vulnerabilities and clamping down on any weaknesses. Of course, to do that properly, you need a mechanism in place to identify the risks. Where organisations don’t feel like they have a robust process in place to do that, they should be leaning on a trusted partner to help them. There should be no fee for that – we don’t charge for advice on process and improvement. They need to know, and other people are going to ask them, how to do everything possible to stop it happening.

What can organisations do today to avoid such an incident?

The most important thing to realise with this incident is that it is not just an issue of fire prevention and detection, but also security. If proved to be arson, what was in place to prevent that intruder, or then to alert someone when they entered? Unfortunately security is often seen as a premium insurance policy, and only considered if it’s really needed. Instead, sites should invest in security as they do with fire safety, which is mandatory.

This isn’t about one piece of security technology that will solve all your problems – it doesn’t exist. There are some lovely bits of kit out there, with fantastic detection rates and picture quality, but if that camera is in the wrong place, it doesn’t matter. Critically, each site must assess and understand their own needs first. Only then can you identify what you need to put in place. Site knowledge is key. To give an example, we did some surveys for a housing association and noticed there were piles of bricks that had been left behind. We flagged this as a risk to the site manager, who hadn’t noticed – it was vandalism or worse, burglary, waiting to happen. Do your assessment, identify your risk, then look at systems that are tailored to your site.

If you don’t feel like you can sufficiently carry out that assessment, lean on a contractor to help. Don’t just call them out when something is broken – have a relationship where you can get reassurance that what you’re doing is right. If you want to have a chat with us about your site, give us a call – we’d be glad to offer our advice, free of charge. To learn about some of the clients we’ve helped, take a look at our case studies.