HEALTH & SAFETY, FIRE ENGINEERING, INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
such a framing fails to capture their historically specific origins and differing implementations. These case studies will provide rich accounts of how technical and social innovations have improved fire safety, thereby suggesting potential solutions for current informal settlements.
Question 2: What are the fire risks in current informal settlements, and what socio-technical innovations are compatible with their material and social circumstances?
Inside view of housing in Kliptown, Soweto (Source: Tim Vickers)
government intervention, regulation and enforcement, and lifestyle also vary greatly. All of this means that any approach to address fire risks in informal settlements based solely on the dissemination of a ‘technical fix’ may be misguided because it ignores the importance of social context (e.g. in the case of a heat detector an important consideration is whether occupants would accept and maintain such devices or regularly heed their warnings). The various informal settlements around the world have many similarities, but also many important differences. This matters not just because social context is likely to affect the way that technical solutions are adopted and used, but also because many aspects of fire safety are fundamentally social in their nature. For this reason, Spinardi, Bisby, and Hadden are now proposing a more radical approach to investigating the potential for technical innovation through a demand- side orientated analysis, focused on the social and material particularities of informal settlements. To identify potential socio-technical solutions, the proposed methodology uses historical analogy in which the fire problem in different current informal settlements is understood in relation to how earlier settlements developed ways of improving fire safety. Spinardi, Bisby, and Hadden are interested in two fundamental questions:
Question 1: How was the fire problem solved as the developed world developed?
While many improvements in fire safety can be traced to fire disasters (such as the Great Fire of London) that resulted in government action to impose building regulations, such centralised governance was only one factor in improving fire safety as cities developed. Private initiatives
were also important. Indeed, many early fire-fighting services were established by insurance companies, with municipal fire brigades only emerging during the 19th century. And insurance companies not only sought to extinguish fires in properties covered by their insurance, but also to effect loss mitigation by requiring customers to follow rules as regarding the construction and use of property. Increasing wealth too was an important factor in reducing conflagrations in 19th century cities, as people could afford to build with less flammable materials, and importantly, to have larger lot sizes with greater spacing between properties.
However, it is still necessary to understand better how earlier settlements evolved and addressed fire risks. The research team at the University of Edinburgh plan to carry out detailed historical case studies, chosen to provide comparative insights whilst covering a wide range of relevant variables. Many fire safety solutions are now seen as universal and context-independent, but
Detailed studies of informal settlements are planned in South Africa, India, and Brazil, where significant differences are expected to enable comparative analysis. Spinardi, Bisby, and Hadden hypothesise that the feasibility of fire safety solutions will be affected by variations in social relations, modes of governance, community engagement, and material circumstances. It is hoped that developing an in-depth understanding of the social contexts specific to each informal settlement, along with findings from historical case studies of how fire safety developed in earlier settlements, will enable assessment of a range of potential solutions, such as heat detectors, safer cooking stoves, or more integrated solutions such as vegetable fire-walls or sprinkler fire-breaks.
With these two lines of inquiry we hope to be able to provide a range of useful suggestions as to how the problem of fire in informal settlements can be tackled. However, as with most fire deaths in the developed world, it is clear that improving socio-economic circumstances is probably the best solution, for this, as well as for other reasons.
For further informaion please contact Dr
Graham Spinardi, Ove Arup Foundation/ Royal
Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Integrating Technical and Social Aspects of Fire Safety (E-mail: G.Spinardi@ ed.ac.uk
Innovation & Research Focus Issue 103 NOVEMBER 2015
Informal settlement, Cape Town (Source: Richard Walls, Stellenbosch University) 3
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