Grenfell Tower fire
June 14, 2017 2:19 AM   Subscribe

There has been a major fire at a residential tower block in London. As news outlets report casualties, it has emerged that residents have been warning the local authority about fire safety risks for several years.
posted by Catseye (449 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dying in a building fire is maybe one of my top fears. When I was in second or third grade, some firefighters came to my school to educate us about fire safety, but all I took away from their presentation was that without obsessive planning and preparation, I and my family were basically living on borrowed time. Cue me making and maintaining a fire escape kit for YEARS to come, with a bonus side serving of house fire nightmares that didn't really stop until I was in high school.

I'm going to go check the smoke detectors.
posted by wakannai at 2:24 AM on June 14 [28 favorites]




There's been remarks from tower block dwellers about how they can't have a building-wide fire alarm system because "neds" (their words, not mine) set them off.

I can believe that, but are there no system designs that can overcome deliberate false alarms?
posted by tel3path at 2:27 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I can't see a tower block without thinking about fire. And the building's residents have been warning that the place was a firetrap for a long time. It's just heartbreaking, if not surprising, they weren't taken seriously.
posted by skybluepink at 2:28 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:33 AM on June 14


.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:35 AM on June 14


The sheer politics of this - evident even at this point - is such that I worry it might obscure the human tragedy (for me). It's clear even now that the number of victims will dwarf those of the recent terrorist attacks. It immediately brings to mind Ronan Point (another disaster born of terrible, avoidable construction failure), of course, but also the long string of disasters of the late 1980s (such as King's Cross or Hillsborough or the Bradford stadium fire), which similarly came down to administrative complacency and contempt for those in their purview.

Heads need to roll for this. I don't mean that entirely metaphorically.
posted by Grangousier at 2:37 AM on June 14 [59 favorites]


tel3path: I guess you could have a central manually activated system?

My supposition at this point is that safety case for the building ran something like: the structure of the building is concrete & therefore any fire in a flat can be contained to that flat (or at least that floor). The main staircase is concrete and free of flammable material and the flats have fire doors. Therefore the best advice is for people to stay in their flats until the fire service has a fire under control. There will be more deaths and injuries from people panicking and inhaling smoke whilst evacuating themselves if everyone tries to leave the building.

Unfortunately, this safety case falls apart if you clad your building in flammable material (it may be fire resistant, but it’s still flammable if it gets hot enough) & so a fire that escapes a flat to the outside can travel up the entire building very quickly.

I’ve seen eyewitness reports that the fire service was still telling people to stay inside their flats as they were going in, which seems insane given that the fire had completely engulfed one side of the building. It sounds as if all the emergency services were sticking to their pre-agreed script, but events had already made that script obsolete.
posted by pharm at 2:39 AM on June 14 [27 favorites]


Dawn Foster on the Guardian liveblog is reporting that Rydon, the company who carried out the recent refurbishment (including the cladding), have now removed all mentions of it from their website.
posted by Catseye at 2:44 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


This is apparently the type of rain cladding added in the recent £10m refurb (along with converting the bottom 4 floors to new accomodation but apparently no installation of a building-wide fire alarm system).

Dawn Foster on the Guardian liveblog is reporting that Rydon, the company who carried out the recent refurbishment (including the cladding), have now removed all mentions of it from their website.


I heard that but they appear to have put it up again.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:49 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


My heart goes out to all those whose lives have been devastated by this horrible event, from those who are mourning for or looking for family members to those injured to those who have simply lost everything in the middle of the night. And bravo to the fire and ambulance services and the hospitals who are serving the community. And also bravo for all those who are helping those affected.

Truly horrible event. Truly truly horrible.
posted by hippybear at 2:55 AM on June 14 [8 favorites]


On the offchance anyone reads this in central London and has any supplies or clothes they want to take over, I can probably take a bag or two more over tonight to one of the places taking donations, and am currently in the vicinity of Euston.
posted by edd at 2:56 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Guardian is reporting that 4-600 people live in that building. This could be very, very bad.

I think I’m going to step away from the computer for a bit and take a walk in the sun, because this is too overwhelming. Those poor people.
posted by pharm at 3:01 AM on June 14 [28 favorites]


pharm, me too. It's just sickening.
posted by rubbish bin night at 3:02 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Twitter user @JustinHemming identified the relevant planning archive at Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council, including this overview summary floor plan (PDF).

A 24-storey residential building, occupied by 5-600 people, with a single central stairwell as the sole means of fire escape. I suspect, as pointed out above, that there was a safety case that justified this, but it seems apparent either that the safety case was flawed or the conversion was not in accordance with it.
posted by Major Clanger at 3:08 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Even if there isn't a central system; there should be floor wide and fire detectors in each unit that go off individually. Hearing nothing is absolutely astonishing .

And there is such a thing as a silent trip where it sets off a panel and notifies the department but not the whole building on modern systems so hooligans who set off something don't evacuate the entire thing, or a fault in the system whatever.

There are failures on multiple levels, I'm just so so so heartbroken.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:08 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


This makes me livid. There have been complaints about that building for years and nothing was done about it.

When we have terrorists kill a few people, we're ready to put armed guards on the streets. When there are even higher death tolls like this, one property developer will probably get scape-goated as a bad guy along with some vandal kids who tampered with the fire systems (see, its their fault) but the system will not reform. Probably also some excuse about there not being enough money to implement proper fire safety inspections.

Its great that now everyone wants to throw blankets and tears at the problem, but I hope the momentum continues to ensure that this does not happen again.
posted by vacapinta at 3:08 AM on June 14 [66 favorites]


Building not in danger of collapse according to the Guardian, although cladding is still falling off so fire crews are using riot shields to protect themselves. There's also a picture of a resident being brought out, it's in daylight so it must have been this morning. Hope for some survivors on the lower floors maybe.

It's beginning to look like whatever the previous fire safety assessment, it all went out the window when they clad the entire building in something very flammable.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:10 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Fire crews still in the building, searching floor by floor (Sky was reporting that they were at the 19th floor an hour or so ago). Also reports that they rescued "a large number of people" early on, including people trapped on upper floors. I'm not sure of the further detail on that since it's always so confusing and garbled during a major incident like this but we can hope.

I know it's a cliche to say something vague about the bravery of our emergency services at this point, but these people truly are heroes.
posted by Catseye at 3:12 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


This is awful.

I (desperately, perhaps foolishly) hope that this event is not used to justify further destruction of what social housing there is. Tower blocks are imperfect in many ways, but can be made to work within their communities with the right mix of funding and with people who understand the power and promise of dense living at the helm, including the residents. Let's hope that whatever investigation comes from this leads to safer housing for all.
posted by mdonley at 3:12 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


As an American who is fairly familiar with lower income housing and fire code in a large metropolitan area, I think about safety features that I take for granted (what, only one stairwell? Americans attach stairwells to the outside of very old buildings for additional fire escapes). No fire sprinklers? No fire alarms? Not even battery powered ones? Landlords here have to install those things everywhere if there isn't a central system. Our codes require some fire code improvements during remodeling(may depend on district and code).

Like we are very serious about these things. I can think of buildings built over easily 100 years ago with sprinklers and fire panels just off hand.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:19 AM on June 14 [20 favorites]


Six people confirmed dead, number expected to rise.

This was preventable and foreseeable (and foreseen!). We're one of the richest countries in the world - this should not have happened, and this should never happen again.
posted by Catseye at 3:20 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


No fire alarms? Not even battery powered ones?

Residents had personal smoke alarms apparently - people report hearing their neighbours' alarms but ignoring it (they're more often set off by cooking than anything else).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:22 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Government knew the danger of fire, "sat on" report. Theresa May's new Chief of Staff was the minister in charge.
posted by skybluepink at 3:24 AM on June 14 [27 favorites]


AlexiaSky, it's not so much that there aren't fire regulations but that recent refurbishment work was done in a way that let the fire spread anyway. The principle of constructing buildings so that fires stay isolated within flats is not a bad one in and of itself, but when you do that and then clad the outside of buildings in something flammable - well. This happens.
posted by Catseye at 3:26 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


And let's not forget cuts to the fire service. Fewer firefighters than five years ago, plus fire services with less ability to do prevention and contingency planning work. Slow clap, austerity, slow clap.
posted by Catseye at 3:27 AM on June 14 [27 favorites]


The Guardian liveblog makes unbearable reading/viewing.

Baby caught after being thrown from window.

Interview clip from Channel 4 news.
posted by rory at 3:31 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


The fire service in the UK also do non-crisis stuff like coming round to check your fire alarms are working. As with the police response to the terrorist attack in London Bridge vs having enough police to keep tabs on potential threats, it's not necessarily the crisis response that's the issue, it's the everyday stuff that could prevent the crises in the first place that's being gradually underfunded and chipped away.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 3:38 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


The Guardian has pointed out that there's been a 25% drop in fire prevention visits in the last five years, and that last year reversed the downward trend in fire-related deaths, with an increase of 15% over the previous year.
posted by daveje at 3:38 AM on June 14 [16 favorites]


(That was a response to a comment that's been removed! Still true though.)
posted by theseldomseenkid at 3:39 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Just a few hours ago, I read at the Damn Interesting site a new article about the 1980 fire at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas. Some frighteningly fascinating stuff there, including a couple parallels to Grenfell Tower - it seems even deluxe accommodations aren't immune from neglect of fire safety if it'll save a few bucks. Most frightening factoid: even though the flames didn't go above the main floor (including in the casino where it literally exploded), a majority of the fatalities are on upper floors where the smoke suffocated them.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:41 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


[One deleted. Please don't argue something that wasn't said (or omit info to frame it as though the commenter was asserting something different/more limited than what they actually said).]
posted by taz at 3:41 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I can't see a tower block without thinking about fire.

Having lived on Hong Kong island and Kowloon, which are pretty much nothing but high-rise office blocks and residential buildings, "fire" is not the first thing that comes to my mind. Fires do happen, but are generally self-contained. Jumpers, on the other hand... Who wants to be that unsuspecting passer-by below? Jumpers don't happen often, but they do happen. So when I see one of the thousands of tower blocks that make up this city, that's what I think of.

That said, tower blocks can and do work.

.
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:42 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


In this building which is fairly modern construction (1970s) there

Was not a centralized fire panel or alarm systems
No fire sprinkler systems
And Only one main stair exit

Which for a building built in the 1970s is bad design and simply to cut costs.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:44 AM on June 14 [19 favorites]


Residents had personal smoke alarms apparently - people report hearing their neighbours' alarms but ignoring it (they're more often set off by cooking than anything else).

2017 and still false positives from cooking.

Even people who don't live in apartment buildings will mostly ignore an alarm, considering them annoying instead of alerting.
posted by filtergik at 3:44 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


I would tend to think of the UK as being a country where, broadly speaking, infrastructure and building (safety) standards are a match for any other country's, which is why this is all the more shocking. The single fire escape is a surprise to me: all the high rise buildings I used as a student had a separate fire escape stair. Sprinklers are required for new builds, but not for retrofitting (IIRC, this is a mid 1970s block). Fire death rates in the UK tend to be low, but apparently have been rising. Infrastructure matters, and we do need to remember that.
posted by ambrosen at 3:46 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Yes, I am not claiming that high rise buildings are intrinsically unsafe, I am just saying that being caught in one during a fire is a terrifying idea.
posted by skybluepink at 3:50 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


As an American who is fairly familiar with lower income housing and fire code in a large metropolitan area, I think about safety features that I take for granted...

Honestly? I don't think telling us how American standards are obviously higher is helpful.

I've lived in an apartment building in the US that caught fire in the wee hours of the morning. The alarm did go off, but woke no one. My mom woke up when the fire engines arrived. This was a pretty measly fire in the electric room that didn't spread. It's pretty easy to imagine a different scenario had there been a ton of smoke in a building with many elderly residents.
posted by hoyland at 3:54 AM on June 14 [17 favorites]


Back from walk.

Obviously this is completely premature, but it looks like the building was safe(ish) before they clad it in flammable insulation that somehow didn’t receive the relevant fire remediation treatment (or if it did it was ineffective). The net result turned the entire building into a candle that burnt from the outside in.

A sprinkler system might have prevented the original source of the fire from spreading, but once the insulation was on fire no sprinkler system would have saved that building. An external fire escape is also useless if the /outside/ of your building is on fire.
posted by pharm at 3:55 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


From a former resident: "When I lived there we’d had a few fires over the year – nothing on a large scale but the fire alarms did not work properly. If you were in your flat with the telly off you wouldn’t have heard anything. It was so quiet."

From a building management board meeting last November: “further progress has been made with the installation programme of hard-wired automatic smoke alarms in tenanted dwellings.”
(both via Guardian)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:56 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


My wording could have been better; I apologize and should focus on sending more support and less comparatives at this time
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:58 AM on June 14 [11 favorites]


According to the Guardian live blog, the company that actually put up the cladding went into administration immediately after the refurbishment. Of course.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:08 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Fucking bloody hell that looks like a nightmare to go through. Sounds like a lot of the residents are immigrant families (and Muslim, at what should be a joyous time of year for them). I'm sure their needs will be enormous. I look forward to being able to contribute something soon.

But flammable cladding on a high rise tower? Wait what?
posted by spitbull at 4:08 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


It’s probably a PIR foam insulation internally. It doesn’t burn easily, but like any organic material if you get it hot enough...well you can see the results.

Worse, if I read the specs correctly for this kind of weather proofing, you have to leave a gap behind the insulation to allow airflow to dry the cladding, otherwise it rots & falls off. This gap creates a perfect chimney for combustible gases to travel up inside the cladding, which is clearly a massive fire risk. The building regulations say that you’re *supposed* to put intumescent material inside which will expand when it gets hot & block the flow of smoke / gases. Either that didn’t work, or it wasn’t done properly.

Either way, it looks like the idea that we can upgrade old concrete buildings by slapping a bunch of insulation round the outside is going to have to be re-visited, because this outcome should never, ever have happened. The entire safety case for tall residential buildings like this one revolves around this kind of fire never happening.
posted by pharm at 4:23 AM on June 14 [31 favorites]


The Guardian is reporting that this kind of insulation is no longer allowed on the outside of buildings > 18m tall however - the rain cladding is supposed to be just aluminium honeycomb.
posted by pharm at 4:26 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


This update from an architect contradicts the idea that the cladding was highly flammable.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:26 AM on June 14


This is horrible. I have friends who used to live on the 19th floor of a nearby block, and they were always worried about fire. I couldn't understand how fast and hard it caught, but I suppose the inflammable cladding would explain that, although what the hell explains the cladding?
posted by Fuchsoid at 4:28 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Public statement from Rydon, the contractor which carried out a major refurbishment of Grenfell Tower last year:

We are shocked to hear of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower and our immediate thoughts are with those that have been affected by the incident, their families, relatives and friends.

Rydon completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the Council, which met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards. We will cooperate with the relevant authorities and emergency services and fully support their enquiries into the causes of this fire at the appropriate time.

Given the ongoing nature of the incident and the tragic events overnight, it would be inappropriate for us to speculate or comment further at this stage.


That of course still leaves open many questions, including whether those standards and regulations are adequate. I have seen a huge amount of refurbishment work on high-rise buildings in London and other UK cities, often involving the addition of external insulation. If there are flaws in this, a lot of buildings could well turn out to be at worse risk than expected.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:29 AM on June 14


But flammable cladding on a high rise tower? Wait what?

Well, hindsight is 20/20. Let's not play the "blame game"!
posted by thelonius at 4:30 AM on June 14


Even people who don't live in apartment buildings will mostly ignore an alarm, considering them annoying instead of alerting.

True story: I lived in a small apartment with no kitchen ventilation, and my fire alarms were constantly going off when I cooked. It was annoying as fuck and sometimes I wanted to just disable them.

One night I heard my neighbor's fire alarm going off, and assumed it was the same thing. But generally, people who set of their fire alarms when they're cooking turn them off as soon as possible. They aren't just like, "oh, I love that melodious sound." Hers kept going off.

I went out to the hall and there was a very faint odor of smoke. I knocked on her door and there was no response except from her small, yappy dog. So, figuring better safe than sorry, I called the fire department. I wasn't sure it was serious - but they were, because honestly:

(a) fire alarm
(b) smoke
(c) no one responding in the apartment

It turns out my neighbor had passed out while cooking something. She was disoriented when they escorted her out and calling for her dog. Luckily everyone was fine, and there was no major fire - but if the fire department hadn't arrived, I don't know. These alarms aren't perfect but they're not useless.

This is to say - even though there are a lot of false positives, you should still pay attention. I wouldn't call the fire department every time a fire alarm goes off, but it's really, really worth it to take a moment and assess.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:32 AM on June 14 [49 favorites]


One of the places collecting donations has set up an Amazon wish list.

Local people can take donated clothes, toiletries, toys to one of these places:

St Clement's Church.
95 Sirdar Road,
London,
W11 4EQ

RUGBY PORTBELLO TRUST
221 Walmer Road,
W11 4EY

TABERNACLE CHRISTIAN CENTRE
Jubilee House,
210 Latimer Road,
W10 6QY

Al-Manaar Mosque and Centre
244 Acklam Road
W10 5YG
posted by ellieBOA at 4:34 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


I would tend to think of the UK as being a country where, broadly speaking, infrastructure and building (safety) standards are a match for any other country's,

Living in the UK, having moved here from Hong Kong, and being from Denmark, this is so far from true I don't even know where to begin. I was shocked at the shoddiness of every single building when I first moved here. Like, the general standards are atrocious, but even the expensive nice buildings are just... badly put together. Hong Kong compares favourably. There is no comparison to somewhere like Denmark or Germany. By northern European standards, British houses and buildings are absolute rubbish.
posted by Dysk at 4:35 AM on June 14 [53 favorites]


A lot of those places are basically at capacity with donations. See here for example.
posted by edd at 4:36 AM on June 14


To follow up on that - it adds
Notting Hill Community Church,
Kensington Park Road,
W11 2ES

Westway Sports Centre,
1 Crowthorne Road,
W10 6RP

and says St Clements and Rugby Portello are overwhelmed in a good way.
posted by edd at 4:39 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Dysk, I think safety standards in managed buildings are generally good. Quality for occupants is very poor, as you rightly point out.
posted by ambrosen at 4:45 AM on June 14


It's not just quality for occupants, it's quality and maintenance standards across the board, extending very much to electrics (often the cause of fires), general fire safety (Grenfell itself had a history of unchecked and expired fire extinguishers) and to a lesser extent, gas. Large buildings with malfunctioning alarm systems is practically bread and butter - I worked in a newly built big four supermarket a few years back (and by newly built, I mean it was built less than five years ago) where ignoring the fire alarm was routine, because of how often it went off. This fazed nobody, staff or customers alike. And it chimes with my general experience, though that particular example stands out for being in a brand new build.
posted by Dysk at 4:56 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


This is tragic. Keeping those affected in my thoughts & heart. I can't imagine the fear & cleanup of putting your life back together after something like that.

We are in a multi unit building, but are on the first floor, about 6' off the ground outside our windows. We took our screens out in one bay of our windows so we could get out that way if anything kept us from exiting via the main corridor.

The fire marshals inspect yearly, check our fire extinguishers in the halls and for blocked passages or dubious storage. It's a sprinklered building also. They also test the alarm system which is LOUD.

We do have false alarms when dust sets off the sensors, but the fire department comes each time and walks the building to make sure there's no danger. We get a $500 fee from the city each time it happens (maybe 1 or 2 times a year), but I'd rather get dinged with that than the alternative.

We were also about 1/4 mile from a major fire of an apartment building under construction a few months ago here. Miraculously, no one died. The high rise condo building across the street from it is uninhabitable for the next year because of heat damage to window systems and smoke damage.

Be safe out there people.
posted by yoga at 4:59 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


We had fire safety training from Dublin Fire Brigade in work last year - it covered fire risks everywhere, not just in our office. They showed footage of cooker fires, Christmas tree fires, couches etc. It was seriously harrowing, especially the amount of smoke that gets generated and the speed it all happens. One thing they emphasised was that anything can burn, if it's hot enough.

During the boom years in Ireland a huge number of sub-standard apartment blocks were constructed as cheaply and as quickly as possible and the 'self-regulation' (i.e. no regulation) of architects resulted in some completely unsafe buildings being built. Most notoriously, Priory Hall, a complex built by a former IRA hunger striker, was closed as a fire hazard, which resulted in 300 people being forced out of their homes.

