It can be argued that the only significant difference between the 2012 Olympics development and a small local sports arena is simply one of scale. And from the perspective of providing support facilities such as fire safety protection, it is certainly true that there will be very similar considerations when designing and implementing the most appropriate and effective solution.

In each case it is likely that, as well as protecting the core sports events, the venue will also be used to some degree for a number of other activities, to the benefit of participants, staff and spectators alike. In the case of a local football club or sports centre, it is likely to incorporate catering and offer other facilities to the broader public in order to maximise revenues.

This is no different to a larger sporting venue such as Doncaster Racecource, for example, whose most recent five storey Urban-I grandstand includes new hospitality suites, catering outlets and major conference facilities for the first time.

This highlights another issue which impacts on how to provide adequate fire protection at sports grounds. Over time, many sports venues expand and become subject to change of use, which again demands that the fire safety solution must be able to provide adequate protection for all aspects of what in most cases is a multi-purpose public facility.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, home of the Wimbledon championships, has undergone considerable change in recent years, including a rebuilt No.1 Court, a roof for the Centre Court and a new 200° cinema and museum. Here, a series of intelligent fire panels networked over 2.5km of fibre optic cable can transit an alarm across the network in less than half a second. Using an advanced graphics workstation, fire trained staff can rapidly isolate and investigate any incident across the 43 acre site.

A flexible response
A best practice fire detection and alarm safety system is likely to offer a high degree of interoperability and scalability. This will make the most of any existing investment and enable a seamless transition as the facility undergoes expansion or change. Equally, the system must offer maximum robustness and flexibility in providing suitable protection for every aspect of a diverse multi-functional site.

There are other technologies now playing an increasing role in providing cost effective, high quality protection for sports and leisure facilities. One important development has been that of multi-criteria detection in supporting early detection and response.

Another important aspect in providing protection in environments where there are often large numbers of people in a single location is the ability of such devices to minimise the incidence of false alarms.

Here, multi-criteria devices are less prone to false alarms than their single sensor counterparts, as they are able to more accurately recognise several individual components of a fire – including heat, smoke, carbon monoxide and infrared sensing. This is because it is more difficult to falsify two criteria than one, three more than two, and so on.

Once a fire related incident has been identified, it is then critical to ensure that users, staff and spectators alike are able to respond quickly and correctly to a fire warning. In response, sophisticated and intuitive integrated voice alarm and public address (VA/PA) systems have evolved to form a key part of a comprehensive fire detection and alarm strategy for complex environments in which individuals will respond to warnings in different ways.

This benefits both building operators and fire fighters called to deal with any emergency, as they are easily able to take over the VA/PA system to broadcast individualised messages, in order to ensure rapid yet controlled evacuation from any part of the premises at risk. The bottom line therefore, is that fire safety solutions are available to meet the broadest demands of any sports facility within the constraints of today’s toughest budgets.

Knocking fire risk for six – the Rose Bowl experience
The development of an appropriate system for Hampshire County Cricket’s home ground provides a typical example of the need for a flexible fire safety response.

First class cricket in Hampshire has come a long way in just over a decade. Built in 2000 as the new county ground, Southampton’s Rose Bowl recently underwent a further £45m development as the club looked to reinforce its credentials as a major venue for international test cricket. As a result, in 2012 it will host one day internationals against both the West Indies and South Africa.

Ground capacity was increased to seat 25,000 spectators, with the addition of two new stands with hospitality boxes overlooking the ground and will also include a 175 bedroom, 4-star hotel. The Rose Bowl has also established itself as an important conference centre and has hosted big name pop concerts, featuring Oasis, The Who and Neil Diamond.

Fire safety at such a high profile, multi-purpose arena also had to be of the highest international standards. And here, the Notifier system met all the selection panel’s demands. Two networked fire panels provide fully integrated protection for the whole ground, including the planned hotel. An intelligent digital network solution ensures that complex Cause and Effect rules allow rapid and effective response to any fire related emergency.

Management of the fire safety system is made much easier for the ground staff thanks to an advanced graphics package, which offers a comprehensive view of the complete system in a simple, easy to read manner. In the event of an alarm, they can immediately pinpoint the exact location of the problem and take appropriate action.

This is supported by an integrated voice alarm and public address (PA/VA) system, which allows the cricket club to broadcast a wide range of different messages as well as controlling safe, phased evacuation.