It knows no geographical, socio-economic or political boundaries. It also has an immeasurable human impact, and affects the environment and global economy, but there are inconsistencies with how countries approach and manage fire risk, and this could have a major impact on how we tackle climate change.
With climate change we’re seeing drier conditions, higher temperatures and increased winds and more severe wildfires. In RICS’ Developing a global standard for Fire reporting in 2020,1 it stated that 150,000 people lost their lives due to fire; over 7 million people suffered injuries as a result of a fire and tens of thousands of people had been displaced. And this is only from the data captured.* This could get worse as the impact of our changing climate increases our risk of being exposed to fire.
At present, there are many contrasting approaches to managing fire safety. The design, build and management of buildings and infrastructure can differ country to country, as does how countries look after their existing buildings also changes. The only thing that is currently consistent is the inconsistency.
As world nations look to collaborate to step up and tackle climate change and work towards net zero, the same holistic approach should be taken to fire safety. There is currently a lack of consistent approaches to design, construction and management of buildings for fire safety. Whilst investment can flow across borders and the professional skills of RICS chartered surveyors are becoming more global, standards need to follow suit.
Following the devastating fires we’ve seen around the world in recent years, over 80 organisations, known as the International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition, have adopted a consistent way to manage fire safety in buildings and are looking at new ways to address the impact fire has on our people, economies and planet. The time is now to change the way we look at the built and natural environment and how we can improve lives and reduce fire risks.
In our latest publication, the Decade of Action for Fire Safety 2022–2032,2 we set out a framework, actions and timeline that transcends countries and works off the top-level IFSS Common Principles3 that were produced in 2020.
Professionals deliver trust when we’re at our most vulnerable and the idea behind these global standards is to provide universal rules that define fire-safety standards at project, state, national, regional and international levels. People need protection; buildings and our belongings need protection; and now, more than ever, the environment needs protection from the destructive effects of fire.
The Decade of Action for Fire Safety 2022–2032 is built off a proven method of a decade of action. The publication provides actions to encourage political and resource commitments and can be used by donors to integrate fire safety into their existing programmes. It can also help low- to middle-income countries accelerate sustainable and cost-effective fire-safety standards and allow high-income countries to make progress in improving their fire-safety performance, providing them the opportunity to lead and share their expertise.
We also aligned the Decade of Action with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The strategies set out how to improve education, resources and training on fire and are split into five pillars to engage with everyone, not just policy makers. Addressing people, products, structures, infrastructure and communities, the Decade of Action is a pioneering blueprint to restore more confidence in the built environment when it comes to fire safety.
As we look to manage climate change, rapid urbanisation, growing populations and aging infrastructure, this won’t be easy and success won’t be seen overnight. But there are ways to improve people’s lives in the short term, and when fire doesn’t abide by country borders the approach to fighting it shouldn’t either.
The coalition is already implementing the Decade of Action into their standards, practice and guidelines resulting in professionals worldwide looking to work to these standards. But as the climate changes and we are potentially set to see an increase in the number of fires impacting our built and land assets, we need governments to also embrace a global approach. It is only with political leadership that our plan can be accelerated and the world’s risk to fire, whether that’s human or environmental, can be reduced. We owe it to people and the planet to start right now.
For more information, go to www.ifss-coalition.org/
* Only a small proportion of countries currently capture data on fires