My apartment block, also built during the boom, had a fire a few weeks ago, but there was no damage beyond a smell of smoke, even though the apartment in question was completely destroyed. It definitely gave me a fright though and had me thinking about escape routes. I'm only on the first floor at least (that's the second floor for Americans) with a big balcony and a soft landing on grass. Hopefully it never comes to that.
posted by kersplunk at 5:08 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Last year Labour tried to put in an amendment to a housing bill that would have made landlords responsible for ensuring properties were fit for human habitation. It was voted down. It seems that 72 who voted against it were themselves landlords.

Also noting that it's Ramadan - there was at least a couple of passes-by interviewed who were only out and about that late because it was Ramadan and they'd gone out for a meal after sunset. I wonder if there may have been more people up and about, and able to pass on warnings about the fire, because of this?
posted by Vortisaur at 5:11 AM on June 14 [29 favorites]


This is a smaller but eerily similar incident in Melbourne. The result of that was a $15m bill for the builder, (I believe) a deregistered building surveyor (our equivalent of building inspectors), and a reasonably serious industry wide shakeup that I'm fairly familiar with - and no one was killed. I'll keep my speculation as to precisely what has gone so wrong to myself but I have a strong suspicion that there may be people in jail before this one is finished.

I don't think this will be scapegoated away, cowboy builders notwithstanding, the industry takes to stuff seriously and no one who works with buildings is about to forget what they saw today anytime soon. The effects of this fire will be felt in the building industry all around the world, I suspect.

But even as someone who deals with building compliance for a living my first thought is for the people whose home this was. This is awful.

.
posted by deadwax at 5:11 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


I don't get it with alarms that routinely go off from cooking. Downstairs I have a knocked-through living room and dining room, connected to a kitchen by a door that's always open.

In the kitchen is a heat alarm, the only kind you're supposed to have in a kitchen. It does not go off from cooking.

In the living (front) room is an optical alarm which sometimes does go off from cooking, when something is giving off hella smoke.

In the dining (between) room is whatever the third type of alarm is. It does not go off from cooking.

There is another alarm on the ground floor hallway, behind the living room door which is kept closed. It also doesn't go off from cooking.

I test these alarms several times a month, they're all operational. We do not have false alarms. Only when the battery is dead or, as happened recently, when a 10-year-old alarm is on its last legs and needs replacing. Which I did in short order with a new heat alarm, a fresh battery and some Velcro to stick it to the ceiling.

I just do not get why false alarms are such a huge problem for everyone else all the time. Is it because other people's alarms are on an electrical circuit and mine are all separate and battery powered?
posted by tel3path at 5:13 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


My experience is that UK building & facilities management teams normally run a tighter ship than the pretty low standards set by the rest of UK organisational culture, but I guess that's not universal, as you point out, Dysk.

I guess my agenda in saying "but actually standards do exist and are normally followed" is that so much public dialogue fails to address the fact that modern industrial society is both pretty effective at keeping people safe and also has complex processes for doing so which are opaque until explained. Especially in the UK, we suffer from a lot of dismissiveness around organisational complexity, and I feel like an important part of helping people to appreciate the infrastructure that is a usual part of safety is saying "here are the systems that should've worked; here is where what should've been defence in depth failed".
posted by ambrosen at 5:20 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Tel3path, despite your assertion that you do not have false alarms, you do mention you have an alarm that sometimes goes off from cooking.
posted by ryanrs at 5:21 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


tel3path: It’s probably because people are leaving kitchen doors open & setting off the smoke alarms in the rest of the property. Done that myself a few times - our smoke alarms are sensitive enough that they go off even without any visible smoke if you burn anything in the kitchen & the door is open.
posted by pharm at 5:22 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


I don't think this will be scapegoated away, cowboy builders notwithstanding, the industry takes to stuff seriously and no one who works with buildings is about to forget what they saw today anytime soon. The effects of this fire will be felt in the building industry all around the world, I suspect.

The Lakanal House fire where 6 people died, happened in 2009. The Coroner's Report pointed at the exterior cladding and insufficient risk assessments. The report which has been sat on by Tories for four years, referenced upthread, was a direct result.

Austerity is an ideology which puts people at risk. And now, those who have survived this tragedy also have to worry about where they will get rehomed.

.
posted by threetwentytwo at 5:25 AM on June 14 [22 favorites]


It's also dryers putting dust in the air, dust from renovators, strange faults, all kinds. In my apartment block of 30 we probably have a couple of false alarms a month, which are bloody loud. Thankfully we are small enough that the fire brigade does not get called automatically, which is something like $3k a truck for a false alarm.

And yes we have heat only alarms in the kitchens.
posted by deadwax at 5:29 AM on June 14


"Tel3path, despite your assertion that you do not have false alarms, you do mention you have an alarm that sometimes goes off from cooking."

Yes, but like I said, only when cooking produces a tremendous amount of smoke.

In that case, going off is what you would want a smoke alarm to do. You wouldn't want it sitting there making judgement calls like "oh I won't bother, it's only a *small* fire".

Cooking doesn't produce loads of smoke in the normal course of events in my house, and I'm guessing not in other people's either.
posted by tel3path at 5:30 AM on June 14


Is it because other people's alarms are on an electrical circuit and mine are all separate and battery powered?

Particularly in many older buildings, yes. There was a sustained fire alarm in my former-townhouse-now-tiny-flats building last year because of a water leak shorting the electrics. We (the residents) all eventually gathered outside because the noise was physically painful. There was no response of any kind from anyone (including the fire station literally across the road, who could not have avoided hearing) until the landlord had been phoned a few times and eventually turned up, disabled the alarm system, and we all went back to bed. For all I know, it's still disabled.
posted by Dysk at 5:33 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Also noting that it's Ramadan - there was at least a couple of passes-by interviewed who were only out and about that late because it was Ramadan and they'd gone out for a meal after sunset. I wonder if there may have been more people up and about, and able to pass on warnings about the fire, because of this?

There were certainly more people up and able to take people in to their homes from what I've heard.
posted by edd at 5:33 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


No, tel3path, but average "not very often" over a large group of households and maybe accept the experience of those who say it happens.
posted by deadwax at 5:35 AM on June 14 [8 favorites]


[Getting way off into the weeds here, arguing about individual experience of false alarms, etc. Let's please re-rail, and keep in mind that this is a tragic event, not really a general chatty thread.]
posted by taz at 5:41 AM on June 14 [30 favorites]


In our commitment to be the first Government to reduce regulation, we have introduced the one in, two out rule for regulation, which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned. [...]

There are always calls for Government to change building regulations, and that is often the default position of those who see regulation as an easy answer. As Members have noted today, however, it is not the only answer. We should intervene only if it is entirely necessary, and only as a last resort. As many Members have said, the core aim of today’s debate was not to call for regulation but to highlight fire sprinkler week. Although we have not carried out a fundamental review of building regulations for fire safety, we recognise that it is important to maintain and update standards [...]

We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.

Brandon Lewis, Tory Minister, 2014.
posted by threetwentytwo at 5:48 AM on June 14 [18 favorites]


.
What a terrible tragedy.

Every time a politician wants to limit regulations and restrictions on construction, think of this.
posted by mumimor at 5:52 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Last year Labour tried to put in an amendment to a housing bill that would have made landlords responsible for ensuring properties were fit for human habitation. It was voted down. It seems that 72 who voted against it were themselves landlords.

I hope every single person who voted against this is made to go on live tv and explain to us all why.
posted by dng at 5:53 AM on June 14 [21 favorites]


What a very distressing event. As someone who spent a few years living with my then newborn daughter on the 18th floor of an extremely similar block of flats in north London a few years ago it feels all too real. The block had 2 lifts, one of which was invariably continuously out of action. Occasionally both lifts were out of order and I have a memory of having to carry my newborn daughter on my shoulder up 18 floors via the narrow internal staircase/fire escape and then run down in the hope the pram had not been stolen in the intervening period from the ground floor.

The flats were originally built in 1967 but were similarly 'retrofitted' with external cladding - this was deemed far cheaper than demolishing the building and putting in its place something modern with all of the requisite modern fire systems. And of course money talks. The point is - the illusion of modernity (driven where I lived by pressure from local residents to do with a perceived 'drag' on their own property prices due to the ageing aesthetics of the block) lead to this cladding work that made it more 'in fitting' with the environment. It did nothing to make the interiors of the flats any better. I would hate to think that the same motivations were behind this work but suspect otherwise.
posted by numberstation at 6:03 AM on June 14 [22 favorites]


I hope every single person who voted against this is made to go on live tv and explain to us all why.

You'd think that people making money out of housing would not dare say outright "because that would cut into our profits", and yet!

I am reminded of when student/HMO housing regulations got massively tightened up here in Scotland, after a fire that killed several people trapped in dangerously substandard accommodation. That was private sector rather than local authority housing of course but it seems fucking awful if we have to hit the same point again, of actual deaths before someone goes "well hmm maybe we should be doing this a bit better."

(And I know that we have no information yet on why this fire was so bad, what regulations were or weren't followed or were insufficient or whatever. But it seems clear that fires like this one just shouldn't ever happen.)
posted by Catseye at 6:11 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


The housing minister is new so I guess will not be held responsible. The old one was handed his coat last week, by the electorate of Croydon Central. Luckily, he found a new job very quickly - he is now the Downing Street Chief of Staff, replacing the two gobshites that the tories decided to pin the blame for their election losses on.
posted by biffa at 6:24 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


This is an Austerity Disaster. Cut costs to maximise profits.
If there's another election to resolve the hung parliament, I hope it finally kicks the tories out.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 6:49 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


High rises, man. I might have told this story before, but Los Angeles has a pretty tough fire code. One of the requirements is that all new employees in every building of a certain height have to attend a fire safety orientation run by the fire department. Our instructor asked for a show of hands of people who've never worked in a high-rise before. Some hands went up...

"Welcome to your death trap."
posted by hwyengr at 6:49 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


One would expect that we will find that the exterior walling itself is not what we would think of as combustible. Having said that, most materials in intense fires can ultimately can show some degree of burning. Even when we think of material as of limited combustibility, in certain extreme situations, it can still burn.

I once worked for a small computer peripherals manufacturer that eventually grew enough that the proprietors thought they should hire a marketing guy.

This guy came with a few projects he'd already taken on before joining us. One of them was Tyvek Housewrap.

Tyvek is a high-strength sheet made from bonded randomly-oriented high-density spun polyethylene strand. It's cheap as hell to make, super easy to handle, comes in very wide sheets, is ever so slightly porous so it doesn't cause a buildup of moisture, and makes a very effective air leakage barrier that doesn't rot and won't tear even if the building settles and shifts enough to crack plaster. Entirely wrapping a timber frame in this sheet before adding the external cladding makes the typical insulation fluff that goes between the studs work quite a bit more effectively, as well as creating a tent that allows work to begin on the interior before the external walls are anywhere near finished. It's pretty good stuff; takes under five years to pay for itself in reduced heating and cooling costs.

Except it's made of polyethylene. And as any junior firebug who has ever played with lighting up plastic supermarket bags knows, polyethylene film is fairly hard to get burning but once it is burning it has this habit of dropping screeching little balls of fire that do quite a good job of lighting off whatever they land on.

So I raised concerns about this. And the new marketing guy just didn't want to know. He had no qualms at all about pushing as hard as he could to sell this stuff to as many builders as he could find because it "met all the relevant fire resistance standards".

So I got one of the samples, took it out the back of our factory, lit up one corner with a cigarette lighter, and watched it drop screeching little balls of fire that did quite a good job of lighting off the dry grass back there.

Ever since then I've looked askance at any claim of fire resistance in any polymer-based building product - of which there are, in my opinion, far too many. I think there are probably lots of people selling this kind of thing who just don't want to know.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 AM on June 14 [48 favorites]


I'd ask that people just try to be a bit more sensitive in this thread. I know it's on the other side of the world to many of you, but things like this always do not harder when it's closer to home.

That's not a judgement or a criticism of anyone in particular, but I'm finding it hard not to cry at work, right now, and sometimes maybe we're all, including me, a bit too keen to race off into analysis while a tragedy is still unfolding.
posted by howfar at 6:54 AM on June 14 [34 favorites]


howfar: I woke up at 4AM to that outside my window (I'm on the 8th floor). I sincerely hope you were no closer, or more intimately involved. If you were, my deepest condolences.
posted by Leon at 6:57 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


I was just reading the eyewitness accounts in the Guardian and they are harrowing. It's hard to imagine, given what's described there. that there won't be a large number of casualties. It's very disturbing and heartbreaking.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:07 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


A couple of places that are taking donations:
Muslim Aid (select West London Fire):
https://www.muslimaid.org/donate/
and the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund:
http://www.dispossessedfund.org.uk/emergency-appeal---grenfell-fire.aspx
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:07 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Thank you. I am immensely grateful to be able to say it's not personal. I guess it's just a perfect storm of things that I spend a lot of time worrying about for various reasons, so it's hit me harder than I would expect.

I'm sorry you have had to come face to face with it.

I know tragedies aren't any greater because they hit us where we hurt. But it doesn't make them hurt any less when that happens.
posted by howfar at 7:08 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I’m just not reading the eyewitness accounts. Too harrowing. Modern social media throws all this stuff in our faces & we’re not really equipped to cope with it.

howfar: if I was honest, I would probably admit that analysis is my coping strategy: I’ll try and keep a lid on it though.
posted by pharm at 7:10 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


This is awful.

As of three hours ago:
74 people injured and being treated in local hospitals. 6 dead. 20 in critical condition.
Hundreds of firefighters are at the scene.
It's been reported that some fire safety measures were scheduled to be disabled in 2016 during the refurbishment. It's not yet known whether they were re-enabled. The tower apparently (as noted above) did not have an integrated fire system with sprinklers.
Between 500 and 600 people will need to find new homes.

Buzzfeed: Here’s How To Donate Online To Help People Who Have Lost Their Homes In The Grenfell Tower Fire. Several crowdfunding pages and an Amazon wish list of emergency supplies have been set up following the devastating fire in west London.
posted by zarq at 7:14 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


I was in an apartment building with a fire once, when I was in college. It was not a large block tower like this; it was a typical large wood frame house that had been split into many smaller apartments.

Let me tell you this - if you have never been in a house fire, you cannot imagine how terrifying it is and how fast everything goes up. It had only been minutes after the fire started and I went up the stairs only to be turned back by the thickest, blackest smoke I had ever seen. It was pitch black and already filled the apartment to within inches of the floor and was really, truly terrifying.

In my case everyone got out fine and the fire department and some friends with buckets of water saved the building. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this.
posted by misskaz at 7:21 AM on June 14 [11 favorites]


Just horrific....

Boris Johnson slashed London’s fire services in 2014 – and told rival politician to ‘get stuffed’

I got a feeling that Boris won't be doing a 'clearing up' photo op this time.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:23 AM on June 14 [23 favorites]




West London are reacting to this in lots of ways. There is charity, there is mourning, and many of us are absolutely livid at the administration that let this happen:
At least 71 of the Tory MPs who voted against an amendment to force landlords to make sure their properties are "fit for human habitation" are private landlords themselves.
In a just world that would be 71 by-elections tomorrow
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 7:35 AM on June 14 [32 favorites]


I don't live in the best building ever, neither do I have the best management, but my fire alarm has a little button I can press to turn it off if it is accidentally tripped by cooking that keeps it off for, I don't know, 20 minutes.

If an alarm goes off for a minute, I'll ignore it. One went off for a half hour the other week and indeed it was an actual fire, a small one, caused by someone cooking food and leaving while they were cooking.

There are solutions to the "alarms caused by cooking" thing. My experience is that apartment management will often choose not to do anything at all that costs any money at all, and if you think about putting in new fire alarms in a building with 600 people, you're talking about a investment that's probably going to be about $10,000 American dollars.

I think it should literally be criminal. It's amazing how many things that injure or kill tenants is caused by the landlords being a little stingy.
posted by maxsparber at 7:58 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]




Except it's made of polyethylene. And as any junior firebug who has ever played with lighting up plastic supermarket bags knows, polyethylene film is fairly hard to get burning but once it is burning it has this habit of dropping screeching little balls of fire that do quite a good job of lighting off whatever they land on.

What you say is true, but the hard to get started part is why Tyvek is allowed as house wrap. What the code is most concerned with is "fire spread", how fast flame can ignite and travel along a material (and the similar "smoke spread"). It's often tested by ASTM E84 or similar NFPA standards. A (free) discussion of the particulars can be found on this page. In short, sheet goods are tested for how fast they can burn from one end to the other of a tunnel. Cement slabs have a rating of 0, oak gets a rating of 100. Tyvek tests at 15, well below woods or untreated plywood.

Any fully-involved fire is going to burn a plastic housewrap. The concern is how quickly the surfaces nearby might catch fire. As you note, it's actually fairly hard to get PE to light. It doesn't decompose thermally or offgas at all easily, which is what is needed to start combustion. That means, exposed to high radiant heat (like from a burning house next door) a PE wrap will catch fire much less easily than wood siding, for example.

That doesn't mean that a flammable product like this should be used high-rises though. That's a very different set of fire problems.
posted by bonehead at 8:11 AM on June 14 [16 favorites]


If folks abroad (or, even Londoners) are looking for someone to follow on this, I recommend Jack Monroe. Jack recently won a libel lawsuit against Katie Hopkins (a careful writer triumphs over a craven one!), has experience in the Fire Service, and has written about the experience of poverty in Britain from first-hand experience.

Monroe recently reached out for help getting deleted info from the cladding manufacturers' Web sites, and got plenty of material:
Got cladding info in 2 mins flat. Harley Facades might have conveniently deleted Grenfell from their website but they can't outrun Twitter.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:18 AM on June 14 [14 favorites]


Fire expert (didn't catch his name) interviewed on BBC Worldservice NewsHour (radio) mentioned the existence of counterfeit cladding. Apparently, it's a thing. You know, like counterfeit antibiotics and other stuff. Looks good, but doesn't work as it's supposed to. And it's quite possible a cladding installer had no idea the panels it bought were counterfeit. That, or the manufacturer didn't adhere to the contract specs and the cladding is not as claimed. Caveat emptor, I guess.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:29 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]




Thanks to the link above by rum-soaked space hobo, I'm reading Jack Munroe's twitter, which includes this:

In the 80s the law changed to allow building contractors, not the fire service, to determine whether buildings were safe from fire.


Senior ex-firefighter friends this morning saying they held meetings with their MPs to warn them of the risks of this. 30 years ago.
As somebody who works in a construction-adjacent field, my mouth literally fell open when I read that.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:41 AM on June 14 [33 favorites]


The cladding used was ACM (aluminium composite material) which is sheets of aluminium over a polyethylene core, usually. I have to admit I'm struggling to understand why the cladding was thought a good idea in the first place, since even in ideal circumstances, rain cladding inherently produces fire risks.
posted by Dysk at 8:41 AM on June 14


God in heaven. From the Guardian live blog:
Residents at the block were so concerned about fire safety after the recent refurbishment works in March that they requested an independent fire safety assessor to come in to review the safety of the building, but their request was rejected, the Labour councillor responsible for the block said.

She said tenants were concerned about the fire risk during and after recent refurbishment works and repeatedly raised their concerns with her.
posted by Catseye at 8:42 AM on June 14 [21 favorites]


Its sounds like many, many lives were saved by Muslim boys, who were already up for prayers at mosque, running into the building to wake people and get them out.
posted by maxsparber at 8:42 AM on June 14 [58 favorites]


I haven't dared watch any of the scene or survivor videos, but I watched that one and it just walloped me.
posted by maudlin at 8:53 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I had the same experience as wakannai as a kid - fire safety experts came to my elementary school and had us draw maps of our homes and plot out escape routes, and it was absolutely terrifying. For the next several years I would sometimes lie awake at night thinking of how I'd need to smash that one window with that one chair and throw that one blanket over the glass and climb out. But would I take the risk of climbing up to my sister's loft bed to wake her up first, or would I leave her behind? What about my parents? The fire safety experts say to leave as fast as you can and absolutely not to go back in again, but could I do that?

