Fire Safety for High-rise flats with flammable cladding: Waking watch vs Fire Alarm Systems

In this article, we explore how a Fire Detection & Alarm system is a more reliable and cost-effective method of early detection compared to a Waking Watch.

Flammable cladding in High-rise buildings is a widespread problem​​. If a building has dangerous cladding, then its fire strategy must be changed from Stay Put to Simultaneous Evacuation, meaning temporarily fire protection measures must be implemented, such as a Waking Watch or a Fire Detection & Alarm system.

If you’re looking for additional information on this topic, you can learn much more on our High-rise fire safety solutions website -

The Grenfell Tower tragedy has highlighted multiple issues with fire safety in High-rise residential blocks, with one of them being combustible cladding. When combustible materials are present in the cladding, it is no longer safe for the occupants to follow the “Stay Put” policy, which relies on each flat to contain any fire for at least one hour and ensures the residents are secure in their own apartments. 
In these circumstances, “Stay Put” must be temporarily replaced by a simultaneous evacuation strategy until the cladding issue is resolved. Interim fire safety measures must be put in place to change the fire strategy, with either a waking watch, the installation of a Fire Detection & Alarm system or a combination of both. Apollo has been working with local authority bodies and risk assessors to help you choose the correct fire detection solution for your building to ensure maximum protection for the residents.

We’ve also pulled the stats together into an easy to digest High Rise Safety infographic, to show you just how much the dangerous cladding situation is costing the UK government, building owners and residents

What is the EWS1 Form?

In December 2018, the government published Advice Note 14, which placed the responsibility on building owners to check for combustible material in the external walls for all buildings over 18m, and to then remove any if found. Until the building has completed the assessment and been deemed safe, all dwellings within the building are valued at £0, and can’t be sold. In December 2019, from collaborations between fire industry experts, mortgage and housing market trade bodies and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) the EWS1 form was introduced to help “create a standardised process that would make it easier for brokers and homeowners to find suitable mortgages”.
The EWS1 survey assesses the external walls of a building to search for combustible materials. If a building passes the assessment, no remedial works relating to cladding will be required and mortgage brokers can then value the properties within the building. If the assessment fails, it requires the removal of combustible cladding while introducing short term temporary measures such as a 24/7 ‘waking watch’ or a Fire Detection & Alarm system in accordance with National Fire Chiefs Council guidance (NFCC).

Waking Watch vs Addressable Fire System

waking watch is a surveillance system of patrolling trained fire marshals. Their responsibility is to alert residents in the case of a fire and assist with an evacuation. Although the measures can be introduced quickly, ongoing charges are applied for the duration of a service. The amount of time taken for remedial works to be completed can be upwards of three years depending on the scale of the work required, alongside other delays including the crippling impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the length of required remedial works is considered, installation of a fire detection & alarm system becomes a much more secure and cost-effective option. NFCC states its strong recommendation to use a fire detection system over waking watch for the same reasons. (NFCC Guidance notes from 01/05/18, paragraph 4.14.)
According to Inside Housing- 35 local authorities disclosed their total spending on waking watches to be £29.4m across 134 council blocks during a varying amount of time. Often, the costs for waking watch are passed onto the individual leaseholders, which according to Inside Housing averages at around £400 per tenant per year. Calculating from the data provided by their study, the average yearly cost per tower block is over £170,000.
Below is a comparison of waking watch costs vs a BS5839 Part 1 L5 system with heat detectors working as “cladding detectors” based on hybrid wireless/wired addressable system, using Apollo XPander® and Soteria® technology. The comparison is a real-world example of a building with a flammable cladding, where a waking watch is being significantly reduced by using a fire detection system. The building has 110 flats and the annual cost of the waking watch is currently £120,000, as well as accommodation for the fire marshals.

Number of flats in the building 110
Number of years for remedial work to be completed 3-5


  Waking watch Apollo XPander system
Cost of 1st year/installation £120,000 +accommodation for fire marshals £150,000
Recurring cost £120,000 + accommodation for fire marshals /year ~£1500 annual maintenance
Total cost over 3-5 years £360,000 - £600,000 £153,000 - £156,000
Total cost saving of Apollo system over 3-5 years £207,000 - £444,000


Choosing the correct solution

Fire detection systems can be versatile, and a number of different systems can be suitable depending on the building.
The NFCC guidance recommends:

  • A BS 5839 part 1 for a category L5 system
  • A heat detector should be placed within each room that has a window that overlooks an area of external wall
  • Installation of a fire system does not further damage the compartmentation of the building
  • Provisions of systems for hearing impaired residents (VADs)

In the case of retrofitting a fire system into an existing building, the use of a wireless fire system can reduce installation costs dramatically, not damage the compartmentation of the building, as well as the required intrusion into each dwelling. Apollo’s XPander® range meets and exceeds the functionality recommended by the NFCC
All Apollo addressable products are backwards compatible, meaning it is possible to add new devices seamlessly to any existing system. If an Apollo wired communal fire system is already installed in a high-rise building, additional wireless detectors can be added within each dwelling to create a suitable system for simultaneous evacuation.
Once the remedial works are complete, fire detection & alarm system can be adapted and reconfigured to supplement the Stay Put policy which maximises fire safety for the residents.
Another option is to adapt the fire detection system into an evacuation alert system compliant with British Standard 8629:2019, to be used by the Fire and Rescue Services to advise residents how to evacuate in the case of a fire.

Deciding what to do next?

Addressable fire systems provide superior fire safety whilst being far more cost effective than a Waking Watch. Apollo can help you choose the correct fire detection & alarm solution for your building by explaining the differences between each system type, to ensure you are well informed to be able to offer the  maximum protection for the residents. Simply submit the form below or visit our dedicated microsite: 

Would you like to receive updates from us?
An error has occurred while getting captcha image