Bulletin / Fire in the...

Fire in the Hole

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

This week Charlie discusses major incidents and the impact they can have on businesses and the local area.

‘Fire in the hole’ is a warning that an explosive detonation in a confined space is imminent. It originated with miners, who needed to warn their fellows that a charge had been set.

On the 1st of April 2015 in Holborn, London there was a fire in a hole which caused a major impact to the local area. It was not actually a fire in a hole but an electrical fire in a Victorian tunnel of which there are thousands in London. The fire was made more difficult to put out as the tunnel also contained an eight inch gas main which ruptured and fed the fire. Due to the difficulty of fighting the fire and the need to burn off the remaining gas in the pipe after the supply had been cut off, the fire took 36 hours to put out. Five thousand people had to be evacuated at the beginning of the incident and the whole area lost power and gas supply. Once the fire was put out there was still major disruption in the area as the services were being restored. There was also major evacuation works to repair the tunnel, which caused traffic chaos in the area. The area is only now getting back to normal. 

 This event has all the elements of a ‘typical’ business continuity incident.

  1. When I am training I always say the next incident is always the one you have not thought of. We don’t really expect an electrical fault in a major city to last beyond a few minutes or at least beyond a few hours. This one lasted for several days. We also don’t expect a denial of access to last for days rather than a few hours.
  2. Like the Germanwings plane crash which I discussed in a bulletin a couple of weeks ago, this event has happened before. In Manchester in 2004 there was a major fire in a BT tunnel which destroyed 130,000 business and residential phone lines, leaving companies without telephone lines, fax lines and access to their networks. Details of the incident can be found here. As more and more cables are routed through tunnels and often multiple utilities bundled together, it would seem that these incidents are going to be more likely. If this the case we should be preparing for them?
  3. I think this incident shows how complex incidents can be and how they
    may occur in the most difficult places to manage. This incident happened within a tunnel which, are very difficult to fight fires in, plus the fire involved an eight inch gas main. Is there within your organisation, in terms of location or time, a particular time when you do not want an incident to take place? Are your plans ready for this event?
  4. Around the same time as this incident there was a major heist
    taking place only half a mile away. Jewellery and other valuables up to a possible value of £200m were taken from safety deposit boxes in a vault. In various papers ‘experts’ started to connect the two events and accused those carrying out the heist of starting the fire to divert police attention from their activities. The police have said they have no information to suggest that the two incidents are connected, even if they’re not, they may be within public consciousness. When you have an incident, ‘experts’ or the media may connect your incident to a previous incident you have had or someone else has had. This compounds the effect of the incident on your organisation. Are your media or corporate communications staff ready and prepared to decouple the two incidents quickly before they become connected in the minds of the public?


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