Years later I started working in a 20-odd story building in lower Manhattan, and retired fire department guys came by to give a talk on what to do in case of fire. I remember them telling the women that they must carry their shoes if they had to take them off to run, because, they said, during 9/11 the stairwells filled up with discarded high-heeled shoes and tripped people. Then they had us go out and down through the external fire escape stairwell. It's completely separately enclosed - to get to it, you have to exit the building onto a tiny 20th floor balcony and then go in another door. It was terrifying just to go out there, for me. I tried to imagine doing it in a panic and I just couldn't. And then it took so long to get down to the ground...

I've gone on to try to manage and/or perversely feed this fear by learning about different disastrous fires and how they might have been prevented or mitigated. Triangle Shirtwaist, Upstairs Lounge, The Station. All of those just bring home how quickly a situation can go from "huh, that's weird" to inescapable.

This is my worst nightmare, it really is. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night after reading about this disaster. I hope some major changes are made because of this and I hope they manage to save everyone who's still alive.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:03 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


The death toll now stands at 12 and the Met say they can't give an exact figure for those still unaccounted for.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:13 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Ironically I think it's exactly because these devastating fires are so rare that there can be such amounts of organisational who-gives-a-fuck-ness. Or at best, oh-I'm-sure-it's-fine-stop-fussing-ness. It's insane - I mean, obviously better fire safety precautions are WHY this doesn't happen so often! - but it just seems so easy to dismiss the idea of a fire.

I once worked in a building that had been recently converted to offices, with a fire escape route via a door through to a connecting building. Arrived, tested connecting door, door would not open without the biggest of my colleagues physically throwing himself at it. We refused to work there until it was fixed and got a huge amount of eye-rolling from the building people in return. ("It's all been signed off for fire safety." "The DOOR does not OPEN." "It's been signed off, it's fine.") The same people later on recommended we padlock another fire door for better security - "but we'll give you a key, what's the problem?" Ridiculous.
posted by Catseye at 9:28 AM on June 14 [26 favorites]


Tyvek tests at 15, well below woods or untreated plywood.

Yup.
The tunnel test measures how far and how fast flames spread across the surface of the test sample. In this test, a sample of the material 20 inches wide and 25 feet long, is installed as ceiling of a test chamber, and exposed to a gas flame at one end. The resulting flame spread rating (FSR) is expressed as a number on a continuous scale where inorganic reinforced cement board is 0 and red oak is 100.
The thing about the tunnel test is that the sheet under test is horizontal. Wraps and claddings are installed vertically. A test that tells you how fire behaves in a horizontal sheet 20 inches wide really has very little predictive power about vertical sheets of the same material 3 metres high.

And sure, PE is relatively difficult to fire up as plastics go - but a tiny electrical arc from faulty wiring in close proximity, for example, would be plenty; and once going, burning vertical plastic sheet attached to the outside of a cavity frame - or burning vertical plastic foam core inside a nice aluminium chimney - is just not going to stop by itself.

Once you've got an established flame in a vertical polyethylene sheet, the Unofficial Junior Firebug Test will tell you that you will very shortly have an all-consuming fire, because a flame near the bottom will lick straight up the sheet and the burning dripping melting globs from a flame near the top will rapidly spread it right down to the bottom.

The point I was trying to make with my anecdote about the Marketing Guy Who Didn't Want To Know is that it's all too easy to assume that official test ratings mean things that they really, really don't - especially when making and promoting that assumption helps move product.
posted by flabdablet at 9:45 AM on June 14 [17 favorites]


"It's been signed off, it's fine."

This.
posted by flabdablet at 9:45 AM on June 14


The same people later on recommended we padlock another fire door for better security - "but we'll give you a key, what's the problem?" Ridiculous.

This story is a perfect illustration of the whole "health and safety gone mad!" mindset - if we'd all just stop being such jobsworths and taking the Health and Safety so bloody seriously, we'd all get twice as much done in half the time. The response to any pointing out of the actual safety concerns the rules or regulations address is always just "oh stop worrying it'll be fine".

It wasn't fucking fine. It rarely works out fine, in the long run.
posted by Dysk at 9:49 AM on June 14 [17 favorites]


This is devastating. Heartbreaking. Unthinkable.

Righteous anger is a natural human response to this tragedy. Politicising it entirely appropriate, because that's exactly what the residents had been doing for years. For anyone who hasn't already looked, the blog of the Grenfell Action Group linked upthread is utterly damning. So damning that Kensington and Chelsea Council tried to gag them.

I'm a Londoner. I know that patch and I lived for a few years in a council-owned property very much like Grenfell Tower. Rage is the only way I can process this horror right now.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 9:52 AM on June 14 [28 favorites]


Those poor people. And fuck millionaires and billionaires who force the rest of us into "austerity" so they can further pad their bottom lines. Capitalism...the older I get, well, fuck that.

This is not a huge insight, but the thing I forget about fire is how hot it is. I have a small firepit and recently did my once-every-three-years burning of accumulated brush. A relatively small fire puts out enough heat that being even 10 feet from it is uncomfortable. Any movie scene you've seen with characters calmly walking near huge fires is a joke.

Things like "fireproof buildings" and "unsinkable ships" are spherical cows. Designs should be forced at a minimum to acknowledge that, you know, humans will live or work there and any way things can be fucked up they will be, sometimes intentionally but most of the time just because it's what we do. Any regulation or design which starts from "best case" scenarios is worthless.
posted by maxwelton at 10:07 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Couple of thoughts:

* I work in downtown Raleigh, NC and work with a lot of people who experienced the similar fire (mentioned above) in an under-construction high rise. No one was killed there but since a lot of my co-workers experienced that fire from nearby it's too easy to imagine that scene, except full of families. Horrible.

* I've been involved in an office move/build-out for a startup and everyone bitches about the fire marshal visit where it turns out that the escape routes are 2 inches too narrow and you have to reinstall a bunch of desks, but boy howdy do I *really appreciate* that attention to detail and codes when I hear about something like this.

* They aren't cheap, but Nest makes a fire alarm that is a lot smarter and does things like gradually get louder/attempt to tell the difference between kitchen smoke and a full-on fire, etc. So the tech seems to exist to reduce false alarms.

* As with disaster recovery testing in software (my industry), a big key to surviving a disaster is practice, practice, practice. Schools and big companies have fire drills, active shooter drills, etc. Maybe it makes sense to require landlords of these large blocks to have those every 6 months: floor captains, routes, gathering points and so on. As a high school senior I was in a newly built dormitory and the fire alarms went off all the freaking time for the first 3 months due to dust etc. And every single time we all got up in the middle of the night and trooped out in our PJs (oo!! girls in sleepwear, such a thrill!!) to stand in lines and wait to get the all clear. I'm so glad they had us do that.

We also have a London office (all are safe) so I am going to see if I can get some sort of company donation thing going.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:21 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Utterly heartbreaking following this through the day. When I heard on the radio this morning that it was Kensington and Chelsea I feared the worst.

For a number of years now there have been serious questions to be asked about their approach to new development and the relationship between the council and various large property developers. I became aware of that when they started agitating for a Crossrail station and for rail connections at Old Oak Common ostensibly to support the existing community.

When you dug into the details though it was pretty clear that their priority was new (and particularly luxury) development, sometimes at the active disadvantage of lower income families already resident in the area. There were also serious contract questions to be asked related to the relationship between certain councillors and the developers getting bids. Trouble was, the council just knew they could get away with it because it was a true-blue Tory council (for the record, safe Labour councils can be just as bad in their own way - see Tower Hamlets).

The idea that they might have been similarly negligent in their approach to maintenance and repair of estates is both horrifying and seems increasingly likely with every passing hour.

The only tiny candle I can see alight in this unfolding darkness is that the reason I became personally aware of their shenanigans with developers was because there was a Labour councillor who repeatedly kept trying to call them out for it both in the press and in the council chamber. A number of times she asked us at LR to help her understand the transport elements in their reports and the maths (or faux-maths) behind them, and she's doggedly kept at it over the last five years or so despite constantly being outvoted or told to shut up.

That councillor was/is Emma Dent Coud, the newly-minted (and suprise) Labour MP for Kensington.

These are her people and she knows just how that council operates. She will not rest for a second until the victims have received all the help they need and until justice has been served.

Almost by luck, the victims have the best MP they could have hoped for to be their champion right now in the aftermath of this. That they need her at all is an almost unspeakable tragedy.
posted by garius at 10:34 AM on June 14 [83 favorites]


Maybe it makes sense to require landlords of these large blocks to have those [fire drills] every 6 months

You can legislate to require landlords to do that, but how do you require tenants to comply? I've been subject to fire drills in buildings I was working in or attending a course of study in, or lived in as an adjunct to work or study (e.g. student residences or military accommodation.) They've never happened in buildings I've lived in as my own home, even as a tenant in a large block.

In theory you could make it a covenant of a lease that tenants participate in fire drills, but the only sanction for refusing to do that is forfeiture of the lease for breach. Until now I'd have said that would be a pretty extreme sanction for not participating in a fire drill called by the management company of a block you live in as a private citizen. Perhaps now it's time to reconsider that.
posted by Major Clanger at 10:43 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Maybe it makes sense to require landlords of these large blocks to have those [fire drills] every 6 months

At what time of day?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:51 AM on June 14


I'm just going to vent, here, about my personal feelings. They matter so much less than those of the people who have lost their lives, and the families and communities that have have been devastated by this tragedy. But I'm very badly upset. And very angry. I'm sorry and thank you.

I think it upsets me because I spend so much of my life trying to just let people have the peace of having a home. Of being safe in at least one place. People like the people in that block. And I take it on faith that other people working in this system are at least well intentioned with respect to that idea. And then this. All those families. Who, it seems, no-one who had the power to protect them gave a flying fuck about.

Because this is the crisis everyone is talking about. Because this is what a housing crisis does, among the millions of other miseries it doles out each day, and the thousands, or tens of thousands, of avoidable deaths it causes every year. It leads us here, where in the middle of one of the richest cities in the world, the need of ordinary people to have housing that is just a safe place to be is too much to ask. It's unforgivable. Utterly unforgivable.
posted by howfar at 10:53 AM on June 14 [38 favorites]


I would urge those of you waffling on about fire alarms to take some time to view the horrific footage from the fire.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:05 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


My house is only two stories high, and yet we have had the kids practice how to get out windows (we have a folding ladder in the closet) and where to meet once they're out.

I just listened to the audiobook of a novel called "Broken Homes" -- which is set in London, and which centers around a fictional highrise council housing building. It's poorly maintained by the local council, and there is no spoiler in revealing that there's a disaster at the end where a policeman has to run from door to door trying to get people out as the fire brigade is on their way to the scene. All I can think of as I read this is the rising tension in the voice of the narrator as the protagonist tries to convince residents to flee.

God help the residents of the Grenfell tower, and bless the boys who broke their prayers to alert the residents.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:09 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


If anyone is struggling with the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund's donation page, I had to try three times before I got through.

This was all so preventable.

.
posted by sldownard at 11:28 AM on June 14


I've been considering a popular energy retrofit for my house: adding large panels of foam insulation to the outside of the sheathing, then siding over that. The major concern is controlling moisture, and the recommended strategy seems to be using furring strips to space the siding away from the foam board as a rain screen, leaving vertical passages through which moisture-laden air can circulate.

There seems to be a lot of disagreement, even among code authorities, about whether those vertical passages are subject to the same fire block regulations as stud cavities within the walls (blocking them would stop the air flow and make them less useful). Considering that even fire-resistant foam will burn horribly under the right circumstances (those foam-board yurts at festivals are terrifying) it's been really worrying me.

It's beyond horrible that we seem to so often learn fire-safety lessons only in the wake of disasters. But at least--tiny consolation--if this horror leads to re-evaluating the code that allows a popular but dangerous retrofit, maybe other lives will be saved in the future.
posted by CHoldredge at 11:36 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


In the helicopter shots, you can SEE THE BACKGROUND THROUGH THE BUILDING. Half of it is now a shelled-out husk.
posted by Yowser at 11:59 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]




You can legislate to require landlords to do that, but how do you require tenants to comply?

In college, it was the threat of a multiple-hundred dollar fine for being found inside during a fire alarm. I don't know how practical this is when you're an actual tenant, not living in a student dorm.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:55 PM on June 14


showbiz_liz wondered: But would I take the risk of climbing up to my sister's loft bed to wake her up first, or would I leave her behind? What about my parents? The fire safety experts say to leave as fast as you can and absolutely not to go back in again, but could I do that?

When I was was very young, we lived in an medium height sort of wooden apartment building. Next door, just across a very narrow alley, stood its twin. During the time we lived there, that twin burned itself hollow no less than thrice. Every single person had to move out each time, and each time, it caught the roof of our building on fire, and you could see the flames from the street. You could go up top afterwards and look at the charred ring.

Additionally, our building had multiple small fires and false alarms caused by kitchen fires.

I think for the first big fire, I was collected by my parents, and we all went out to safety together.

I know that by the last big fire, my procedure been refined. I would leap to my feet, swipe an armful of stuffed animals, shout: "I'M LEAVING!" and be the first person down the stairwell and out of the building. I would wait for them across the street in the parking lot. They were on their goddamn own.

(My parents were good with this, it helped them to worry less. Also they became convinced the landlord was burning the place down regularly for the insurance money, and we moved as soon as we could).
posted by instead of three wishes at 1:04 PM on June 14 [9 favorites]


You can legislate to require landlords to do that, but how do you require tenants to comply?

It sounds like at least a large number of residents were actively asking for this sort of thing. It might be a good community-building exercise. They definitely do it in schools and businesses and it pretty frequently is at an inconvenient time but peer pressure tends to get people to do it.

By the way, I didn't mean to jump right to solutions and ignore the tragedy. That's just my nature. Someone mentioned the debate about fire alarms as seeming not appropriate but I think a lot of people's brains jump to "this is horrible, so what can we do to keep it from happening again?"
posted by freecellwizard at 1:14 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Bungadunga, I'm wary of derailing into a discussion of housing law, but (as a lawyer who deals with the subject) I have the following observations.

I don't know how it works in the USA or other countries, but in the UK (well, in England, which is my jurisdiction) students living in university halls of residence have less protection and fewer rights than someone living in a short-term rental (an 'assured shorthold tenancy' in local legal jargon) and less still than a leasehold owner who has purchased a 99-year or 999-year long lease of a flat. In particular, universities can impose disciplinary sanctions upon students for misconduct in halls of residence. This is in contrast to the usual position between landlord and tenant, where the landlord's only remedy for misconduct by the tenant* is to seek to forfeit the tenancy, or invoke a notice period to quit.**

(*As distinct from causing physical damage or failing to pay rent, which can give rise to a claim for damages.)

(**Which under an assured shorthold tenancy is two months and needs no reasons, although it's easy to lose the right to do this as a landlord, e.g. by not complying with statutory safety obligations or failing to do repairs. There is no concept of notice to quit under a long lease such as you get in a leasehold property.)

freecellwizard, I see your point but the problem is that there will be tenants who don't want to do this, and how do you force them? In English law, at least, one of the core elements of a lease is the concept of 'quiet enjoyment', which is the tenant's right not to have the landlord interfere with the tenant's occupation and use of the rented property. Telling the tenant to drop what they're doing and stand outside for twenty minutes whilst the fire service do a practice property check would be such interference, and even if it was only every six months some tenants would be very unhappy with this. Mind you, as long as the majority participate, you're going to get a benefit - in the event of a real fire, even the drill-avoiders will probably have the sense to follow the crowd.
posted by Major Clanger at 1:27 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Better fire alarms and evacuation drills wouldn't have prevented this, though. Not having communal fire alarms and evacuation orders is (as I understand it) a deliberate choice - these flats are meant to be constructed so that a fire in one is contained in that one for a minimum set period of time (an hour? three hours?) before it spreads. Advice is that if it's your flat on fire, evacuate; if it's someone else's, stay put and let the fire brigade handle it, and if they need you out they will evacuate you. That way you don't have hundreds of panicky people trying to rush out at once.

Usually this seems to work. There have been tower. block fires before in similar buildings, and in that building, that didn't spread. But this one was obviously very different for whatever reason, and the basic principle of fire not being able to spread fast didn't happen.
posted by Catseye at 1:29 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


"The Council would like to thank all those who have made generous donations of food, clothing and other items. We would ask you to please hold off for now as we have been inundated with useful items. When we need donations again we will update via our website and social media."

I love my city.

Source
posted by edd at 1:34 PM on June 14 [11 favorites]


I would urge those of you waffling on about fire alarms to take some time to view the horrific footage from the fire.

I've had people threaten to burn me to get me off the subject of fire alarms. It didn't convince me to stop trying to protect myself and those I'm responsible for. Watching hundreds of people screaming and dying in an inferno isn't going to convince me either. I'll pass up the opportunity to be a better person this time, thanks.

Catseye is right, though, people in power - even just people in charge - *hate* safety. It lt's more, even, than just being cheap. It literally goes against national core values to NOT go out of their way to endanger the people they're responsible for.

The fact that the residents were begging the powers-that-be to listen to them, for years on end, and that they knew they were in danger of death, for years on end, and nobody did anything - well, they say there are only a finite number of stories in the world. And this one just gets repeated over and over and over again.

And over and over and over again.
posted by tel3path at 1:38 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


I am so angry about this I can hardly articulate it. This is an unspeakable outrage, carried out against the poor and the vulnerable by the richest and the most powerful in the country. If there aren't arrests and criminal prosecutions over this I will be on the streets.

I saw the pictures this morning and I was shocked. But when I road my bike up towards the A40, I rounded a corner and it suddenly and shockingly came into sight I literally shouted out "holy fuck!" and almost crashed. In the flesh it's bone-chillingly horrific, flames still going at the core.

This, to me, has to be our Katrina. It has to be when we realise that our civic state has been destroyed by the thousand cuts of first Thatcherism, then PFI, and then austerity. And these aren't things we can quickly redress. May can't just say "Austerity is over" and plant the money tree and make it OK. Because austerity is in our world now: cut corners and expensive safety recommendations ignored mean we have buildings that aren't safe, and will stay unsafe for years.

It was all so avoidable. We had a country that could have avoided this. If we hadn't cut the fire service so it couldn't afford inspectors and couldn't afford enforcement. If we hadn't cut council budgets so they didn't feel compelled to outsource and sell even core functions (though the council of the richest area in the country with the lowest council tax rate has no excuse). If we had kept building social housing so that prices didn't soar and tempt beyond endurance councils into shifting ordinary people off their now-expensive land. If we hadn't cut, cut, cut, each cut a cut of something we didn't need yesterday in the false hope we wouldn't need it tomorrow. None of those people should have died. They have been shouting for help for years. They were ignored.

After London Bridge we all sneered at the Washington Post's idea that we were reeling. It feels like we are reeling today. Everyone I hear is talking about it. I think it's because London (like any big city) runs on trust: we trust the Tube, the bus drivers, the health inspectors, the safety systems. We trust each other all day every day. And terror attacks don't dent that: they're others, outsiders, striking at all of us.

This is different. This is a huge hole in the fabric that ties London together.
posted by bonaldi at 2:02 PM on June 14 [95 favorites]


Ironically I think it's exactly because these devastating fires are so rare that there can be such amounts of organisational who-gives-a-fuck-ness. Or at best, oh-I'm-sure-it's-fine-stop-fussing-ness. It's insane - I mean, obviously better fire safety precautions are WHY this doesn't happen so often! - but it just seems so easy to dismiss the idea of a fire.
If deadly fires were an everyday occurrence then they'd just throw their hands up and say it's terrible but there's nothing that can be done. See also: road safety, the US healthcare system, back in the past when deadly fires were an everyday occurrence.
posted by ckape at 2:08 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Yes, screw the fire alarms. It is very obvious, even at this early stage, that there were systematic failures that caused this to happen.

Heads better roll.

Preferably taking the Tory (not) government with it, since so many of them seem to have made the decisions that got us to this point.

I met a colleague in the supermarket queue this evening. We didn't know what to say to each other. This is London reeling.

. My heart bleeds for everyone affected.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:20 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Yesterday, I tripped over some uneven, poorly-maintained paving slabs, fell very hard, and hurt myself pretty badly. The lovely young man who helped me to my feet immediately began cursing austerity, the Tories, the council, and the horrible state basic infrastructure has fallen into over the last seven years of this. We've already had more than enough of it, everybody knows how bad it is, and then it gets unspeakably, unbearably worse. I was angry enough on my own behalf last night, and I woke up, saw the news, and I've been alternating between utter rage and complete despair all day.

