Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants


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Business Continuity & Fire

The phrase 'Business Continuity' (BC) is relatively modern, as our working practices have become more complex, understanding what this actually means is fundamental to business, whether the 'business' is a blue chip financial organisation or a Local Authority School.  A fire is likely to have a significant financial impact on the former, with a considerable social impact on the latter.  It is noted that both examples will impact socially and financially, loss of employment, loss of facilities etc.

What is Business Continuity?

Business Continuity is the global term given to the practice by which organisations identify potential threats (risk) and consequently build a framework of resilience and effective response (intervention), which safeguards the interest of the stakeholders.  Organisations will consider factors that aren’t always tangible such as the effect on their brand / reputation.

Business continuity strives to ensure that unexpected events do not have a significant impact on the running of an organisation.  Simply put, plan B! 

It is clear that business continuity covers a wide range of scenarios, from a minor localised flood to a terrorist attack.  Those instances are outside the remit of this bulletin; however, we can discuss a specific risk to business continuity, fire.

Fire & business continuity

The effects of fire on a business may appear fairly obvious; however, when a fuller study is undertaken, there are less obvious risks that could effect our normal business operations.

In simple terms, a fire could burn a building down.  The building will be unusable and the majority of its contents lost.  For large organisations, with numerous buildings, this may have a lesser impact than an organisation with a single building.  However, in either scenario, the impact could be reduced by pre-determined plans.


Initially the risks to a business need to be considered.  This should be undertaken based on sound knowledge and statistics.  The risks posed to a large financial institution in the City and a local School will be very different.  Arson should be considered and this should be identified within the current Fire Risk Assessment.  A number of other factors will also be identified that will assist the process.

The principles can start with basic but structured “what if” questions, almost predicting the event, for example, the scenario described above and considering what is needed to re-start the business functions.  These types of questions will identify business critical elements.  If your organisation is office based, it is likely that significant reliance is based on IT and data.  It is likely the computers etc would have been lost in a fire; however, the data could be protected, for example via an off site data back up.  This simple example indicates that this small measure may mean the difference between a business being totally ‘lost’ and up and running again within a reasonable time.

Most organisations find that clear identification of risks and business critical functions enables additional protection measures to be implemented, i.e. protect the functions that would have the greatest impact should they be lost.  This information should also feed into your Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) as these areas could be more appropriately protected, for example by fire resisting construction and suppression systems.

An area that is often overlooked is the effect on a business from a fire in other buildings, for example, your supplier.  If your business relies on a sole supplier for goods or services, a fire within their building(s) is likely to have an adverse effect on your business.  A review of your suppliers plans may be useful, as well as adopting the ‘what if’ process once more, this may then suggest that potential alternative suppliers are considered, should the worst case scenario occur.  Similarly if you are a sole supplier and adopt this process, you may consider dividing your operations so that a fire could only affect half of your business.

Is Business Continuity Management a recommendation or requirement?

For some organisations, BC is a legal requirement under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) a relevant example of which is the Fire & Rescue Service, whereby they are expected to maintain operations in all reasonable eventualities.  Suppliers to Public Sector services / organisations that have a legislative requirement may need a documented plan also.

For others, whilst it may not be a legal requirement it does make sense.  Whilst having a positive outlook and hoping such an event never happens to you, should the worst happen, have a BC plan in place will greatly soften the blow and enable your organisation to operate again in a timely manner and in most instances, make money.  Failure to ‘bounce back’ will inevitably lead to detrimental effects on a business, which could ultimately lead to business failure.

If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663.


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