Security managers must play a part in assisting with the evaluation of their facility in the aftermath of fire, supporting emergency services investigations while at the same time trying to learn as much as possible about the effectiveness of fire control systems and procedure.

FIRE is the most destructive enemy the security manager will ever face and thinking objectively in the aftermath of a serious blaze when the site you’re committed to protect is a smoking ruin is a serious challenge. But the professional security manager must be prepared to go back to a burned facility and try to piece together facts about the blaze, its nature, how it occurred and how the site’s electronic systems, fire suppression systems and procedures dealt with the crisis.

Some security manager may be thinking the best option is to leave investigations to the experts. While fire investigators will do their job, their focus will not be the same as yours. Every security manager has a detailed and intimate knowledge of the site at which they work and the systems that site employs. It’s a knowledge no arson squad operative can ever hope to learn in the short time they’ll investigate fire at your site.

Security managers will know the location of hazardous materials storage, they’ll know about generator fuel tanks in tucked-away plant rooms and they’ll also know which points are the most accessible to an attacker and which are closest to vulnerable perimeters. They’ll also want to see which areas of the site were least affected and try to establish why. Something else you’ll want to assess is how well your fire procedures worked.

In addition, the security manager will need to go through full alarm monitoring reports, either those gathered at the facility (if workstations/servers are saved from destruction) or off site at your company’s monitoring station or stored in the cloud. It’s possible to track the passage of a fire through a building by assessing which sensors activated at which times – especially if the facility has heat sensors installed.

Fire Reporting

Security managers should also be looking to complete detailed reports about the fire, with the idea being to give senior management as accurate a picture of what happened as possible. Senior management will also want to know what parts of the facility are still operational. This report needs to answer a series of questions along the lines of the following:

* Was there an externally perpetrated perimeter breach just prior to the outbreak of fire and if so where did it occur and when?
* Did your surveillance system capture images of the event at any time from perimeter breach to fire ignition?
* Does it appear as if arson was involved and if so, what are the details?
* Where did the fire itself originate and as far as possible, what were the causes of that outbreak?
* Did the fire spread and if so, why?
* Was there damage to surrounding premises?
* Were any staff on site at the time of the fire and are all accounted for?
* Was the organisation’s fire response plan carried out and was it effective?
* Did all internal fire detection, control and suppression systems function correctly?
* When was the fire department notified and was its role carried out effectively?
* Was the security department’s co-operative role supporting the fire department undertaken effectively?
* Which areas of the facility have been damaged and how badly?
* Were capital assets damaged?
* Are the undamaged areas of the site safe for staff to enter and if not, how long before they will be?
* Has the company been the target of similar attacks at this site or elsewhere?
* Has the company received bomb threats or other threats of violence against its property, assets and personnel?
* Have any staff recently been sacked in ugly circumstances?
* Has the company been conducting business activities under protest from community groups?
* Are surviving fire control systems capable of defending undamaged facilities at the site in the event of another fire?

This is by no means an exhaustive list and security managers should add their own points to it, in particular they should include their own site-specific information.

On-Site Post-Fire Analysis

Once a fire has been extinguished, the immediate area should be blocked off and if the security department takes responsibility for ensuring the scene remains undisturbed, it should do so in co-operation with fire and law enforcement officers. Onlookers and unauthorised personnel should be kept well away from the scene, both for their own safety and to ensure there’s no disturbance of evidence that may assist investigators.

Once fire authorities have inspected the scene and their initial investigation is over, the security manager should request permission to join the examination, should this be safe to do. If this request is granted you should take notes and pictures for your own report. This inspection and some questioning of fire authorities will allow the security manager to establish how the fire was started, where it started and how the fire spread.

As you inspect the site you should also jot down notes regarding improvements to current fire procedures as they occur to you. A particular issue for security managers will be whether or not it’s ascertained that the fire was criminally lit, in which case there will be questioning from police and fire investigation teams.

You’ll want to know how effectively your fire suppression systems worked.

For senior management, the biggest question will be whether or not the facility can continue to operate – they’ll be thinking about the company’s ability to meet contracts and to support employees. Should core elements of the facility’s operational capacity be destroyed, layoffs will be inevitable. To the best of your ability you should try to provide this information.

As long as you’re familiar with your site and its operations, it should be possible to paint a reasonably accurate picture of the situation. Also in attendance will be the company’s insurance underwriters, whose primary interest will be to establish whether or not the fire could have been started deliberately by company officers or as a result of negligence on the part of the organisation. Security managers should act as liaison for these investigators where appropriate, co-operating as much as possible to assist insurance teams, while at the same time keeping senior management informed of developments.

Additional visitors to the scene will include representatives from companies that supplied security systems, fire control panels, fire suppression hardware and the integrators that put your systems together. Their primary interest will be to establish whether or not their equipment performed as expected, and to see if design or installation could be improved in the future.

Honesty in Fire Reporting

Managers who’ve been working in the same organisation for an extended period of time may find it difficult to let go of loyalty to their company or to the managers that may have supported them over many years. Strive to be honest. Over a long period of time management many have revealed that fire control systems or EVAC systems have not been updated is due to low profits, the impact of recession, lack of senior management support, loss of major accounts or any other reason. Be professional in your reporting.

If current fire systems are second rate and much of the impact of the disaster could have been avoided through better planning and procedures, and greater spending, state this in your report. If you’ve already filed reports outlining weaknesses in the fire system and suggesting improvements, dig them out and table them along with your fire report.

Security managers may feel pressured by senior management to compromise their professional standards and make do with inferior solutions because the company or government department claims it can’t afford improvements for various reasons. This should be noted in the report. Bear in mind that in the event of failure of the security system or fire control system, especially if there’s loss of life, the board of directors/senior management is likely to attempt to shift blame to the security department/manager – your loyalty should be to the people you are protecting, not senior management.

Appraise yourself of the building code compliance standards and verify that your company or organisation has met these standards. Also take the time to find reports compiled after recent fire system checks. Were changes recommended after weaknesses were discovered? Were the changes carried out? Your interest in this is partly selfish. Should your department also have responsibility for managing the fire control system, and chances are it has, then you’ll be exposed if senior management starts running for cover.

Security managers should be concerned about the performance of their fire control systems. In the event of fire, you need to try to establish every possible fact about the operation of the building’s fire control system prior to, during and after the blaze. If you believe there was a weakness or a problem of any kind with a piece of equipment, outline the problem and recommend solutions. Should you be unsatisfied with current fire control systems, the aftermath of fire is the best time to draw the attention of management to a possible upgrade.