The guy who helped me up was ready to do anything he could to help, and insisted on walking a couple of blocks with me until he was sure I was going to make it home. Of course Londoners are helping each other, of course Mancunians helped each other, and of course that random passerby helped me; we have to count on each other, because this government has spent seven years destroying the institutions we should be able to rely on.
posted by skybluepink at 2:30 PM on June 14 [43 favorites]


My god, it's still burning.
posted by skybluepink at 2:36 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Medicine has this concept of 'never events'. These are things that are so bad, and so preventable, that they should never, ever happen. If one does it's a system failure, not an individual's, because if the system was following the right precautions then no one individual would be able to bypass it no matter what they did or failed to do.

This should surely be the same thing. Whatever the cause of this disaster was, it clearly shouldn't have ever been this kind of disaster in the first place. It's not like tower blocks are new things and it's not like this kind of cladding is new. This just isn't supposed to happen.
posted by Catseye at 2:38 PM on June 14 [28 favorites]


I was angry enough on my own behalf last night, and I woke up, saw the news, and I've been alternating between utter rage and complete despair all day.

Strong and stable seems like a massively sick fucking joke at this point.

Yes, from the News at Ten it seems like the tower is still burning.
posted by threetwentytwo at 2:47 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


And I suppose the... "government"... and its "leader" ... are doing their usual schtick of standing around like lemons. They say some words. Everything carries on as before.

What has to happen? What has to happen for them to fucking do something about this?

I mean that literally, BTW, not rhetorically. By what possible mechanism can they be made to immediately rehouse the survivors in a nearby dwelling of acceptable standard that isn't a fucking tinderbox?

And also to stop fucking charging £450 a week rent for what turns out to be your own crematorium urn?
posted by tel3path at 2:57 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


@martinbelam on twitter has a great thread echoing what Benaldi says, that this could be a Katrina moment. People are furious and scared about the way that London's property market excludes all but the rich and how housing has become a safe haven asset for rich foreign buyers. Meanwhile there are people who are living in sheds and ten to a room and in unsafe houses and flats. The fact is that we need better controls on and regulation of rental property, and an end to prioritising the concerns of builders, renovators and management companies.

The election last week proved that there's a lot of anger about austerity/Brexit/the economy. (God, it was only last week? How I miss the days when it felt like we only had enough news to fill half an hour if there was a bit about a psychic badger at the end)

But the trouble with this bloody country is that we do absolutely everything on the cheap because god forbid that the well-off should pay any more taxes to reduce inequality. Kensington and Chelsea, for example, is in parts a disgustingly rich borough with one of the lowest levels of council tax in London.

I'm watching the news now and they're talking up the magnificent response in terms of donations and the bravery and fortitude of the health and emergency services. I hope we don't lose the fury in all of this, because it sounds like a lot of the problem was that loose regulation and cheapskatery. I wouldn't be surprised if the reaction from the Tories went like this:

Day 1: "How dare you politicise a tragedy" (Some giant cock on TV is doing this RIGHT NOW)

Day 2: "It's too early to comment on the causes or cast blame"

Day 7: "Why are you obsessing over what was a terrible accident?"

Month 1: Everything continues without any change and we continue with the sad-sack comedy of errors and parade of arseholes that Britain's politics has become.
posted by finisterre at 3:14 PM on June 14 [17 favorites]


They didn't have enough money for sprinklers. They did have enough money to cover the building in nice-looking cladding, so that the presence of the poors didn't depress surrounding property values too much, but not enough to make sure that the cladding wasn't highly flammable.

That says it all really.
posted by acb at 3:44 PM on June 14 [37 favorites]


Bonus: If it burns down, they can build a luxury condo! (said in an interview to a BBC interviewer who had to stand there fuming while the interviewee refused to back down. Coming to a BBC rerun never again, don't wait up.)
posted by Yowser at 4:01 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


And also to stop fucking charging £450 a week rent for what turns out to be your own crematorium urn?
Are you serious? I realize that's not the thing I should be shocked about here, but that's an obscene amount of money for social housing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:25 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Bonus: If it burns down, they can build a luxury condo!

I'm told that, in San Francisco, they have a word for this: “pyroflipping”.
posted by acb at 4:34 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I am serious, that is the ballpark amount I understand the rent to be.

And they were all 4-bedroom flats.
posted by tel3path at 4:42 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


"You can legislate to require landlords to do that, but how do you require tenants to comply? "

I worked in an older highrise with annoyingly frequent fire alarm drills (due to its age, I guess) and what the company finally did was designate a budget so that each work group that successfully evacuated all of its employees was allowed to go on an employer-paid lunch or cocktail hour (depending on the time of the alarm). Everyone had evacuation muster locations at local restaurants anyway and frequently people bunked off if it was after 3:30 anyway, so management eventually decided they could get a lot more compliance and a lot less whining if they just bought people a sandwich and let them hang out for an hour after a fire drill. (Excluding customer-facing positions and security, but they got something catered the next day.)

I was in a dorm fire in college that luckily turned out to be a minor kitchen fire, but we'd had any number of false alarms that year (mostly from smokers; it was an old and highly flammable building with very sensitive detectors) and a lot of people had quit evacuating. The 21-year-old resident assistants were running down the smoke-filled hallways banging on doors and screaming to get out. It was awful. The other thing we discovered was that SOME OF THE FIRE DOORS WERE LOCKED, to keep people from smuggling in their boyfriends -- it was a single-sex dorm -- and it was SHOCKINGLY DIFFICULT to get the fire department, city inspectors, or university administration to be upset about the locked fire doors, because they resulted in frequent false alarms when some drunk idiot decided to go out the fire door. We had to resort to a parent-and-alumni blitz of the administration. I have such vivid memories of standing in the snow barefoot in pajamas, shivering, with 300 other girls, while smoke poured out of the building. (Several girls in the nearest rooms lost all their clothes/books to smoke damage, but nobody was hurt beyond minor smoke inhalation and the dorm as a whole was in no danger of burning down.)

(BTW as a fellow terrified-of-fire person, I bought myself a lot of peace of mind with a $100 fire ladder and a small bedside fire extinguisher, to give me many more escape-and-child-rescue options in case of fire. It seems sort-of dumb but I sleep a lot better knowing I can grab a fire extinguisher within 10 seconds and that I can go out a window if I have to. Also I am sure I am not the only person who obsessively clears the exit paths to the doors every night before I go to bed. Lego everywhere? Fine. Lego in my exit path? I AM NOT DYING BECAUSE I STEPPED ON A FUCKING BRICK!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 PM on June 14 [20 favorites]


Honestly, the fire drill thing is a derail. The tragedy here was not caused by people failing to evacuate in the proper fashion, and all the fire drills in the world won't help you if you're living in a death trap.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:54 PM on June 14 [22 favorites]


Maybe extra escape paths would have helped, and fire drills would have impressed on people that the (single?) route was totally inadequate.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:07 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Why is this stuff legal anywhere? Seems there have been many similar infernos due to it's use.
posted by dinsdale at 8:24 PM on June 14


One thing to keep in mind with calls for mandatory fire drills is that there is a cost associated with them. In time (a fire drill that takes an hour times 600 people is nearly of month of time that could have been spent doing something else), in money, and in injuries. A fire drill on a tower building where people need to evacuate using stairs carries a measurable risk of someone falling down the stairs and being injured or even killed; especially for seniors and people with mobility issues. And ironically a fire drill can cause a fire where someone in a rush to clear the building leaves an element on or a candle burning. At a certain point the risks can out weight the advantages of performing a drill.

This applies to practically everything. My oldest sisters were nearly killed by a sprinkler system failure (the associated deluge pushed the desks in their 3rd floor classroom out the windows).

Catseye: "Better fire alarms and evacuation drills wouldn't have prevented this, though."

Ya, it appears people knew about the fire in plenty of time to get out but that wasn't the procedure.

Catseye: "This should surely be the same thing. Whatever the cause of this disaster was, it clearly shouldn't have ever been this kind of disaster in the first place. It's not like tower blocks are new things and it's not like this kind of cladding is new. This just isn't supposed to happen."

It's too early to tell but there could have been a new interaction between two or more old technologies. This kind of thing happens in the building trades and Engineering all the time. It's the kind of thing that gives designers and engineers nightmares. Or their might have been a supply chain failure where substandard or counterfeit materials were installed. Or it can be determined that something that was thought to be safe turns out not to be. Building/Electrical/Plumbing etc codes are full of this sort of thing. I've often thought that rules should all have names instead of just numbers/letters as a reminder as to why a rule is in place. Or, and this is sadly most likely, there could have been negligence in how the products were installed or specced.

Even if a product is unsafe when installed to direction it can take years to make changes to what is allowed to be installed.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


One thing I noticed about New York was the fire escapes on apartment buildings. I don't know if they're general to the USA, but I know I haven't seen them anywhere else. They're the sort of thing that can be retrofitted to existing buildings, and I think they might have saved a lot of lives if they'd had them at Grenfell.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:02 PM on June 14


This morning the Today programme had an expert in fire safety in high rise buildings (I can't recall the name of the organisation he worked for, but it specialised in this), who was also a former fireman. There was a mention of increasing numbers of high-rise buildings being built in London, and the interviewer said (from memory, so this is likely a slight misquote):
"But those buildings will have sprinklers and alarm systems-"
Him: "It depends on the use they are being put to. Not all of them have to. My international colleagues are shocked when I tell them that new high rise buildings here can be built with only a single staircase."

In 2017 you can legally build a high rise in London without a fire escape. Not even about retrofitting old buildings, but you can build a new building without a fire escape.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:37 PM on June 14 [18 favorites]


I want to second bonaldi: the tower itself is a terrifying sight in person, and it continues to smoulder. Fire crews are still hosing it down from outside, but it seems as if they're occasionally playing a game of whack-a-mole: on some signal (presumably over the radio based on info from the drones they've been flying about) they'll move the booms and start spraying into a different window, or some new patch of wall.

Fire escapes are indeed a common sight in New York, and are often portrayed in the media as a vector for burglary. Given that this murderous cladding was applied to increase property values of posh homes looking out on the block, external fire escapes were a non-starter and would have simply sent people out to the burning surface of the structure. The topic reminds me of the absurdist superhero story "The Golden Age of Fire Escapes" part 1, part 2.

I want to find hope in this. I want to believe that the response to this tragedy can be that we continue turning the corner that started with the recent general election. I want to believe that we can mobilise the current generation to fight back against privatisation, austerity, hate, and little-englandism. I hate that the first thing I thought when I saw those towers on fire was, "If that had happened before the election (20 votes decided it!), would the Conservatives have won or would they have lost harder?"

I have had many reasons to dislike the council of RBKC over the years, and that's simply from having lived in neighbouring boroughs. I disagree politically and practically with nearly every decision they make. But the way the wards are laid out means that you'll always have a handful of labour voters up at the northern tip, drowned out by big-money conservatives in the south. 2014 saw some partial libdem successes down there, so maybe we can chuck the monsters out in 2018.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:22 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


I don't think external fire escapes could have helped much in this particular case where the building burned from the outside in, but they're surely worth considering for buildings like this anyway just to give an additional staircase. The idea of several hundred people in a building with one staircase is just horrifying.

Guardian liveblog quoting John Healey, the shadow Housing minister, on fire recommendations in high rises:
The coroner after that [2009] Lakanal fire in 2013 and the coroner who did the same sort of inquiry into a fire in a tower block in Southampton reporting at the same time, did a rule 33 letter. This is where coroners take the unusual step of recommending to government things that can be done to prevent future fire deaths. Two of the recommendations were simply rejected: that’s information on site about complex blocks like this for firefighters and also encouraging the wider use of sprinkler systems in similar high rise blocks. The final important recommendation about reviewing the building regulations should be reviewed. That was four years ago and that has simply been neglected. So there are some serious questions to answer now ...

The recommendation to encourage the wider use of sprinklers in such blocks was rejected by the housing minister in front of a select committee. The important recommendation to review the building regulations specifically looking at questions of cladding and potentially compromising the fire safety of the building itself, drawn attention by the coroners at that time, is simply being put to one side. So there are some very serious questions for ministers to answer now, that residents are asking at Grenfell Tower, and very important reassurance to give to many many people who live in similar tower blocks throughout the country.

Four years on from two coroners’ reports we are still waiting for even a plan to review building regulations that government said they would.
This is appalling.
posted by Catseye at 12:39 AM on June 15 [13 favorites]


Jack Monroe, who used to work in the fire service, has a good thread about the 1971 Fire Precautions Act which was repealed after lobbying from landlords.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:05 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


And let's not forget cuts to the fire service. Fewer firefighters than five years ago, plus fire services with less ability to do prevention and contingency planning work. Slow clap, austerity, slow clap.

Looks like it's austerity all the way down - according to a campaigner interviewed on Newsnight tenants tried to take legal action, but couldn't afford to due to the cuts to legal aid made in 2012.
posted by jack_mo at 1:10 AM on June 15 [17 favorites]


Kensington & Chelsea council being spectacularly useless; charities, volunteers, local Muslim groups, churches, etc., organising amongst themselves to do the heavy lifting. K&C say they've placed 44 families in "commercial hotels," which almost certainly means the sort of dismal B&Bs that generally serve as temporary accommodation for people councils routinely can't home in proper social housing.
posted by skybluepink at 1:12 AM on June 15 [10 favorites]


Given that this murderous cladding was applied to increase property values of posh homes looking out on the block

I can think of lots of tower blocks nowhere near anywhere with posh homes that have been clad in a similar way (albeit presumably with the mineral wool backed aluminum cladding that this was supposed to have). Most of the case for cladding is for superior heat performance. Aesthetic issues mentioned in the planning application were there because all planning in the UK has to consider whether the aesthetics is suitable.

But as it's looking like it's an issue with cladding, this affects a massive proportion of high rise accommodation.
posted by ambrosen at 1:17 AM on June 15


Buildings built properly in the first place don't need external cladding.
posted by Dysk at 1:24 AM on June 15


From the Guardian summary this morning:
It emerged the cladding used in Grenfell Tower was behind a rapidly spreading blaze at a tower block in Melbourne in 2014. An eighth-floor fire raced up 13 floors to the roof of the 21-storey building in 11 minutes. The spread was “directly associated” with the external cladding, said the fire brigade.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:27 AM on June 15 [8 favorites]


"My international colleagues are shocked when I tell them that new high rise buildings here can be built with only a single staircase."

This utterly stunned me as well. I work in an early 20th century building in San Francisco. 20 feet behind me is a well marked interior staircase with emergency lights. 20 feet in front of me are large openable windows with an external fire escape. I simply cannot believe that over a hundred years later that any modern society allows commercial or residential buildings -- hell, any building meant to contain people -- to be built with a single exit. That is the one certain way to a death trap. Someone with a grudge brings a buck worth of gasoline in a plastic bottle? Nearly everyone dies. Someone piles up trash there waiting to go out, and a cigarette gets dropped in? Nearly everyone dies. Someone retrofits a warehouse with too much wood and bad electrics that catch on fire? Nearly everyone dies. And on and on and on. Pretty much every mega fire death incident features either a single exit or exits inadequate for the number of people inside, or both.
posted by tavella at 1:44 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Buildings built properly in the first place don't need external cladding.

Whether or not that's so (cladding goes up as part of the building work in modern flats near me), these are 60s and 70s era buildings that were being renovated decades after the fact, so it's either improve energy efficiency with what you've got or knock them all down and start again. But it surely SURELY should be possible to improve them without making them fire traps. If it's not, that work shouldn't have been attempted in the first place. And if it is, why wasn't it done here?
posted by Catseye at 1:48 AM on June 15


Rain cladding inherently introduces additional fire risk, as the installation requirements for avoiding moisture in them is directly opposed to the installation requirements for avoiding fire chimneys. It can certainly be done safer than it was here, but external cladding is inherently a safety compromise.

Building buildings properly going forward won't solve the problem immediately, but it does mean we won't be having this same conversation in fifty years, going "well it was built in the 2010-2020 era, so..." We didn't do this back in the 60s or 70s (or anytime since!) but if we could start yesterday, we should.
posted by Dysk at 1:55 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


So I just compared my Council Tax (Wirral) to Kensington & Chelsea. I'm paying approximately £600 more per year than the equivalent band. (And, yes, the bands are severely outdated; you could not buy a 1 bed flat in Kensington for what my house is currently worth, nor could you buy a three-bed house in my current neighbourhood for what my house is assessed at for the purpose of Council Tax.) The housing situation is so fucked up, and the people of Grenfell Tower just paid the worst price of all, as a logical and hideous conclusion of it.
posted by skybluepink at 2:09 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Fuck anyone who says not to politicise this. This is an inherently political tragedy that simply should not have happened.

This is cutting social housing. This is cutting the fire service. This is rolling back regulations. This is nearing 40 years of short term price beating long term cost. This is building an economy on a property bubble then propping up that bubble at all costs.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:11 AM on June 15 [29 favorites]


On a more positive note, I'm currently at Hammersmith town hall, one of the drop off points for donations.

I collected up donations from our neighbours and just dropped them off in a room packed for to ceiling. I was amazed.
One of the volunteers took me to see the two huge halls completely packed with donations. The drop off room was just a fraction.
From where I'm standing I see mountains of clothes, toys, toiletries a few TVs and laptops.

This is just 1 of several locations for donations.

The people of West London have been extraordinary.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:18 AM on June 15 [12 favorites]


Yes, they're saying they don't need donations, but they do need people to help sort the things they've got. So if you've got spare time today, and can help, go.

Money is what will be needed long term, because second-hand cast-offs are no way to get by long term, and people will need long term psychological support too. So do donate if you can. And think about supporting one of the emergency services benevolent charities too.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:37 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


So the Guardian is reporting that May finally went to the site, but left without meeting any residents.
posted by skybluepink at 2:50 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


The firefighter who tweets under the name Crispymick...
[...] has attained cult following after posting a picture on Twitter of a telling detail about the fire and then refused the Sun newspaper permission to print it.
Grauniad Live updates
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:58 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Theresa May has turned up at the scene to talk to firefighters & police. The Mirror are reporting that it was a 'private visit,' meaning 'no survivors, media or members of the public were present'.

According to Jack Monroe, May refused to meet with victims. (Even from May, this would be absolutely extraordinary - I suspect it's more likely that she's refused to meet victims in front of the media.)
posted by jack_mo at 2:59 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


According to Jack Monroe, May refused to meet with victims. (Even from May, this would be absolutely extraordinary - I suspect it's more likely that she's refused to meet victims in front of the media.)

Maybe the victims refused to meet with her. I would (actually I keep wondering where I to be caught up in one of these horrible things and May came to visit the victims, would I refuse to meet, or agree and then swear at her?).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:01 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


I think May is entirely capable of refusing to meet the survivors, off-camera or on. She spent most of the campaign running away from potentially unfriendly audiences, after all.
posted by skybluepink at 3:05 AM on June 15 [9 favorites]


Oh no. Death toll up to 17, and still likely to increase.
posted by skybluepink at 3:07 AM on June 15


I would hope it's just that she refused to meet them in front of media. It's not her first time dealing with politically charged tragedy after all. As Home Sec she met with Hillsborough campaigners who were largely victims and friends/family of the victims, and I've heard one of those campaigners speak publically with a lot of praise for her willingness to listen and take appropriate action on that. So I don't know - it's certain that this election campaign hasn't showered her with glory, but she's done stuff like this appropriately previously.
posted by Catseye at 3:11 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


I think the difference with Hillsborough is that she couldn't personally have been blamed in any way for what happened there and she was--impressively--willing and able to help without having to worry about a negative effect on her image. At the moment, the political situation is much more fraught and -- depressingly -- I can believe May would prioritise protecting herself and her image from the potential criticism and anger of the residents.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:31 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


This skyscraper city thread has some interesting discussion of technical issues like cladding and fire safety standards.
posted by klausness at 4:36 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


You can read what you like into May's choice of visit, but she has consistently only met with people while they were at work, so that any speaking out would risk their jobs.

Corbyn, for all his faults and graces, met with the residents, stood behind their newly-elected MP, and affirmed their outrage and frustration.

