Depending on the items stored, the inventory in any warehouse can far exceed the value of the warehouse so the many tasks for any facilities management (FM) must be to safeguard that stock, particularly against fire and theft, but how best to do it? The purview of any FM is tentacular but their headaches can be reduced by outsourcing some of the tasks, like security, to specialists, leaving management free to concentrate on fire and good housekeeping and maintenance issues.

Some FM headaches can be diminished when considering new builds, like ensuring proper thought to the quality of the building’s design and construction. Floors, for example, can be highly problematic, not only because of cleaning issues but also their impact on the running of materials handling equipment. The steelreinforced ‘jointless’ concrete slabs have far fewer joints than the more traditional sawn-induced joints every 6 mt and so that means far fewer crumbling joints and running repairs. Such large crumbling floor joints can also harbour pests that even scrubber/washer machines could not effectively handle. Fire walls, like floors, can also be prone to cost-saving methods, which could be false economy.

Fortunately, there is a trend towards composite, steel-faced firewalls with non-combustible mineral fibre cores and is fast replacing traditional block and stud products.

While some FM tasks can be outsourced others, like fire deterrence, are less suited, yet the fire risk can be conflated with the security risk, with the latter amenable to outsourcing. Arson, it should be remembered, is said to account for half of all warehouse fires, so a good security regime is essential and here is where a collaborative approach can make sense, a growing trend, believes Cordant Security.

Cordant believes that more retailers, manufacturers and logistics firms are taking a proactive approach to warehouse security, meaning that they are enlisting from outside specialists.

One of the advantages of outsourcing is that it gives better cost certainty and resilience of supply. Another is that it can leverage the experience of security professionals. This is valuable because such specialists know all the tricks that warehouse staff use to commit theft, which can be very costly, especially if warehouse managers are in on the theft caper. One warehouse manager in a sweet factory managed to purloin £0.5 million of sweets.

If not using on-site night security guards then CCTV and warning alarms directly connected to police and/or fire stations would be foolish to ignore, especially if there are no sprinkler systems. Fire losses from warehouses without sprinklers are estimated to run at about £230 million a year. Time is of the essence with fires. The sooner they are detected the better. In the age of drones in warehouses it should not be long before we have mobile robots stalking all the aisles at night equipped with all the sensors necessary to detect intruders, smoke and fire early on and alert the appropriate authorities. After all, external alarms and detectors can be disabled but coping with an autonomous robot would be a harder nut to crack.

In the unfortunate event of suffering a fire and needing some relief storage there are two options on the table. One is to find a third party logistics provider nearby offering a shared user contract. The other, if space is available, is to consider temporary warehouses of which there are several kinds, with the cheapest and quickest to install being the air domes. In an emergency situation following a fire, local authorities are likely to allow retrospective planning applications, so that avoids the typical 8-12 weeks to get planning permission.

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