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  • >> The Palace of Westminster is home to one of the busiest parliamentary institutions

  • in the world. Thousands of people work here and visit every day and millions of tourists

  • are drawn to its iconic splendour. Completed in the mid 1800's, many of the Palace's features

  • have never undergone major renovation. So what being done to tackle any problems, not

  • only to ensure the Palace continues to function as a working building, but also to preserve

  • its unique heritage for future generations?

  • In this video, we look at the fire safety precautions around the palace and what needs

  • to be done to bring the systems up to modern standards.

  • The new Palace of Westminster was built in the mid-1800s to replace the old Palace, which

  • burned down in 1834, following a major fire.

  • With that in mind, Charles Barry put fire-proofing firmly at the centre of his design, using

  • stone and iron to counter the risk from numerous smoke flues.

  • When it came to the interior decoration, he and Pugin used vast quantities of combustible

  • materials.

  • And the huge network of ventilation shafts and floor voids they included in their design

  • to aid ventilation had the unintentional effect of creating ideal conditions for fire and

  • smoke to spread through the building.

  • The 1974 fire precautions act was designed to protect occupants and buildings from fire.

  • But following the Windsor Castle fire in 1992, improved compartmentation was one of the key

  • fire protection measures recommended for all of the royal palaces.

  • By sub-dividing a building into compartments or blocks, separated by walls and floors of

  • fire resisting construction, it slows the spread of fire and smoke ñ by containing

  • it within a single compartment for at least 30 minutes; enough to safeguard lives; and

  • for at least 60 minutes; enough to minimise damage to the building and its contents.

  • In the 1990s, extensive compartmentation work was begun in the Palace of Westminster. But

  • given the building is in constant use, and the extremely invasive nature of the work,

  • only two thirds has been completed. So, at the moment, if there was a major fire, only

  • some compartments would be relied upon.

  • And the recent discovery of previously hidden Victorian ventilation ducts further complicates

  • the picture.

  • Evidence suggests that smoke could travel through these ducts, as well as architectural

  • voids. So, completing the programme of compartmentation is necessary to avoid this happening.

  • >> David Kaye

  • If we have a fire, it will stop the fire spreading. These compartments go from basement through

  • to the Principal Floor, all the way up to the top of the building, but because of the

  • invasive nature of the work and the extent of the work that is needed to complete it,

  • the compartmentation will take quite a while longer.

  • >> Narrator

  • Thereís over 6000 fire safety devices in the Palace, including break-glass call points,

  • smoke detectors, and voice alarms. At the moment, they function adequately but they

  • are reaching the end of their working life, and coverage by automatic fire detection and

  • alarm systems must be extended to comply with modern standards.

  • Theyíre part of the infrastructure that links the fire alarm system to the control room

  • ñ but many of them only give very limited signals. Also, this infrastructure services

  • the entire Estate, not only the Palace ñ and because of its age, it wonít support

  • the more modern, data heavy systems which have been installed.

  • >> David Kaye

  • Theyíve got devices, theyíve got automatic smoke detection in all the offices. We need

  • to be able to go in there, remove that, remove the break glass call points if they are there,

  • and rewire.

  • In a room like this for example, we would have to replace that smoke detector which

  • would include the wiring as well. If the wiring is traced down the walls anywhere then we

  • would have to disturb the wallpaper.

  • Thereíd be scaffolding in here, no one would be able to use it as a meeting room so therefore

  • this place would be out of bounds for a considerable time.

  • >> Narrator

  • Despite all of these problems, the Palace is a safe environment for people to work in

  • and visit, because everyone remains vigilant. And a fire safety improvement programme, as

  • well as appropriate measures, are in place to reduce the risk of fire as far as possible.

  • These include a team of experienced fire officers, on call 24 hours a day to investigate and

  • deal with suspected incidents, and to carry out regular inspections and patrols.

  • The basement is thought to be the area at highest risk of fire, because of congested

  • mechanical and electrical services, and the difficulty of access for the fire brigade.

  • A sprinkler system is virtually impossible to install without first resolving the intensely

  • overcrowded corridors. However, the current programme will deliver a high pressure water

  • mist system and smaller pipes, pumps and water supplies to the basement and high risk areas.

  • So, substantial work needs to be done to complete the compartmentation and to fit out and equip

  • the Palace so that it meets modern fire safety standards, and ensures the long term safety

  • of the building.

  • To find out more please watch the other videos in this series.

>> The Palace of Westminster is home to one of the busiest parliamentary institutions

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Palace of Westminster - Protecting the Palace from fire

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    Laura Hung posted on 2014/07/02
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