There is so little in this story that could possibly avoid politics, as it all has highly political causes.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:46 AM on June 15 [9 favorites]


Utterly unconfirmed here: I have a friend in a London housing association who says the rumour is around 100-150 deaths.
posted by jaduncan at 5:42 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Oh, and that pretty much every HA person is frantically working out how many tenants might be behind similar cladding and what the safety and legal implications are.
posted by jaduncan at 5:44 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Here's a piece from Inside Housing magazine (from April this year) that makes disturbing reading. After a 2016 tower block fire, the London Fire Brigade commissioned a report:
It concluded [cladding] “is likely to have assisted the fire in spreading up the outside of the building”, with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) warning [Hammersmith & Fulham] and all other London boroughs about use of the panels.
Inside Housing had to use FOIA requests to find this out because the report wasn't made public.

I think May is entirely capable of refusing to meet the survivors, off-camera or on. She spent most of the campaign running away from potentially unfriendly audiences, after all.

Yeah, you're probably right - I just thought for a moment that she might have some shred of ordinary human decency and compassion lurking underneath the cowardice.

Re: Hillsborough, May completely burned up any goodwill from victims, families and campaigners when she said 'I ensured justice for Hillsborough families' back in February. Essentially, May jumped on the bandwagon, then cynically used the tragedy to score points against Labour at PMQs. This did not go down well - see Phil Scraton's response.
posted by jack_mo at 5:45 AM on June 15 [8 favorites]


I'm also hearing that she didn't meet families as far as anyone is aware.
posted by jaduncan at 5:46 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


You can read what you like into May's choice of visit, but she has consistently only met with people while they were at work, so that any speaking out would risk their jobs.

That's probably standard Conservative Party policy. When meeting with the lower orders, be sure that they have something to lose, and are acutely aware of who has the whip hand.
posted by acb at 5:57 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Hang on a second, Hillsborough? I had to google that, but ayy, it was the football stadium incident.
In 1989.

Good lord how long could *THIS* inquiry go on if that one has dragged on this long?
posted by Yowser at 6:06 AM on June 15


I don't think Hillsborough was a case of an inquiry dragging on for a long time. I think it was a case of a new inquiry being opened up because the previous ones were inadequate. Hopefully, the response to this disaster will avoid the ugly classism and victim-blaming of the initial response to Hillsborough, and there won't need to be several inquiries before the victims and survivors get any degree of justice.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:12 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


They've only just finished dealing with the Camberwell fire incident from 2009 — and obviously the recommendations haven't yet been implemented. These wheels will turn pretty slowly.

The political ones will move very quickly, though: May still hasn't formed a government, and at least two senior figures (Barwell and Johnson) have their fingerprints on this. The country is souring on the Tories, and fast.
posted by bonaldi at 6:15 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


Londonist has a page here on how you can help should you wish to.

When I was at one of the donation centres earlier it seemed like there was plenty of stuff of various types but that sorting it would be difficult. I think right now the preferred assistance is labour or money.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:20 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Oh.. by which I mean lowercase l labour to help sort and catalogue stuff etc. not the political party as such.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:21 AM on June 15


That skyscraper city thread linked above really has lots of detail about how fire protection works from people who appear to know their stuff.

It says that there is a polymer insulation certified for use on cladding in tall buildings, but only very recently. The BBC news website has confirmed that it was a polymer insulation in the cladding. It seems unlikely that it's the right type, and even if so, it appears not to be in spec.

Apologies if I'm getting too nerdy here: this really has shaken me more than any disaster I can remember, and I'm someone who only feels comfortable in environments where I have a pretty detailed of how they work, so I'm going nerdy.

I watched a moderately scary/action-y movie at the cinema last night, and I couldn't get the actual real horror that had happened out of my mind.

I hope that the public enquiry does go properly down to root causes. It definitely seems like safety standards that were contingent on things that existed at the time of construction (internal maintenance of safe areas audited by people external to the organisation, the impossibility of fire spreading along the outsides of the building) did not allow for the fact that those things could change within the lifetime of the building.
posted by ambrosen at 6:30 AM on June 15


Ministerial briefing going on now, televised on parliament channel (this I'm guessing would be open and televised House of Commons proceeding at other times, but Parliament not yet sitting). Shadow housing minister John Healey makes the point that the government doesn't need to wait for the inquiry to act - we have recommendations from coroners after previous fatal fires that we could be implementing right now (e.g. sprinklers in tower blocks).
posted by Catseye at 6:30 AM on June 15 [13 favorites]


Local Labour MP vents fury over Grenfell Tower fire. New MP Emma Dent Coad, who won her seat last week by 20 votes, has been fighting the Tory-controlled Council over social housing issues for years.

Dent Coad knows residents of the block, and is so distraught with worry about them that she has to stop speaking for a moment, but her primary response is extreme anger. “People in Grenfell Tower have been complaining that the aesthetic refit hadn’t helped them at all. It was more about making it look better for the people who want to regenerate the estate,” she said.
posted by rory at 6:39 AM on June 15 [9 favorites]


Wasn't able to post for a while. Some thoughts.

I'm not a Brit but I have family & friends there and as I watch the events go by I feel something big is seething. This country and the people have had enough. They've suffered and suffered, and very often needlessly. For what? For whose benefit?

Old Britain is looking like a colony pillaged by a foreign occupation force. They're not only taking away their fortunes and wealth but also threatening to tear the society apart. People are defenseless, not just in a figurative sense. Being defenseless is what I palpably feel from real people I know.

But I also know who the Brits are. When I first visited their, in London, I was very young. We got lost, I can barely speak the language, and we approached a woman on the street to ask around. I immediately regretted because now we see that this woman was in tears. How we failed to notice, I didn't remember, and I had no idea what made her so sad, yet she was not in her home, or with a friend. It was terrible, and I felt extreme shame. And she gave us the directions.

That was the face of Britain I still remember to this day. In tears, and still trying to help.

I've already said too much.
posted by runcifex at 6:39 AM on June 15 [17 favorites]


A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London
Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.
Dylan Thomas, 1945.
posted by runcifex at 6:52 AM on June 15 [15 favorites]


I think right now the preferred assistance is labour or money.

This is kind of typical; disasters arouse a geat desire to help, but a lot of the help that people come up with (donating a bunch of old clothes, etc) isn't what's really needed. I remember after Hurricane Katrina there was a need to communicate to the public that money was a lot more needed than the junk from your closets.
posted by thelonius at 7:24 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


It's likely that with the propensity for poorer people to donate more than the more well off that emptying their closet is the only thing a lot of the donators can do.
posted by Mitheral at 7:30 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


An honest, uneuphemised inquiry would find that everything worked as planned within the system today. The fact that there was no money for sprinklers or fire escapes for the residents but money to cosmetically cover the outside of their building was just the natural law of the Invisible Hand of the Market. Kensington is an expensive area and not really suitable for the poor. Those poors who are established there were, as Milton Friedman so memorably put it, free to choose. They could be decanted to more socioeconomically appropriate areas, like, say, Barking or Southend-on-Sea or somewhere. Or, they could dig in and defy the market, in which case, their presence would have to be mitigated with cosmetic cladding. Yes, the cladding was highly flammable, but beggars can't be choosers, and besides which, the cladding was there for the benefits of the well-heeled property owners whose property values were at stake, not the poors. So what it ultimately came down to was, by the supremely objective natural law of the market, the risk of being burned alive in one's bed was part of the bargain of living while poor in an upmarket area.
posted by acb at 7:31 AM on June 15 [16 favorites]


No, it does definitely look as if she straight up refused to meet any of the residents. Cites "security concerns."
posted by skybluepink at 7:48 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


"Security concerns"? How fucking tone-deaf is that? This is inexcusable.
posted by Catseye at 8:07 AM on June 15 [13 favorites]


If Theresa May has learned anything it is that it's dangerous to be around uncontrolled voters. Best to just meet people who will be sacked or career limited if they criticise you.
posted by jaduncan at 8:23 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


No, it does definitely look as if she straight up refused to meet any of the residents. Cites "security concerns."

And when asked about it directly, May didn't answer. At all. Just started talking about meeting the emergency services instead. Transcript here.
posted by jack_mo at 8:52 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


The Chancellor has withdraw his speech, and tonight's Mansion House dinner has been cancelled because of the fire.

They don't want footage of London's elite dressed in white-tie eating off gilded plates on the news at the moment.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:53 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


A piece in Bloomberg asserts that high-rise buildings are unsuitable for public housing, with the high maintenance costs overwhelming what savings are made by covering a smaller footprint, and push local authorities into cutting corners.
posted by acb at 9:01 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Old Britain is looking like a colony pillaged by a foreign occupation force. They're not only taking away their fortunes and wealth but also threatening to tear the society apart.

The really cunning thing about the occupying force is the way it's both composed almost entirely of people who are not foreigners and funded almost entirely by those under occupation.
posted by flabdablet at 9:10 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]




Hopefully, the response to this disaster will avoid the ugly classism and victim-blaming of the initial response to Hillsborough,

I wish, but the Scumbag papers have already printed pictures of the poor chap who's fridge allegedly malfunctioned, making sure to point out his nationality. They don't bother mentioning that Grenfell Action Group had already warned of "terrifying power surges". As if he could have known or done a single thing about it.

One day, I hope buying those fucking rags is as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:12 AM on June 15 [24 favorites]


Buying the Sun here on Merseyside already is!
posted by skybluepink at 9:15 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Ripley: You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.

It's amazing how that quote from a 1986 science-fiction movie continues to reflect my reaction to preventable human tragedies for just over 30 years and counting: always, always, always for the aggressive, marauding bands of humans we let rule over us it is dollars before human lives, human safety and human dignity.

. for the lives lost and the lives ruined by this.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:26 AM on June 15 [13 favorites]


... So what it ultimately came down to was, by the supremely objective natural law of the market, the risk of being burned alive in one's bed was part of the bargain of living while poor in an upmarket area.

... They don't want footage of London's elite dressed in white-tie eating off gilded plates on the news at the moment.

This early 90s cartoon from Michael Leunig seems apposite: Here I am
posted by flabdablet at 9:40 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


A piece in Bloomberg asserts that high-rise buildings are unsuitable for public housing

tl;dr: High-rise for the rich; yurts for the poor.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:10 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


'Disaster waiting to happen': fire expert slams UK tower blocks

Apologies if this has already been posted, but I've only just seen it and it's absolutely shocking.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:29 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


It's forecast to be 30 degrees in London on Sunday. I just can't shake this nagging sense something's about to kick off.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:45 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


The Queen issued a statement offering her “thoughts and prayers” to the families who had lost loved ones.

Thoughts and prayers! So everything is going to be OK!
posted by thelonius at 11:00 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I wish, but the Scumbag papers have already printed pictures of the poor chap who's fridge allegedly malfunctioned, making sure to point out his nationality. They don't bother mentioning that Grenfell Action Group had already warned of "terrifying power surges". As if he could have known or done a single thing about it.
Not only that, but this disaster was not caused by the initial fire. Fires happen. Any safe building design needs to take into account the fact that fires could happen. Disasters occur because fires don't get contained and people can't safely evacuate. Even if an individual tenant were responsible for the initial fire, the disaster would still be caused by bad planning and design, not by someone's malfunctioning fridge.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:01 AM on June 15 [14 favorites]


Grenfell Tower Fire: Jeremy Corbyn Calls For 'Luxury' Properties To Be Taken Over To House Residents
Housing Minister Alok Sharma said the Government will work with the local authority to “guarantee” that every single family from Grenfell Tower will be rehoused locally.

But Corbyn made clear he wanted much more radical and urgent action.

“Kensington is a tale of two cities. The south part of Kensington is incredibly wealthy, it’s the wealthiest part of the whole country,” he said.

“The ward where this fire took place is, I think, the poorest ward in the whole country and properties must be found - requisitioned if necessary - to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.

“It can’t be acceptable that in London we have luxury buildings and luxury flats left empty as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live. We have to address these issues.”
E X P R O P R I A T E
posted by indubitable at 11:02 AM on June 15 [29 favorites]


The Queen issued a statement offering her “thoughts and prayers” to the families who had lost loved ones.

She putting up any of the families in the palace until they can be found new homes...? No, thought not.

Oh and the £370m renovation costs for Buck House... that going to have the same cladding?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:03 AM on June 15 [12 favorites]


KCTMO – Playing with fire! (posted on 20 November 2016): Grenfell Action Group blog
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:11 AM on June 15


Beware 'disaster capitalism' - I am horribly convinced that the prediction in this article, that this tragedy will be used to reduce the UK's stock of social housing even further, will happen.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:14 AM on June 15 [8 favorites]


Singer & activist Lily Allen alleges on Channel 4 News that police sources have told her more than 150 people have died - mostly children. Good grief. If true, surely that will bring down the as-yet-unformed government as they played a significant role in regulations being hollowed out in the name of profit?
posted by kariebookish at 12:23 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


I wish, but the Scumbag papers have already printed pictures of the poor chap who's fridge allegedly malfunctioned, making sure to point out his nationality.

The Mail is basically saying this is an act of terrorism.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:25 PM on June 15


My theory is still that they're lifting the death count slowly so as to not cause parliament to be burned to the ground as well.
posted by Yowser at 12:42 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Editorial: The Guardian view on Grenfell Tower: Theresa May’s Hurricane Katrina
The 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans exposed failings in leadership and a terrible disdain for the lives of the poor. The London fire is doing the same
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:49 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]




One day, I hope buying those fucking rags is as socially unacceptable as drink driving.

The last time I flew in the UK, there were complimentary copies everywhere in the airports. It was damned scary to see the captain of our BA flight from EDI to LHR double-time up the jetway and pause only to grab the Sun before hoofing out of sight, nose buried in tabloid trash.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:04 PM on June 15


Simon Jenkins is, of course, wrong. In this particular case he's wrong about the idea that we need to stop building high rise accommodation, or at the very least in the community based arguments he's using against it. He's also wrong to use the phrase "jerry-built".
posted by ambrosen at 2:16 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


I don't think he's wrong. He makes a very good point about towers needing space to service them and that medium-density housing can actually be more space-efficient – as well as being a good deal nicer to live in.

We have huge low-income apartment buildings of the same era as Grenfell here in Melbourne, too, and the residents of ours have the same complaints that Grenfell's had. Some of them (e.g., the ones in Richmond) were built by demolishing closely-packed older houses that go for an absolute fortune nowadays. I don't think the Housing Commission flats can have a much higher density, because they're surrounded by a sort of blasted heath that kids instinctively avoid. Surely it would have been better to subsidise people living in homes of their choice, rather than force them into government-specified accommodation that many of them dislike.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:56 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Surely it would have been better to subsidise people living in homes of their choice, rather than force them into government-specified accommodation that many of them dislike.

This is important. It's hard to emphasise quite how much social housing tenants hate tower blocks. One thing that I have to advise and represent on a lot is refusal of final offers of homeless accommodation. I always advise homeless clients, when successfully getting local authorities to accept a duty to house them, that it will, in all but the most egregiously extreme cases (e.g. your murderous ex actually lives next door), be in their best interests to accept a tenancy of any social housing offered to them. I talk them through why refusing a property (as they have a right of review of suitability whether they accept or not) is essentially never in their best interests; I explain why, because of the possibility of mutual exchange, taking even a social housing property that they hate is almost certainly better than saying "no"; I assure them that, yes, the council really will refuse to rehouse them if they say no to an offer, even though they do have children; I explain that, yes, I will help them with their suitability review even if they say yes. This is literally a talk I have had multiple hundreds of times, that I back up with letters with clearly bolded passages. I hammer this shit home, because I cannot stand seeing my clients lose out on getting at least a foot in the door of social housing, simply by saying no to an offer I would have helped them to review even if they'd taken it.

And you know what? They still say no to tower blocks.
posted by howfar at 3:13 PM on June 15 [27 favorites]


The Times front cover tomorrow.

The suggestion is that non-flammable panels would have cost £2 per square metre more each, for a grand total of £5000.

Corporate manslaughter for £2 a sqm.
posted by threetwentytwo at 3:22 PM on June 15 [16 favorites]


Skyscrapers aren't intrinsically bad to live in, are they? Apartment buildings in North America are mostly fine.

It's just the ones that Britain stuck up in the postwar era after so many dwellings were bombed away, and at that point people were just relieved to see them go up (according to my Dad anyway).

It's something about the design of these tower blocks that makes them horrible to live in, right?

Usually it has to do with lifts never working so that elderly and disabled people are housebound on the 20th floor, and stuff like that?

Because at least if they hadn't slapped this cladding on it, the building might have been fugly but it wouldn't have been especially flammable.
posted by tel3path at 3:24 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Tel3path: the story of the Hulme Crescents is a great example of what sorts of things go wrong in these blocks. More widely, there was a documentary on the failings of tower blocks which was on BBC4 (probably) which I think was linked to an anniversary of Cathy Come Home but I can't remember the details of ( I might do an Ask because it was really good).
posted by threetwentytwo at 3:41 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Yes, I understand that there are a lot of things that go wrong with these tower blocks but what I'm asking is whether it's possible to design tower blocks that actually are desirable to live in?
posted by tel3path at 3:43 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Usually it has to do with lifts never working so that elderly and disabled people are housebound on the 20th floor, and stuff like that?

In my experience this isn't true - although repairs issues aren't my particular speciality. One of the most common reasons people give for the unsuitability of tower block accommodation is access issues. There are, naturally, times when they're right for reasons to do with their personal circumstances, and I've won reviews on this point. However, I've been though plenty of reports on the down times of lifts in various blocks, while arguing about this stuff with councils, and it's actually, from what I can see, quite unusual for lifts to be out of order, and actually very rare indeed for all the lifts in a building to be out of order at the same time. Obviously someone coming from a housing management background would be able to give more insight on this.

I think the hatred of tower blocks is complex and multifaceted. There are design issues, construction issues, safety issues, social issues, crime issues, etc, etc. Some of the issues are not issues of general perception than specific fact, too. I will, when I get time, try to do some proper searching for papers on this, which I'm sure must exist. Because if there are ways to address hatred of the towers, or even if there aren't, that has to be part of the starting point for the building​ and development​ aspect of ending the housing crisis. I don't know if it will start now, or in 20 years, but at some point we're going to have to address this situation, and understanding where people want to live has to be at least a part of how we do that.
posted by howfar at 3:48 PM on June 15 [9 favorites]


The complaints I have heard (and it sounds as though Howfar could literally have written the book) include lack of necessary maintenance, the inability to escape unpleasant or dangerous neighbours, discomfort caused by bad design (e.g. lack of insulation), and poor siting. I think all those things are definitely avoidable, except for the inability to escape your neighbours. In a regular tower block the residents have a lot more control over the public spaces, and even the other tenants, and they can control or evict anyone that (e.g.) defecates in the lift or menaces people. It's a lot harder for people in public housing to do that, and police have a harder time dealing with problems in a shared space. I mean, you can't tell people not to hang around their own home.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:51 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Hm, maybe shitheads could get all the detached housing and only well-behaved people should be allowed in tower blocks.

Yes, I have solved everything.
posted by tel3path at 3:57 PM on June 15


There are certainly problems with many low-income high-rise housing projects as they commonly exist. One set of problems (the "blasted heath" and low density resulting from that, a lot of the feeling of impersonal space) come from the architectural fad they were built under; the 1950s-70s concepts of a "tower in a park", originated in the 20s by Le Corbusier and most famously put into practice by Moses in NYC. This is often made worse by the use of brutalist design techniques. It just happens that so much of this housing stock was built in the postwar period, when the Radiant City fad was at it's apex, due to the baby boom in North America and the wartime urban destruction in Europe. High rise apartments are built all over the world that avoid these problems; it's a design and philosophy problem that has been solved.

The other set of problems come from the idea that it's a good idea to warehouse a whole the poor in a single location, where we don't have to think of them. This tends to lead to projects that are built as cheaply as possible; I suspect even the most good-hearted head in this direction -- if for a given budget you could house 500 people instead of 400, you would. It leads to concentrations of people who have no social capital and are left by the wayside by society. It means that problems aren't fixed, because that costs money and we need to balance the budget. It means that people act out in antisocial ways, because they despair at their treatment - and this leads to more problems to not fix. It means that residents feel that society doesn't care about them, because that's what all available evidence shows and they aren't stupid.

