There follows an open letter from information management professionals offering their perspective on the recently published BS 8644-1 Digital management of fire safety information standard.
The new standard provides recommendations for the management, presentation and exchange of fire safety information using digital information management processes. The BSI published the standard in late July following a lengthy consultation process.
The signatories of the letter are:
- Stuart Byford, associate BIM lead, BPTW
- John Ford, BIM & digital solutions lead, Galliford Try
- Rob Jackson, director, Bond Bryan Digital
- Robert Klaschka, founder and principal consultant, EvrBilt
- Paul Oakley, director, Oakley CAD Services
- David Shepherd, BIM project leader, strategic estates, House of Commons
- Graham Stewart, digital director, Digital Guerrilla
- Keith Wilkinson, project director, JM Architects
The letter does not reflect the views of their respective employers.
On 14 June 2017, our nation was horrified by the high-rise fire that broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower and that tragically resulted in 72 people losing their lives; this feeling resonated around the world.
It was the deadliest structural fire in the UK for more than 29 years. Subsequently, the independent review, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, recommended that a digital record of fire safety information should be maintained across the entire lifecycle of all higher risk residential buildings.
In 2020, a BSI committee began work on BS 8644-1 with the aim to “produce a single document in the form of a code of practice that manages the flow and presentation of information relevant to fire safety” that would be part of the official UK guidance on implementing the all-important golden thread of information.
It was published on 31 July 2022, with one of the stated intentions being to “enable relevant, accurate and accessible fire safety information to be available to the right people, at the right time”.
We fully appreciate the efforts of those involved in developing the standard and also (as [BS 8644-1 author] Aman Sharma’s subsequent statement explains) that the standard is beneficial in establishing seven key fire safety information exchange points in the project lifecycle and in providing a much-needed impetus for the fire safety industry to adopt the national/global standards for information management, such as the UK BIM Framework and the ISO 19650 suite of standards.
The purpose of this letter is to outline, and indeed highlight, our concern in relation to the application of various aspects of the standard (in its current form).
Many of these concerns were expressed throughout the consultation period of BS 8644-1 in summer 2021.
Notably, we support the general principles behind BS 8644-1. The standard does introduce a framework designed to influence critical ‘fire information management’ thinking that should be considered at every stage of the asset lifecycle.
However, here are our four primary concerns.
Problem statement 1
The examples and properties in section 5 are part of the prescriptive main body of the standard.
The detail: If there is an optional approach to implementing section 5, the experiences conveyed by information management colleagues suggest that many AECO clients are not reading it this way.
The ‘optional nature’ is explained in the accompanying executive briefing for BS 8644-1 only, but has not yet filtered through to clients in order to change their view because it does not carry the same weight as the standard itself.
The recommendation: Resolve the technical aspects of FIREie including documenting the properties required for each use case.
In the absence of any further detail on the technical aspects of FIREie, it would make sense to move section 5 into the Annex of the standard, therefore making it informative rather than normative.
Problem statement 2
Until a robust and fully defined schema for exchanging digital fire safety data (known as FIRE information exchange, or FIREie) is developed, the currently advised project-by-project discretion will compromise the golden thread of information.
The detail: It is stated that BS 8644-1, as published, is formulated as an interim measure pending development of a fully defined data schema.
We are particularly concerned by the statement that “until there is a schema in place, FIREie will likely need to be established on a project-by-project basis”.
In practice, if the definition of FIREie is left to the discretion of each project, it will, for the duration of the applicability of the current standard, compromise the integrity, coherence and continuity of digital fire safety information across multiple built assets that the standard intends to avoid.
The recommendation: Publish a formal addendum/corrigendum to the standard that brings in the relevant parts of the executive briefing to the main standard.
Problem statement 3
Although the resemblance between FIREie and COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange) is understandable (e.g., provides users of FIREie with a familiar interface), our concern relates to the duplication of data contained within each.
The detail: Duplication of data could result in significant negative impact on cost and schedule. It raises technical challenges with the combination of the data and the updating of data throughout the asset lifecycle.
A more granular breakdown of issues is provided by Rob Jackson of Bond Bryan Digital and can be found here: https://www.bondbryandigital.co.uk/technical-review-of-fireie/
The recommendation: To mitigate this risk, rationalise the FIREie schema to reduce duplication (in accordance with overall agreed roadmap) using agile development methods. This interim schema can form the backbone of a later more comprehensive schema and could be fast-tracked through a high-performance volunteer team of information management specialists that use agile development methods.
Problem statement 4
As stated, the compromise involving “two options to adopt the recommendations” is not clearly expressed within the standard itself and will, therefore, generate uncertainty about routes to compliance.
The detail: Two options for compliance were described: “The first is using processes recognisable through the adoption of the UK BIM Framework and the principles of better information management. The second, for those not familiar with the UK BIM Framework, is to make best use of recognisable contractual documentation typically used today.” Recent experiences with clients asking for BS 8644-1 compliance have revealed that they will not countenance the second ‘stop gap’ option unless it is explicitly described in the standard itself.
The recommendation: It would make sense to drop the latter ‘stop gap’ option and focus more on providing resources and support to facilitate adoption of the UK BIM Framework and the principles of better information management.
We believe that, with clarification and resolution of the aspects identified above, BS 8644-1 can provide the basis for developing a clear and agreed fire safety information management strategy.
We would like to jointly express our continuing commitment to collaborate via the UK BIM Alliance and buildingSMART UK & Ireland with BS 8644-1 authors on the development of robust and workable proposals, examples and properties, as part of the definitive FIREie schema and enable it to be specified, procured, delivered, checked, stored, presented and exploited by relevant actors in industry.
We recommend that one of our first tasks in this process would be to develop and publish a high-level public roadmap for transitioning to the defined FIREie schema.
In the meantime, we hope that this letter can form the basis of sensible discussions between clients and delivery teams being challenged to comply with the standard.
Signed by: Stuart Byford, John Ford, Rob Jackson, Robert Klaschka, Paul Oakley, David Shepherd, Graham Stewart and Keith Wilkinson.
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