While I was in Germany I read that thousands of people were being evacuated from tower blocks in the UK after it was found they had the same cladding as the Grenfell Tower.
It started as a normal Friday night in north London. Some people were down the pub, others were watching TV or eating dinner. In some flats children were doing homework, preparing for exams.
But over the space of the following few hours around 3,000 people on the Chalcots estate were told to leave their homes and get out – immediately.
The call to evacuate came from Camden council after London Fire Brigade told it the safety of residents “could not be guaranteed”.
I am absolutely amazed that more hasn’t been made of the unfathomable levels of stupidity in this decision. My only explanation is that a lot of people find it sensible.
Suppose a passenger ship in the mid-Atlantic gets word that its sister ship has sunk with all souls lost because of a fire in the engine room. What does the captain do? Does he give an abandon ship order and have everyone take to the lifeboats? No, he doesn’t, because that would put the passengers in more danger. He would instead post a watch in the engine room, put his crew on full-alert for a possible fire and abandonment, maybe cut back on the throttle a bit, close the bar, and either complete the voyage as planned or set sail for the nearest port with suitable passenger-handling facilities. Even if there was a fire he’d not abandon ship: he’d attempt to get his crew to fight it first, while having everyone on standby to get the lifeboats launched. If he panicked and launched the lifeboats at the first word of a potential fire, he’d go down in history as one of the worst captains ever to take command.
Back in 2010 the engine of a Qantas A380 failed, forcing it to return to Singapore and make an emergency landing. The result was the grounding of all A380 aircraft using those engines while inspections were carried out and Rolls-Royce consulted. Note that these other planes were not immediately ordered to make emergency landings: that would have seriously endangered the passengers.
The evacuation of towers with similar cladding to that of the Grenfell Tower is a decision made in panic with seemingly no consideration of actual risk. It is the equivalent of the captain ordering everyone into the lifeboats too early or planes making emergency landings. Yes, the cladding is dangerous – but only once a fire has occurred in a flat and reached the outside. Resources and efforts would be far better spent on ensuring these two don’t occur – information campaign, inspections, temporary fire-fighting measures, posted watches – than ordering everyone out of their homes immediately.
Perhaps a risk analysis would recommend people evacuate, but none would say this needs to be done immediately. The risk might have been high, but it was not imminent: anyone who understood risk and safety ought to have known this, and been aware that ordering unnecessary emergency evacuations would put the residents in greater danger than leaving them in situ. Firstly, emergency evacuations and temporary housing are stressful and not good for people’s overall wellbeing, and secondly next time they’re told to move immediately some people might conclude it’s just a bureaucrat covering his arse.
The situation required cool heads and mature decisions, instead we’ve got headline-grabbing knee-jerk reactions. The people running things have not got a grip on how to manage risks in residential properties, but then we knew that already: we have a burned-out shell and dozens dead as proof. But what it shows is the clowns in charge haven’t learned anything in the aftermath: an irrational approach to risk and safety is still dangerous whether it comes in the form of callous neglect or panicked decisions.
German authorities on Tuesday evacuated a high-rise apartment building in the western city of Wuppertal, over fire safety fears in the wake of London’s Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Wuppertal authorities said they had carried out a fire safety review following the Grenfell inferno, which left 79 people presumed dead, and found that the insulation on an 11-storey building posed a risk as it is flammable.
So much for the idea that the oh-so-clever and perfectly-regulated Germans would avoid a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower, eh? Some proper journalism wouldn’t go amiss occasionally, would it?