This problem of concentrations of poverty leading to misery exists in high-rise housing projects, but it exists in slumlord-owned tenement districts developed by the private market, and in proper 3rd world slums, developed outside the formal market entirely. It's a problem of social inclusion, political equity and reducing inequality, and that's a lot harder to fix than merely building appealing, safe high rises.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:03 PM on June 15 [33 favorites]


My biggest objection to Simon Jenkins taking this as an opportunity to roll out an evergreen subject of debate is that it's 48 hours since the fire started and the number of confirmed deaths could be an order of magnitude lower than the actual number.

There are so, so many issues that are more pertinent right now than actual types of building, unless the argument is that high rise accommodation is intrinsically unsafe.
posted by ambrosen at 5:22 PM on June 15 [5 favorites]




Re: stop building towers
"There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."
posted by runcifex at 7:04 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


A sobering opinion piece about how this is the end result of a drive to deregulate and cut red tape.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:31 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Since 2010, more than 10,000 firefighters have been axed, dozens of fire stations have closed, fire engines have been scrapped and levels of emergency rescue equipment has been slashed. In London, 10 fire stations have been closed, 27 fire engines axed and more than 600 firefighter posts have been cut. Every year response times are increasing and 2015-2016 saw a 15% rise in fire deaths compared with the year before ...

[...]

The fire service is finding it more and more difficult to respond to emergency calls efficiently and effectively. These cuts were instigated on the back of a global financial crisis that firefighters had no hand in creating. As a firefighter, I can say with authority that the public are not as safe as they were a decade ago. The increase in response times and fire deaths proves this. How is it that in the sixth richest country in the world emergency services are going backwards, damaging the safety of citizens?
Andrew Scattergood, Cuts to the fire service are putting lives at risk, The Guardian (15 June 2017).
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:05 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Steve Bell on the Grenfell Tower disaster

Proves once again what a visual genius Steve Bell is... never fails when it comes to the big occasions
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:20 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Yes, I understand that there are a lot of things that go wrong with these tower blocks but what I'm asking is whether it's possible to design tower blocks that actually are desirable to live in?

One third of "free-market" Hong Kong's population of 7 million live in public housing.

Brought to you by Hong Kong Public Housing Authority. OK, it's a corporate video and the focus isn't on the tenants as such, but it speaks millions about a very different attitude to public housing... Public Housing in the Era of Sustainability (YT)
posted by Mister Bijou at 12:25 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


what I'm asking is whether it's possible to design tower blocks that actually are desirable to live in?

Oh definitely. See eg this Telegraph piece from a few years ago on luxury high-rise buildings in London. The problem arises more when tower blocks are your go-to answer for social housing, especially when attitudes towards social housing shifted over the decades to grudging resentment and dismissal. Then you end up with tower blocks as the great Scottish political activist Jimmy Reid called them, "filing cabinets for people."
posted by Catseye at 1:19 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Gavin Barwell blanks a reporter asking about the fire.

Those revelations in the Times about the developers saving £5K by cheapening up on the cladding are breathtaking. This could trigger riots.
posted by rory at 1:46 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Gavin Barwell blanks a reporter asking about the fire.
soon to be changing the pin for his proximity card too.
posted by fullerine at 2:52 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


The council leader for Kensington and Chelsea was interviewed on Newsnight yesterday. He claimed the residents didn't want a sprinkler system because they didn't want the disruption.

I almost hurled my glass at the telly.
posted by skybluepink at 3:26 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]




Jonn Elledge in the New Statesman on how we need to change how web talk about council housing: Services for the poor become poor services.
posted by Catseye at 3:55 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Hm, maybe shitheads could get all the detached housing and only well-behaved people should be allowed in tower blocks.

I can see no possible perverse incentives here...
posted by acb at 3:57 AM on June 16


There aren't, I told you, I solved everything.
posted by tel3path at 4:12 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]




Shockingly Boris doesn't seem to want to appear anywhere near the site, despite the extreme pride he must feel regarding his record on Fire Service funding and his government's work on building regulations.
posted by jaduncan at 4:22 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


That Sun journalist pulled off quite a feat, as it's difficult for them to impersonate human beings, most days!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:28 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Twice a week I walk past the plaque at King’s Cross that memorializes the 31 dead of the fire of 18 November 1987. And when I walk past that plaque, I’m reminded of ... the 56 dead of the Bradford stadium fire disaster (11 May 1985), the 193 who died on the Herald of Free Enterprise (6 March 1987), the 35 who were killed at Clapham Junction (12 December 1988), the 96 who were crushed at Hillsborough (15 April 1989), or the 51 who drowned on the Marchioness (20 August 1989). Perhaps it was coincidence that these catastrophes happened cheek by jowl, in a way that they just haven’t since. Or perhaps ... it was something to do with the ascendant political ideology of the time, that starved vital infrastructure of much-needed investment, and that celebrated the quick search for profit. One of the good things about living in England over the last quarter century is that this run of disasters came to an end, and things became quite a bit safer. But of course the predictable consequence of the politicians’ collective choice to embrace the economics of austerity over the last seven years ... is that we would regress in some measure to this second-half-of-the-1980s world, and everything that is coming out now about the Grenfell Tower saga suggests that we have so regressed.
Chris Brooke, From King's Cross to Grenfell Tower, Crooked Timber (16 June 2017).
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:48 AM on June 16 [22 favorites]


The Daily Express seeking to blame EU environmental regulations for the inflammable cladding fitted to the tower. Right wing tabloids competing for some kind of offensiveness record here?
posted by rongorongo at 5:52 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Right wing tabloids competing for some kind of offensiveness record here?

Right-wing tabloid assuring its readers that BREXIT will save lives.
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:59 AM on June 16


This could trigger riots

I wish people would stop saying this. There are enough wankers eager to smash things up, and enough arseholes fantasising about 1968 Paris, who'll declare that "it's all kicking off now" and call it the revolution.* But it wouldn't be. It would just be more people in hospital or the morgue, and something else for the overstretched emergency services to deal with. And, of course, it would be a wonderful way for the people responsible for this appalling situation to slip back into the shadows and shift the blame.

A riot would solve nothing, absolve the guilty and only create more homelessness and suffering among the people who've suffered enough.

*Not that I'm calling you that, Rory, but they're there anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 6:00 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]




Boris has surfaced... from the Graun, just now -

Boris Johnson has posted on Facebook to accuse Labour of ‘outrageous politicking’ over the Grenfell Tower fire.

After lamenting that ‘there has sadly been some political game playing about the terrible fire in London’, the former Mayor of London goes on to criticise his successor Sadiq Khan and the Labour party. Johnson defends his record on fire safety during his time as Mayor, stating that number of fires and number of fire-related deaths fell year-on-year while he was Mayor.


So that'll improve his image no end, then.
posted by Devonian at 6:02 AM on June 16


Can you imagine that guy taking over for Theresa May now?
posted by indubitable at 6:11 AM on June 16


Boris to nation: "get stuffed."
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:15 AM on June 16


I wish people would stop saying this.

Yes, fair enough. Early morning fears, and watching the wrong vox pops on Twitter.

What I hope it does trigger is angry mass protests within earshot of 10 Downing Street.
posted by rory at 6:29 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


As people have pointed out in recent days, the sole reason why there was a drop in fire-related deaths is that they changed how you count these deaths. Under Boris, they stopped counting fire-related deaths if you died in hospital.

I hope all this leads to mass protests - the kind that cannot be ignored by mainstream media. Enough. Enough.
posted by kariebookish at 6:31 AM on June 16 [15 favorites]


Under Boris, they stopped counting fire-related deaths if you died in hospital.
Good lord.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:34 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]


Buzzfeed: Here's Why The Official Death Toll From The Grenfell Tower Fire Is Currently Lower Than People Expect

In short: UK police policy not to give numbers for other than confirmed fatalities, plus the difficulties searching the building.

It won't have been easy to get a list of the missing. I've seen comments that individuals have been reported as missing up to fifty times, and reports are going to be all the way from "I know X lived in Grenfell and we speak every day but I've not heard from her" to "I can't get through to Y and I think he was visiting a friend somewhere in West London that night". Between tenancy agreements, housing benefit claims, the electoral register, school registration lists and a dozen other examples of state bureaucracy there is probably a fairly comprehensive list of who resided in Grenfell, but that is by no means the same as a list of who was there at 1am on Wednesday morning (something which can probably never be established with 100% accuracy).

The police are not sitting on a mortuary full of bodies. They have 24 floors of questionably-sound concrete covered in a layer of ash and debris that - and I apologise for being so frank about this - is probably going to need to be sifted for bone fragments and teeth. It's as bad as a serious air crash without even the help of a definitive list of who was present.

Also, there is some terribly misguided and irresponsible speculation linked from that Buzzfeed article. Of course hospitals aren't giving out lists of patients. Of course the local authority isn't giving out its list of those believed missing. We have the Data Protection Act, and releasing such information without very good cause is a serious criminal offence. For that matter, do we want every Sun 'journalist', ambulance-chasing claims firm or con artist being given a free list of targets?

(Guess what? In the course of composing this comment I have had a call from a claims management firm asking if I've had a road accident. I get these about twice a month. I'd call these people vultures, but that's being rude to a perfectly nice bunch of scavenging birds.)
posted by Major Clanger at 6:44 AM on June 16 [26 favorites]


Contact your MP and push for an inquest as opposed to the public enquiry suggested by Theresa May.

A public enquiry will allow the tories to get away with it and continue unchecked with dangerous policy and legislation.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 7:02 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Inquiries and inquests are not mutually exclusive - indeed, there will have to be an inquest into these deaths irrespective of any other inquiry. What we want is for the terms of an inquiry to be set out so as to ensure that it deals thoroughly with the whole issue of safety of both tall residential buildings and publicly-owned accommodation.
posted by Major Clanger at 7:09 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Scum journalist accused by hospital of impersonating victim's family.

Last year, I spent a few months on contract at News UK, working on a mobile app for The Times. I left in February to spend a month travelling; they apparently had no problem finding a replacement developer. A few weeks ago, the recruiter through whom I worked for them called again, mentioning that News UK have work for me again. “At The Times?” “No, The Sun”. I turned the job down, telling him that I wasn't sure that I could live with myself if I worked for The Sun.

In retrospect, I suspect that may be a common sentiment; for a while, while The Times' development is done in London*, The Sun's app development was off-shored to somewhere in India. I'm wondering how much of that was cost-cutting and how much was due to a shortage of developers in London willing to touch The Sun with a bargepole.

* in the News Building, which stands right next to the Shard. Some refer to it as “Murdor”.
posted by acb at 7:11 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]


Not everyone agrees an inquest is better than an enquiry, fwiw; two twitter threads from human rights barristers both arguing against that idea: 1, 2.

It sounds like the important thing is setting the terms of inquiry and getting the right person to run it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 7:31 AM on June 16


Various news outlets reporting that residents near Grenfell Tower today received a hand-delivered letter from KCTMO, warning them against "antisocial behaviour and harassment" - specifically, children playing ball games. "Plants and wooden structures are being damaged and those costs will be passed on to whoever is identified as being responsible."

I would guess (hope?) that the letter, dated the day of the fire, was given to a third party to distribute before the fire started and nobody thought to contact said third party and stop them afterwards? Whatever the explanation, though, this is just awful.
posted by Catseye at 7:37 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


"Plants and wooden structures are being damaged and those costs will be passed on to whoever is identified as being responsible."

KCTMO will, I'm sure, therefore welcome any form of e/inquiry that seeks to determine who has been responsible for recent damages to KCTMO managed structures and seeks to recover costs on a personal basis.
posted by jaduncan at 8:04 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]


The Guardian has confirmed the Times cover story from this morning that the contractor installed the non-fire resistant version of the Aluminium cladding.

Jesus wept. They penny pinched £5000 and wrapped the building in polyethylene. They turned it into a giant roman candle just waiting for a spark.
posted by pharm at 8:06 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


Jesus wept. They penny pinched £5000 and wrapped the building in polyethylene. They turned it into a giant roman candle just waiting for a spark.

But, for one beautiful moment, they did manage to protect the value of nearby properties very effectively.
posted by acb at 8:17 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Jesus wept. They penny pinched £5000 and wrapped the building in polyethylene. They turned it into a giant roman candle just waiting for a spark.

*channels unfair tabloid hack*

How much did Kensington council leadership spend on their Christmas party that year?
posted by jaduncan at 8:18 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


There are going to be a lot of building managers making phone calls to their prime contractors today and asking very pointed questions I suspect. How many buildings in the UK have had polyethylene core panels quietly substituted for the fire-resistant version somewhere in the chain between the architect & the final installation to save a few quid?
posted by pharm at 8:20 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


How many buildings in the UK have had polyethylene core panels quietly substituted for the fire-resistant version somewhere in the chain between the architect & the final installation to save a few quid?

My housing association friend is having a very busy time indeed trying to work that out (and the resultant housing needs if various borough councils are going to be emptying London blocks). Unofficially, if there's a lot of exposure it's going to result in a fair few people being moved to Bedford.
posted by jaduncan at 8:25 AM on June 16


Unofficially, if there's a lot of exposure it's going to result in a fair few people being moved to Bedford.

As Milton Friedman advised, never let a good crisis, actual or perceived, go to waste.
posted by acb at 8:27 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Just because the contract says something, doesn't mean it's what's on the wall.

If, as I suspect, the forthcoming tombstone regulation bans the class of cladding used in Grenfell, there'll be no alternative but to inspect every installation. Faking a bit of paperwork for a few thousand quid isn't unknown in the building trade.
posted by Devonian at 8:27 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


If, as I suspect, the forthcoming tombstone regulation bans the class of cladding used in Grenfell, there'll be no alternative but to inspect every installation

Aside: is there any equipment that can passively inspect materials, detecting potentially combustible materials without laborious manual inspection by using spectrometry or similar techniques? Could the technologies used in explosive detectors be adapted to measuring combustibility? If so, I can imagine there being a market for hand-held laser combustometers or something similar, issued to council inspectors and insurance assessors.
posted by acb at 8:33 AM on June 16


Devonian: precisely.
posted by pharm at 8:37 AM on June 16


Protestors are now storming the council offices of RBKC. The building is a brutalist affair that's built like a fortress, complete with the open ground floor for trapping Poors and covering them in burning pitch, so I doubt they'll do much more than crowd around the place and trap the council inside.

It is one year to the day since the murder of Jo Cox. What a terrifying year...
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:38 AM on June 16 [17 favorites]


A lot of post-war council facilities are built like fortresses, I think because of regional government's planned role post nuclear strike. Once you start to see them like that, it's impossible to unsee.

And someone should remind rich people that the tax they pay is the price of keeping the blood in their bodies. It's a remarkable bargain.
posted by Devonian at 8:44 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Aside: is there any equipment that can passively inspect materials, detecting potentially combustible materials without laborious manual inspection by using spectrometry or similar techniques? Could the technologies used in explosive detectors be adapted to measuring combustibility? If so, I can imagine there being a market for hand-held laser combustometers or something similar, issued to council inspectors and insurance assessors.

Cut off a small sample and burn it.
posted by jaduncan at 8:44 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Protestors are now storming the council offices of RBKC.

Cut off a small sample and burn it.
posted by jaduncan at 8:46 AM on June 16 [15 favorites]


The problem with the 'cut a small sample' off approach is that every panel is wrapped in 3mm Aluminium sheet front and back. I bet there’s an acoustic difference between the filler materials though.
posted by pharm at 8:47 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


someone should remind rich people that the tax they pay is the price of keeping the blood in their bodies

Someone did.
posted by flabdablet at 8:50 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


The problem with the 'cut a small sample' off approach is that every panel is wrapped in 3mm Aluminium sheet front and back.

Drill a 3mm hole and check whether you can burn the swarf. Plug the hole with silicone sealant. Done.
posted by flabdablet at 8:51 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


The problem with the 'cut a small sample' off approach is that every panel is wrapped in 3mm Aluminium sheet front and back. I bet there’s an acoustic difference between the filler materials though.

I salute your cunning. Drilling a hole and refilling it isn't a dealkiller, though.
posted by jaduncan at 8:52 AM on June 16


So it turns out Emma Dent Coad was on the KCTMO board from 2008-2012, expect the right-wing media to hammer on that from now until eternity.
posted by Yowser at 8:54 AM on June 16


She also spent a decade as a councillor campaigning against poor safety standards in social housing in Kensington. I imagine she has a massive collection of dismissive statements from Tories to cite in her defence, and to prove her lack of complicity in their decision-making; it'd be interesting to see the minutes of those council meetings.
posted by Aravis76 at 9:03 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I have to say, looking at the pictures of people storming the council offices, if I were there and I'd had years of being ignored and rebuffed in return for trying to get things just a little bit better, just a bit more attention paid to health and law and duty of care, I'd be there, yelling at the top of my lungs.

Because this is what happens when you fuck with people from a position of privilege and power, for years and years, and then you are held to blame for burning them alive.

They tried to do it the right way, your way, the way forced upon them, even though it wasn't working. It takes a lot for peaceable people to break out of the right way, the way it's supposed to be done.

Burning them alive, that'll do it.

I wonder where this will stop. Because London is full of people who've soaked it up, for years, knowing it wasn't working but doing the right thing, and London has it far better than most of the rest of the country.

If I was Theresa, I'd be extremely nervous right now. She's the figurehead, the lightning conductor, of everything that led to Grenfell. And she knows it: she didn't even speak to those people on the ground.

Hottest weekend of the year coming up.
posted by Devonian at 9:04 AM on June 16 [26 favorites]


I salute your cunning. Drilling a hole and refilling it isn't a dealkiller, though.

Extremely sad example of this:
Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor at Hindwoods and a fire safety expert, says the elephant in the room is the flammability of insulation panels that are being used to clad postwar buildings to bring them up to date with today’s thermal standards. A recent £8.7m refurbishment of Grenfell Tower saw the building clad with “ACM cassette rainscreen” panels, an aluminium composite material covering insulation panels, which could have caused the fire to spread more quickly up the facade of the tower.

“The issue is that, under building regulations, only the surface of the cladding has to be fire-proofed to class 0, which is about surface spread,” says Tarling. “The stuff behind it doesn’t, and it’s this which has burned.” He says he recently inspected a new-build eight storey block in south-east London where there was no fire protection in the external cavity walls. “The insulation behind the external cladding is flammable polyurethane. I know because I took a chunk out and burned it.”
posted by jaduncan at 9:05 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Hottest weekend of the year coming up.
This.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:07 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


(Those pictures of the demonstrators storming the council offices looked oddly familiar, and then I realised that Kensington Town Hall was until this year the venue for the annual Dragonmeet gaming convention. One of those strange collisions of social life and real life.)
posted by Major Clanger at 9:08 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Ouch - Eddie Mair on PM now openly trolling May. Closed a report from the ground with a clip of Andrea Leadsom trying (very ineffectually) to answer a resident who, after a very articulate and angry list of reasons to be uncheerful, asked "Where is the Prime Minister? Why hasn't she talked to us? When is she coming here?"

AL:"The Prime Minister is trying to get a grip on events".

(back to studio)

Mair: "Andrea Leadsom, saying the Prime Minister is trying to get a grip."
posted by Devonian at 9:18 AM on June 16 [20 favorites]


“The insulation behind the external cladding is flammable polyurethane. I know because I took a chunk out and burned it.”

It's common sense gone mad.
posted by flabdablet at 9:42 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


It took me a while to work out that the insulation on the building was certified for use in high rises, although it was the first polyurethane insulation that is certified for that use. The polyethylene layer under discussion is 3mm thick, laminated in between two 0.5mm aluminum sheets. It was the laminate material that went on the outside, then a 150mm layer of PU foam, then a gap (intended to have firebreaks) to avoid moisture buildup in the insulation which I read somewhere was 90mm, then the concrete.

I understand much better why it's not easy to tell the difference between the fire resistant and non-fire resistant cladding, because it's literally all hidden.

Apologies if I'm explaining something that is blindly obvious to everyone here. From things I read in the newspaper, it seems like there'd be more explainers written if everyone understood that it was the structure I've described.
posted by ambrosen at 9:46 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


There was also a fairly recently fitted naked metal gas pipe in the (sole) stairwell, fitted by National Grid. Which is more than a little troubling.
posted by ambrosen at 9:49 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Turns out Thazza did go visiting this afternoon. Twitter says she was practically run out of town by angry people; a short clip on the BBC would seem to back that up.

Other interviewees saying that the council is refusing to help store donated goods, and that people are being rehoused outside London, directly contrary to promises. True? I don't know. But nobody's stepping up to answer those accusations, nobody's in charge.
posted by Devonian at 10:08 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


ambrosen: that’s insane. The whole point of those staircases is that they are non-combustible concrete, with nothing flammable anywhere near them. Putting a gas pipe in there destroys the safety case for the tower block immediately. Who the hell signed off on these “upgrades”?
posted by pharm at 10:12 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Here's a Twitter thread with reporting, pics and video of May's church visit. Two police vans required to get her out of there, she ducked out a side door to avoid a very, very angry crowd chanting 'Coward'.
posted by jack_mo at 10:19 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]




The residents requested that the naked gas pipe be put into a fireproof conduit, per regs.

Nothing happened.

(Until it did...)
posted by Devonian at 10:28 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Currently I'm struck by my FB feed. Usually a feed of nice baby posts, cat pics, and weekend running results. Right now even the most apolitical, generally non-engaged people there are posting very, very angry things about Grenfell. If I were trying to cling to power, I would be extremely worried.
posted by kariebookish at 10:34 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


In a, what's the word? Patrician? Society such as the UK, is there any chance that politicans could end up charged? (I'm guessing no, but am curious)
posted by Yowser at 10:35 AM on June 16


So they built a tower with a single common exit for 24 floors. Without sprinklers or an alarm system. They then "refurbished" it, not adding any fire suppression methods and possibly removing some of the existing fireblocks, instead putting a naked gas line in that single escape route and wrapping the entire building in flammable material. While instructing people that if there was a fire they were under no circumstances self-evacuate.

Seriously, if you put it in a book it would seem too cliche'dly villainous to be real.
posted by tavella at 11:15 AM on June 16 [26 favorites]


Oh, I forgot the bit where they closed most of the local fire stations and the local buffoonish chief politician told people who complained to 'get stuffed'.
posted by tavella at 11:17 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]


Heather Stewart and Jessica Elgot/Guardian: London fire: May offers £5m to victims amid criticism of response

Editorial/Guardian: The Guardian view on arrogance: the Greeks had a word for it, a word that once meant 'a deliberate, excessive and brutal act'.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:57 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]




Quotable quotes:

"She couldn't come down here and look us in the eye" - protester, about May.

"The protesters are marching north now towards, ah... BBC HQ" - presenter in BBC HQ.

(Cut to aerial shot of two cordons of police outside Broadcasting House, demo milling around.But its a very low-key demo, more akin to a large crowd waiting for a bus.)
posted by Devonian at 12:25 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Remember this pile of turds the next time you see someone credulously quote Megan McArdle

The worst passages to save you a click and giving them ad impressions:
Back to the case at hand: Maybe sprinkler systems should be required in multifamily dwellings. It’s completely possible that the former housing minister made the wrong call. But his comment indicates he was thinking about the question in the right way -- taking seriously the fact that safety regulations come at a cost, which made exceed their benefit. Such calculations have to be made, no matter how horrified the tut-tutting after the fact.

And he is certainly right about one thing: When it comes to many regulations, it is best to leave such calculations of benefit and cost to the market, rather than the government. People can make their own assessments of the risks, and the price they’re willing to pay to allay them, rather than substituting the judgment of some politician or bureaucrat who will not receive the benefit or pay the cost.

Grenfell Tower, of course, was public housing, which changes the calculation somewhat. And yet, even there, trade-offs have to be made. The government spends money on a great number of things, many of which save lives. Every dollar it spends on installing sprinkler systems cannot be spent on the health service, or national defense, or pollution control. Would more lives be saved by those measures or by sprinkler systems in public housing? It’s hard to say.

It’s possible that by allowing large residential buildings to operate without sprinkler systems, the British government has prevented untold thousands of people from being driven into homelessness by higher housing costs. It’s also possible that a sprinkler system would not have saved lives in that Grenfell inferno, as the fire apparently spread outside the building as well as within it. Hold these possibilities in mind before condemning those who chose to spend government resources on other priorities. Regulatory decisions are never without costs, and sometimes their benefits are invisible.
posted by indubitable at 12:31 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]




The Independent is live blogging the various protests across London.
posted by roolya_boolya at 12:58 PM on June 16


Remember this pile of turds the next time you see someone credulously quote Megan McArdle

Also part number the billionth in a series on "libertarians, if you keep on wondering why people hate you and what you stand for so much, this bullshit here is the reason."
posted by zombieflanders at 1:19 PM on June 16 [21 favorites]


The chant I've heard that hits home the most has been 'Strong and stable, that's a lie, you don't care if people die'.

Which couldn't be more to the point if it tried.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:27 PM on June 16 [39 favorites]


Grenfell fire protesters descend on Downing Street chanting 'May must go'

I've never seen protests with the quality of rage I'm seeing here. Those people just chanting "May must go" grim faced and cold. No sense of anything apart from sheer, barely controlled fury. I've been in many protests in Britain and in London in particular, and even in the biggest or most impassioned ones there has always been a sense of embarrassment among the vast majority of British people protesting. A sense of not being entitled to demand, a sense of apology. But there's nothing there of that at all. Just rage and pain. It's terrifying, in a way, despite its utter righteousness.
posted by howfar at 2:13 PM on June 16 [28 favorites]


Although I note that the Socialist Rapists Party has still spread its filthy fucking placards everywhere.

I hate the SWP about as much as I hate the Tories.
posted by howfar at 2:22 PM on June 16 [12 favorites]


It’s possible that by allowing large residential buildings to operate without sprinkler systems, the British government has prevented untold thousands of people from being driven into homelessness by higher housing costs.

Yes. It truly is the use of sprinkers that has made London property unaffordable.
posted by jaduncan at 3:32 PM on June 16 [23 favorites]


"Not so much strong and stable as shutting the stable door."

BBC Newsnight's comment on Theresa May's day.
posted by antiwiggle at 3:38 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I'm trying and failing to find any substance in that McArdle article that doesn't come down to, "Yes, but you see, it would have cost money." Jesus, I'm ashamed of the days that I liked and read her on the regular. That was fifteen years ago and I'm still ashamed.

She seems to have missed the bulletin about the fireproof cladding. Five thousand pounds were saved. Five thousand pounds. Jesus, how petty was that. People throw weddings that cost more than that. I keep repeating the number: five thousand pounds!
posted by Countess Elena at 3:39 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure who Megan McArdle thinks her audience is, but in the US, we pretty much settled the debate about whether the free market can provide adequate fire protection a hundred years ago, right after the Triangle Fire. We're a terrible, terrible society in many ways, but I don't think there's too much controversy about frigging fire safety regulations.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:47 PM on June 16 [19 favorites]


Five thousand pounds. Jesus, how petty was that. People throw weddings that cost more than that

Or buy 1/5th of a garden shed.
posted by Buntix at 3:47 PM on June 16


It's suspected that the same cladding was used on the Docklands building which caught fire in Melbourne in 2014. Relevant quote:
The imported Chinese cladding installed on the Lacrosse building was tested by the CSIRO an
d found to be so combustible that the test was abandoned at 93 seconds due to fear excessive flaming and smoking would damage equipment. (The Age)


I am just devastated and can't really even begin to imagine the size of this tragedy. That one of the main reasons this cladding was chosen was allegedly aesthetics... just boggles the mind.
posted by freethefeet at 9:04 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


The Guardian is reporting 'speculation' that a D notice has been issued gagging the media on the death toll at Grenfell. Which is interesting - the Guardian must certainly know if one has been, would be unable to report the fact; if one hadn't been, it wouldn't report the speculation. So we must conclude that one is out there, presumably on the grounds that if the truth got out there'd be civil unrest.
posted by Devonian at 8:48 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


There isn't one.
posted by knapah at 9:11 AM on June 17


OK. So the Guardian's being irresponsible?
posted by Devonian at 9:16 AM on June 17


The Grauniad last night at 9:33pm?.

"Speculation" there may have been, but that same Grauniad report's second paragraph continues: "None has been issued in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire, the MoD has confirmed to the Guardian."
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:18 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


It’s possible that by allowing large residential buildings to operate without sprinkler systems, the British government has prevented untold thousands of people from being driven into homelessness by higher housing costs.

Or used that money to even better effect, giving £100 each to all rich residents of the borough - a damning letter in the Guardian from a wealthier resident of Kensington and Chelsea.
posted by vacapinta at 11:11 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]


The MOD isn't the only issuer of things known as D notices, though.
National security has a host of handmaidens.
posted by Devonian at 11:58 AM on June 17


As of several hours ago, 58 believed dead; number may raise.

Meanwhile, the council still has flatly refused to release a tenant list. No one knows how many people *survived*, which should have been the first thing they sorted out and I see no reason to hold back that number.
posted by Yowser at 12:26 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]




I found that very moving, Octothorpe, not because her death is 'more tragic' than any other but because...

Oh, London, you terrible place, that offers so much and takes so much more.
posted by Devonian at 12:51 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


The Italian media have been reporting on a young couple that died in their apartment in one of the top floors. They had moved to London for work, because they couldn't find anything in Italy even with a degree, and had been living in Grenfell since March. They were on their phones with their parents for HOURS as the tower burned. Hours. At first to reassure them, then to be reassured, and then to tell them they were about to die. Hours.

There must be hundred of stories like these. I've seen videos of people in the community raging about the lack of information from the authorities, the lack of estimates. If this were a terrorist attack, even with no confirmed numbers, we'd be seeing headlines saying HUNDREDS PRESUMED DEAD because that's what it is. Hundreds are presumed dead. But they'll quietly release the numbers of victims once it has faded from public consciousness and no one responsible is going to be dragged to jail by the crowds. Goddamn.
posted by lydhre at 12:59 PM on June 17 [18 favorites]


Yowser, releasing a list of tenants would be a flagrant breach of the Data Protection Act. RBKC is likely in enough trouble already without gratuitously breaking the law in this respect.

Also, it would be grossly irresponsible (which is why we have the DPA in the first place) - as I've already noted, it would expose survivors and families of the missing and dead to gutter journalists (already seen to have happened), ambulance-chasers and scammers.
posted by Major Clanger at 1:10 PM on June 17 [12 favorites]


Fair enough. What about the number of survivors? They've released the number of people that have left hospital, so surely there's nothing stopping them from releasing the number?
posted by Yowser at 1:21 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


The way to avoid privacy breaches would be to release numbers of people confirmed to be alive. Last I looked, there were just under 100 hospitalized with some released; and 109 families supposedly placed in temporary accommodation.

Whether all of those 109 families were from Grenfell House or from neighbouring blocks that have been evacuated, though, isn't clear.

They could get around all this by confirming not just the numbers accounted for by hospitalization or death, but the numbers that have reported in that weren't hospitalized or killed. ETA: snap, Yowser.
posted by tel3path at 1:21 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


What about the number of survivors? They've released the number of people that have left hospital, so surely there's nothing stopping them from releasing the number?
By survivors, do you mean people who were in the building when the fire started but got out and survived? I doubt there's any way of knowing that number. You'd have to know how many people were living there in the first place (which can be complicated in situations where family members may come and go), how many residents were out that evening, and how many visitors were there. I doubt there's any way to have even a rough estimate of that.

They may be able to give an estimate of the number of people who have been left homeless.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:36 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I mean the number of people who've reported to them as having lived in the building and safely escaped the fire.

They can't ALL have been subletters and they can't ALL have been there illegally or under the radar. At least some of the people there had to have been people who were supposed to be there. On the electoral register and stuff.
posted by tel3path at 2:11 PM on June 17


ArbitraryAndCapricious has made the point I was about to: it's actually going to be difficult to ever get an exact list of who was in the building at the time.

In theory every adult actually resident in a flat there should have been on a tenancy agreement. But people move in partners, or split up, and don't always tell their landlord (here the local authority) promptly. Some people will have been away or on holiday. Some people will have had friends or family staying over. Children won't be on tenancy agreements, so there will likely have had to be a trawl of school and NHS records to look for children who had Grenfell Tower listed as their address. (And again, there will be children who were visiting, or usually lived there but were away). Even if a 95% accurate list was produced in a day or two, with estimates that 500 people usually resided in the building that 5% will be a margin of 25.

As it is, the latest reports are that the police say that 58 people are dead or known missing, and that this may increase to perhaps 70 in total. That suggests that there is now a fairly high level of confidence that they know who is unaccounted for, and for the reasons I've set out it doesn't surprise me that it's taken three days to get to this point.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:20 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


If they're saying they are considering 58 people to be known to be in the building but not accounted for, that implies the others they know to have been in the building are accounted for. I guess they release "safe" numbers, but I'm not sure I get the point of it.
posted by knapah at 3:39 PM on June 17


Funny how after the London Bridge attacks the Maybot was right there, talking about solutions like tearing up human rights legislation and taking full state control of the Internet.

Something like this happens and she eventually mumbles something about a thorough inquiry and *if* there are lessons to be learned they *will* be learned.

Didn't even bother to make something up, like, IDK, we'll ban all immigration so London tower blocks won't be so overcrowded and thus lower the death toll when they burn down.

How inept of her to let such an opportunity slip through her robo-phalanges.
posted by tel3path at 4:09 PM on June 17 [8 favorites]


I guess they release "safe" numbers, but I'm not sure I get the point of it.

I meant to say "I guess they *could*release..."
posted by knapah at 4:23 PM on June 17


In theory every adult actually resident in a flat there should have been on a tenancy agreement...Children won't be on tenancy agreements,

I don't think the minor/adult distinction makes a fundamental difference to the available data here. Although social landlords will typically want any couple moving into a property to be joint tenants (both for rental liability purposes and in order to control succession rights), they don't, in my experience, issue new tenancies to reflect changes in relationship status after the first tenancy is signed (mainly due to the fact that this would create a new right of succession - but that's a technicality that's not really relevant here, so I won't waffle on). There's no actual need for all adults to be named on the tenancy agreement - a secure tenant has the same rights to allow people to live at the property (short of subletting the whole flat or otherwise parting with possession of the whole of the property) as any other holder of an estate in land, whether freehold or leasehold.

However, from the look of things (pdf of a 2002 tenancy agreement, which many residents will still have, and which is strongly indicative, to my mind, of what the new agreements are likely to contain in this respect), it seems that all non-tenant adults and all children should be named on the agreement as "other occupiers". This is standard practice for most social landlords, so I'd be surprised if RBKC have stopped doing it.

On the other hand, as you note, people do not typically update their landlords with changes of circumstances unless it's absolutely necessary, and landlords don't really care about updates unless there is unlawful subletting of the whole. While there is a clause stating that tenants must inform the landlord of changes in residence, a social landlord wouldn't apply for a possession on the basis of a breach of that condition alone, and wouldn't get a possession order on that basis, even if they tried.

That said, given that many of the households who lived in Grenfell Tower were on low incomes, Housing Benefit records are probably going to be a fairly good source of up-to-date residency information (because if you don't tell the authority's benefits service who is living at your property, with dates of birth, work and education circumstancs etc, you're likely committing fraud). You could also get decent information from records held by DWP and HMRC relating to out of work benefits, Child Benefit and Child and/or Working Tax Credits.

So, while the picture that you'd be able to build of real occupancy would be far from complete, my view is that a well motivated authority could probably, on the first day, and with relatively little effort, have produced a fairly decent list of most of the children who should have been living in the building, and probably a good chunk of the adults too. The reality of shifting living circumstances will definitely make this significantly less comprehensive and accurate in practice than in theory, but given that it wouldn't be too hard, making such a list would arguably have been a decent start, which might have helped to alleviate worry among friends/family etc who have not been able to make direct contact with their loved-ones.
posted by howfar at 5:03 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile the council continues to not do anything. The BBC reporting on the lack of coordination of relief efforts remarks: "The BBC has asked the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for an interview but has received no response."

Fuck me.
posted by tel3path at 5:12 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]



knapah: "If they're saying they are considering 58 people to be known to be in the building but not accounted for, that implies the others they know to have been in the building are accounted for. I guess they release "safe" numbers, but I'm not sure I get the point of it."

From a public information point of view why does the exact number even matter; a close order of magnitude number is sufficient to gauge the severity of the disaster. I mean internally public safety agencies are going to want to be as precise as possible but the average person isn't really differently impacted if the number is 51 or 61 or points in between
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on June 17


If you want to see how well RBKC is operating at the moment, check out this video from earlier today at the town hall.

(spoiler: there's nobody there and they've locked away all donations sent to the council)
posted by Yowser at 7:07 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


In the modern world, local councils have outsourced a great deal of their operations. When people were employed directly by the council they weren’t just "accountants" or "social workers" or whatever, they were at a fundamental level servants of the people of the borough & because of that sense of purpose they were willing to turn out in times of emergency to do whatever it took to help at a major incident. (In the past they probably lived in the borough as well)

Now, your average Kensington and Chelsea worker probably lives an hour or two’s drive away and is employed through an out sourcing agency who's contract specifies every detail of their work. They (rightly) feel no more loyalty to the council than the council does to them & even if they were willing to turn out to help, the council probably doesn’t even know how to contact them directly. It’s no surprise that no one is bothering to turn up the weekend after a major incident: the council doesn’t have the staff any more.
posted by pharm at 12:11 AM on June 18 [13 favorites]


Tory talking points (link is to some right-winger or Russian troll's sockpuppet, it's the best I could do)
posted by Yowser at 1:06 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


(Twitter really needs more than 140 characters, these images with text are really getting tiresome)
posted by Yowser at 1:09 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


As an American, I don't understand why this is disorganized. If we have an emergency like this in the US, the Red Cross is there in like 5 seconds with trained volunteers to coordinate efforts. There appears to be no civil defense here in Britain.

There were 500-600 people living in that building! Either this is an enormous relief effort or this was an enormous disaster with hundreds dead. Which is it?
posted by vacapinta at 1:48 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Enormous efforts were made by the emergency services and the NHS, which is why more people aren't dead. Subsequent relief efforts - the job of the local council and the UK central government - have been a total shambles. The Red Cross are on the ground, together with many other charities and NGOs, but it's ultimately the job of the council to provide local housing and relief for their own tenants and there is only so much that an NGO can do without minimal competence from the local authorities.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:35 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]


the Red Cross is there in like 5 seconds with trained volunteers to coordinate efforts
They were and are there.

Emergency planning in the UK puts local councils at the front and centre of co-ordination, and all local councils should have a plan in place to cover major disasters. You can read on Kensington and Chealsea's own website what they should be doing.

Enormous efforts were made by the emergency services and the NHS
I can't find it online, but I read a commentary by an A&E consultant in London which basically said they've now had a major emergency three times in less than three times,so their response is really, really slick. Also, that this is partly co-ordinated by a WhatsApp group (to avoid everyone turning up at once and getting under the feet, so they can instead get exactly the senior people to where they are needed when they are needed). Whatsapp if I recall correctly was on the list of apps whose security this government wanted to destroy.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:44 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]


Subsequent relief efforts - the job of the local council and the UK central government - have been a total shambles.

Both have been systematically gutted during the past 30 years.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:46 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


They (the council? I don't know who handles this) started telling survivors that if they don't take whatever housing is offered, they'll end up homeless.

So that's just lovely (sigh)
posted by Yowser at 3:17 AM on June 18


"Lack of support and relief for Grenfell Tower survivors is an outrage & a scandal. I was there last night - no authorities, just volunteers." - David Lammy on Twitter an hour ago.

I know he's a politician but I trust David Lammy on this.
posted by vacapinta at 3:35 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Compared with disasters of thirty years ago, it’s clear that the emergency service response is much, much better on almost every axis (excepting the awful exception of the advice to stay put given to residents of the tower, but that’s a failure of governance, not the emergency services themselves) whereas the post-emergency response has been absolutely woeful.

Councils used to be the central pillar for co-ordinating disaster response, but they’ve been gutted of both power and resources by successive UK governments & it’s reached the point where at least some of them are no longer fit for purpose.
posted by pharm at 3:45 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


They (the council? I don't know who handles this) started telling survivors that if they don't take whatever housing is offered, they'll end up homeless.
Residents have told the SKWAWKBOX of a local builder who recently completed twenty new apartments in the area and who has taken them off the market for three months to make them available – for free – to families made homeless by the blaze.

It’s a generous act of kindness typical of the way in which the community has pulled together in the days after the tragedy – but the council has treated it as yet another opportunity to behave crassly toward people whose lives are in tatters at the moment.

Residents say that those who have been offered the free temporary accommodation have been told by the council that if they accept the offer, they will be removed from the council’s rehoming list – even though it’s clear that it’s only temporary.
How reliable is The SKWAWKBOX?

And if the facts reported are correct, who at the council said what they said?

Names, I want names.
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:01 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Edit: "Names, we want names."
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:04 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


This is eugenics right before our very eyes.
posted by Yowser at 4:06 AM on June 18


The names are out there on social media, I've seen them shared several times now. Council employees, job titles, how much they get paid, how long they've worked there. Someone I know who was volunteering on Friday said people were going round putting up posters with the list of names.

I don't know why this is so uncoordinated, the response from the public is similar to the one there's been for recent floods, helping refugees, etc. It shouldn't be unanticipated, and there's good models for how to handle it (theres been lots of discussion of how they've managed the volunteers helping at Calais for instance). I don't see why it would be hard to include this in emergency plans.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:20 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


They (the council? I don't know who handles this) started telling survivors that if they don't take whatever housing is offered, they'll end up homeless

It would be the council. My comment above relates to this point. Basically, a duty to accommodate a homeless person is fully discharged by a refusal of "suitable" accommodation. While the advice I would give, as an adviser engaged to act and advise on behalf of (and solely in the interests of) a homeless applicant, would be to accept (almost) any offer and review the suitability of any unsuitable accommodation, I am appalled (although not really surprised) that the authority is apparently thinking in terms of discharging its duty in relation to offers of (it seems) temporary accommodation at this point. They may be able to do so legally, but the sheer callousness of the response is horrifying.

But, having said that, this is how most London boroughs (I have opinions about which ones are worst behaved) treat homeless applicants as a matter of course. "Take what we say, even if it's in Birmingham, Peterborough or Durham, or fuck off. And if you've got kids... well...social services won't accommodate you with them, y'know?". That last point is usually a lie, not least because it's more expensive to house children without their parents, and also contrary to the principles of the Children Act 1989 (as long as there are no other welfare concerns), but that doesn't stop councils from threatening people with having their kids taken away if they don't do as they're told. That's something that has got much worse in the last few years.

So yeah. Disgusting, but basically what I'd expect.
posted by howfar at 4:30 AM on June 18 [13 favorites]


Ealing Counclil have stepped in because RBKC are useless.
posted by Yowser at 4:35 AM on June 18


Ealing Counclil have stepped in because RBKC are useless.

Last time I dealt with Ealing they were supposed to be securing accommodation for a family of Londoners, which they, naturally, accomplished by warehousing them, for months, in an unlawfully overcrowded B&B room in Birmingham, before offering them a private rented place in Dudley, if memory serves. And pretty much just ignoring every effort I made to get them to engage until we threatened to sue them.

So if Ealing are having to come to the rescue, imagine how fucked things are in RBKC. Jesus fucking Christ.
posted by howfar at 4:46 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Residents say that those who have been offered the free temporary accommodation have been told by the council that if they accept the offer, they will be removed from the council’s rehoming list – even though it’s clear that it’s only temporary.

My initial thought on this would be that they can't remove them from the allocations scheme entirely for accepting the offer, because they will, while homeless, still be owed what's called "reasonable preference" in this scheme. However, it's entirely possible to be given reasonable preference while actually being unable to bid on properties. I don't know RBKC's allocation scheme, so can't comment on the specifics at this point, but what you're seeing described is at least (in practical terms) fairly close to something that could actually happen.
posted by howfar at 4:57 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Are the Council actively trying to be hated, then? Because I can't see any way this won't have people baying for their blood.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:04 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Are the Council actively trying to be hated, then?

I think we'll have to wait for things to settle down a bit before we know what's actually going on, and how things will be approached, but the context for this, in my view, is the utterly toxic siege mentality that most London borough councils have about homeless applicants. Their practices are largely set up to (a) stop people from applying as homeless in the first place (what's known as 'gatekeeping'), (b) find reasons to refuse a homeless applicant a duty wherever possible and (c) get rid of them to another authority as quickly as possible if they do manage to get past (a) and (b). Homeless applicants are, in the culture of many borough council, largely regarded as feckless queue jumpers, who should be fought off as quickly as possible.

So while we don't know the specifics, and I won't rush to condemnation in this regard as yet, I don't find anything particularly surprising in the claims that are being made.

I will probably go and read some RPG sourcebooks in the park or something now. Reality is a bit too fucking grim sometimes....
posted by howfar at 5:18 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]


Oh this is a GREAT reason to no show by RBKC: "Town Hall Closed
The town hall has been closed following damage caused during a protest. Volunteers planning to attend tomorrow and Sunday to help sort donations should not come until further notice. Please check this website for further updates.""

That damage? Two windows?


You know what else got damaged? DESTROYED EVEN?
posted by Yowser at 5:20 AM on June 18 [13 favorites]


The depressing thing is that a borough which is dominated by some of the most valuable real estate on the planet but also has a relatively small number of poor and vulnerable residents ought to be the best possible place for providing social care of all kinds. RBKC ought to be able to provide the absolute gold standard of services, if they actually wanted to.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 5:30 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


Ed Vulliamy tells of his grief and rage at the ruthless development that has divided the Grenfell Tower area where he was raised..
posted by adamvasco at 6:52 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


RBKC ought to be able to provide the absolute gold standard of services, if they actually wanted to.
In May 2014, the local election returned a huge majority of Conservative councillors. Business as usual. For years, the Royal Borough has got away with bribing the electorate with its own money. For years, the Royal Borough has been running huge underspends in its revenue budgets which it then transfers into capital reserves. The underspend in the 2016-17 adult services budget alone is £1.9m. Apparently, adult services in the area are doing so well they don’t need the money. And every other social service must be performing brilliantly, as the council’s projected reserves of £167m by the end of 2016-17 has climbed to a staggering £209m – that’s £42m surplus to requirements. How many sprinkler systems is that?
My council tax rebate from Kensington and Chelsea is blood money
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:55 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]




Jonathan Pie "Papering Over Poverty."
posted by adamvasco at 8:57 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


£5,500 to be given to each household affected, which is considerably less than the value covered by the average home contents insurance policy. Meanwhile the RBKC head of housing's total remuneration last financial year was £126,195, including a performance related pay award of £4650.
posted by howfar at 10:57 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


£5,500 is also £300 less than the prescribed minimum for home loss payments made to people displaced from their homes as a result of compulsory purchase, development etc. I am very much hoping that the government makes clear, soon, that there will be a proper programme of compensation for the victims.
posted by howfar at 11:16 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Kensington and Chelsea council has been relieved of responsibility for taking care of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The work is being handed over to a new Grenfell Fire Response Team, made up of representatives from central government, the British Red Cross, the Metropolitan police, London-wide local and regional government, and the London Fire Brigade.

It is embarrassing for the council, the wealthiest in the country, to have had to cede control.


They also provide some numbers:

By the end of Monday, 19 June, we aim to have contacted all known families affected by the fire and completed an assessment of what they need. The latest information we have is that 201 households have received emergency accommodation to date, of which 113 are homeless.
posted by vacapinta at 12:15 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


What gets me is, the morning after the London Bridge attack we had the Maybot coming out there to say she was going to ban human rights and censor the Internet to keep us all safe.

How long did it take her to get round to saying anything after this inferno which thousands of people from miles around witnessed directly? As we all know, too long.

And instead of coming up with knee-jerk authoritarian solutions that would make everyone's situation drastically worse for no reason - in other words, instead of being a Tory on her best behaviour - she mumbles that IF there were lessons to be learned they WOULD BE learned (not necessarily by her).

And ladies and gentlemen, admire the PR skills of this fucking guy (cw: Nick Paget Brown) calmly explaining how right he is in front of an actual burning building.

Fuck off, Tories. Fuck off the lot of you. You think we're gonna accept that this is just the way life is now? Every week another Hillsborough or Kings Cross or Hatfield? Fuck. Off.
posted by tel3path at 12:20 PM on June 18 [20 favorites]


And these people who are getting moved across the country, well they're gonna have an easy time commuting on the £10 a day they've been issued to live on. Or are they supposed to get new jobs now? That'll be easy since all they need is a new passport (they can just give up eating for two or three weeks to pay for that) and a bank statement addressed to their current address, which they have been moved from three times in the last three days. That'll work.

Or not, but it won't be anyone's problem but theirs, which is obviously what the council has in mind.
posted by tel3path at 12:23 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]


Huh... didn't see that part where they sacked the council. That's a start, anyway.
posted by tel3path at 12:32 PM on June 18


Oh and wait, it's all coming back to me now... didn't the Maybot promise to financially support the Tory MPs who were voted out of their seats because of her extremely expensive election?
posted by tel3path at 1:54 PM on June 18




(c) get rid of them to another authority as quickly as possible if they do manage to get past (a) and (b).

This is literally the continuation of the strategy documented in such works as Oliver Twist and Down and Out in Paris and London. The UK apparently hasn't figured out a better way of handling poor relief on the past two hundred years.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:33 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Well it depends what you mean by "better", doesn't it? If you *don't* want a starving working class then no, it is not better.

The thing is that the Tories *genuinely do* want a starving working class. No exaggeration. Jack Monroe seems to have had a few words to say about that.
posted by tel3path at 2:43 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I'm seeing a lot of flashing amber lights over towards the tower. Have local roads been shut down or something?
posted by Leon at 3:02 PM on June 18


This is literally the continuation of the strategy documented in such works as Oliver Twist and Down and Out in Paris and London. The UK apparently hasn't figured out a better way of handling poor relief on the past two hundred years

Sadly, despite the best intentions of our homelessness legislation, this is significantly true. I should note that it's mainly London boroughs that act in this way (although I've tangled with Oxford on out of area placements too). In many London boroughs, homelessness policy really does feel like a sort of social cleansing. If you lose your home, and can't find another one, then there is a very high chance you'll find yourself​ shipped off to start a new life somewhere you know no-one. We do need specific changes to the law to deal with this kind of behaviour by councils.

For the rest of the country, the basic problem is not so much that the law isn't appropriately devised - it's actually not that bad as conceived, and works pretty well in places with relatively low housing demand. The fundamental problem is that private renting in the UK has become, since 1989, massively​ unappealing, and social housing is unbelievably scarce in comparison to demand. In a lot of places, it's almost impossible for families to access social housing unless the "full homeless duty" is granted to them. So any sensible person with kids, on receiving their "section 21" notice to leave their private rented property, goes straight to their local authority and makes a homeless application. Because you'd be a fool not to, unless you relish moving your children to a new house every two or three years through their childhood. But local authorities resent this, because homelessness legislation wasn't really intended to be the main path into social housing - it's just ended up that way because of Right to Buy and other policies which have destroyed our social housing infrastructure. And, of course, sourcing temporary accommodation tends to be very expensive, because there's no cap on the amount of Housing Benefit payable for temp. accommodation, but there is a cap for exactly the same properties if they're let through private agreement.

Hence the councils do everything they can to stop people from being owed a duty, even though those people are only using the law as it was intended to be used, because the context in which it is occurring is so wildly distorted from what it should be. People making homeless applications are perceived to be queue jumping (even though their circumstances actually justify that priority) because almost everyone else trying to get into social housing is also so badly fucked by the housing crisis.

I should note that, after a series of changes to the law, it's becoming increasingly popular for councils to discharge their homeless duty by finding "suitable" accommodation in the private sector. Often by offering cash inducements to private landlords, and (in the case of places like London) looking far outside their own areas. Hence perceptions of homeless legislation change even more - from having the intention of (in part) helping those most vulnerable into accommodation where they can get off the destructive treadmill of insecure accommodation, to basically just being a revolving door leading from one shitty and unstable tenancy to the next.
posted by howfar at 3:08 PM on June 18 [18 favorites]


It is embarrassing for the council, the wealthiest in the country, to have had to cede control.

Is it really embarassing, though? Isn't it what KCC wants? If Ealing is handling the housing, then they get rid of the former tenants, which they no doubt want. And with other groups handling the rest of the relief, they don't have to spend any money. And given it's the wealthy in the borough who elect them, it's not going to cause them any election difficulty next time around.
posted by tavella at 3:36 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


This is true. The remarks that this fire will likely eliminate Labour's majority, as cynical as that is, it's a fact.

I'd like to have thought otherwise, but the council's actions up till now suggest nothing good about their motives.
posted by tel3path at 4:01 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Number of people missing and presumed dead is now at 79.
posted by Catseye at 2:44 AM on June 19


Number of people missing and presumed dead is now at 79.

In the US, Fox New's breakfast show Fox & Friends is currently reporting "97". It's man-on-the-spot in a live segment just called Finsbury Park "Finchley".
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:10 AM on June 19


I lived close to Finsbury Park for more than a decade, and still got Finchley/Finsbury muddled from time to time (I know both areas really well, I just used the wrong word.)

I will say, however, that I am really fed up with seeing so many bits of London I have years of experience with being on the telly lit by blue lights behind Do Not Cross eruvs. The forces of intolerance, hatred, greed and disdain can fuck right off now, please.
posted by Devonian at 6:32 AM on June 19 [9 favorites]






For those who use Facebook, a link to the original post of that account.

A short extract, after the writer has already been in and faced a life-or-death decision:

A senior officer is telling us he knows we've already broken all the policy's we have. He knows the risks we've taken but thats not enough we are going to have to take more! There are still a lot more people who need us. He says he's going ask us to do things that would normally be unimaginable. To put our lives at risk even more than we already have.

Everyone is looking round at each other listening to this officer try to motivate us into action again. He didn't need to though we are ready for it! This is what we train for.

Those colleagues who a little while ago were collapsed and broken from on the grass from their first entry are back up, ready, stood in full kit waiting for their orders to go in again.


This level of gallantry in the face of mortal danger so as to rescue others is incredible. But we should not be putting some of the most vulnerable people in our society into buildings (24 storeys tall with a single staircase and no fire suppression) that make such feats necessary, or subjecting firefighters to such risks and to the agony of knowing that despite doing their best those people are burning to death in front of them.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:21 PM on June 19 [23 favorites]


BBC has leaked letters to ministers from a parliamentary fire safety group, warning of fire safety risks in tower blocks and pretty much begging them to take it seriously:
The group replied to say they "were at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence, which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent".

"As a consequence the group wishes to point out to you that should a major fire tragedy, with loss of life, occur between now and 2017 in, for example, a residential care facility or a purpose built block of flats, where the matters which had been raised here, were found to be contributory to the outcome, then the group would be bound to bring this to others' attention."
I swear, every time you think this story can't get any worse it does.
posted by Catseye at 3:39 PM on June 19 [25 favorites]


That last story also has the news that the fire brigade actually put out the original fire - or so they thought - caused by a faulty refridgerator, and were leaving when they noticed that it had spread to the outside of the building.

So they were on scene right at the beginning, and still couldn't control it.
posted by Devonian at 7:57 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]


That last story also has the news that the fire brigade actually put out the original fire - or so they thought - caused by a faulty refridgerator, and were leaving when they noticed that it had spread to the outside of the building.

So they were on scene right at the beginning, and still couldn't control it.

That would also indicate that the cladding or other outside material was really surprisingly flammable, given that it would apparently have started to burn with the heat of a very small fire. If that does indeed prove to have been the case, it would appear that the tower really was a bit of a deathtrap. It also gives an rough upper limit to the temp required for the outside to combust.
posted by jaduncan at 9:19 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


I just finished watching Panorama: London Tower Fire, Britain's Shame. Good recap but obviously have an entire box of kleenex to hand. Its reporting confirms the story that the fridge fire was out before the full strength fire took over.

Also, I really, really, really want to punch Nick Paget Brown. Just sitting there in the interview chair cool as a cucumber as he utterly sidesteps even any slight hint that perhaps something could have been done.
posted by sldownard at 11:08 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


jaduncan, there were reports that the tenants were worried about the cladding partially because it was fixed to the concrete with wooden footings. I don't know if that has been confirmed, but if so, I could see sparks or cinders spreading (though an open window, perhaps) to a nearby footing. Or even maybe something tragic like the fridge fire igniting nearby flammables and a panicked tenant throwing something out the window as they try to fight the fire initially. I hope it isn't the latter because the poor guy is already getting enough harrassment from the tabloids.
posted by tavella at 1:31 PM on June 20


I hope it isn't the latter because the poor guy is already getting enough harrassment from the tabloids.

Yes, although a fire/emergency system that depends on non-trained people not doing random panicky things in response to an emergency is also an utterly predictable deathtrap.
posted by jaduncan at 2:07 PM on June 20 [12 favorites]


I just watched the Panorama coverage, too. It was mainly a healthy way for me to deal with some of the distress and betrayal I've been feeling over the past week, and I felt better for it. Except for seeing Nick Paget Brown. Who really could not wholly convince himself that the victims were entirely blameless. Michael Gove also appeared inadequately humbled by the enormity of what's happened, too (contains Piers Morgan, apologies).

One thing that strikes me somewhat about the thought that the fire was believed extinguished is that there could have been multiple ignition sources: the May 2013 electricity surges in the tower caused lots of near-fires in electrical equipment. It's not inconceivable that there were still electrical issues that could've cascaded out from the original fire.

I do feel for the firefighters who left after believing they'd extinguished the fire, whatever it turns out the cause is. Hopefully that's another thing that's addressed in the enquiry.

Apologies for overanalysing. I'm still struggling to believe this could happen.
posted by ambrosen at 3:16 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


a fire/emergency system that depends on non-trained people not doing random panicky things in response to an emergency is also an utterly predictable deathtrap.

Oh, yes. It just sounds horribly plausible -- the curtains catch on fire, rip them down and fling them out the window, or even just let them fall because wait I'm holding a ball of fire... they blow back against the building and wrap around wooden footing and away it goes.
posted by tavella at 5:22 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]




It says something, I'm not quite sure what, that the City of London Corporation is more responsive to the needs of ordinary people than its neighbouring theoretically fully democratic boroughs. But whatever's the case, I'm very pleased they did that.
posted by ambrosen at 6:42 AM on June 21 [6 favorites]




Two things:
  1. Holgate just quit as head of RBKC council
  2. The bit about "luxury flats" is clearly spin. The government used processes for social housing to allocate social housing within the same borough. This isn't the buy-out everyone was gnashing teeth about earlier, but simply a correction to the system that was about to declare people "Intentionally Homeless" for refusing to move 5 hours from their place of work.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:36 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


For my #2 above, this is the most succinct shoot-down of the "luxury flats" meme:
You all managed to learn what cladding, retrofitting and TMOs were last week, now it's time to google Section 106
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:02 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


Mother of the Gods of Olde...

From BBC News - Grenfell Tower: Similar cladding used in around 600 high rises
posted by PROD_TPSL at 5:09 AM on June 22


From BBC News - Grenfell Tower: Similar cladding used in around 600 high rises

BBC News has since amended its headline to: Grenfell Tower: Fire-risk tests on cladding on '600 high rises'
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:47 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]




"[Camden] council launched an immediate review of its 13 clad towers in the borough following the inferno in west London and found the five in Chalcot used polyethylene cladding rather than fire resistant cladding as it had specified when it commissioned the refurbishment 10 years ago."
My emphasis. Same company did this refurbishment as did Grenfell - Rydon. Someone's gonna get it in the neck, I hope.

There's a long and honourable[?] tradition of getting away with sub-standard materials on building projects - my grandfather's job was basically to make sure it didn't happen on some of the big council housing estates that went up post-WWII. So there must also be some failure of governance on the part of Camden (and presumably Kensington) councils here. I hope the blame doesn't focus solely on Rydon.
posted by Leon at 8:39 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


I'll be quite surprised if somewhere along the line straightforward corruption - bribes, kickbacks, fraud - doesn't come up. Inspectors can be paid off or nobbled, paperwork misfiled or falsified. And it's local council building and property management, which in my experience normally tries to hide corruption under a shell of incompetence...
posted by Devonian at 8:48 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Looks like the UK establishment has found their sacrificial lamb. Rydon, we hardly knew thee.
posted by Yowser at 8:50 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


The Blessed St Margaret of Grantham must be spinning in her grave...
I think it’s clear that any changes in the wake of this tragedy shouldn’t just be technical, or to legislation.

What happened at Grenfell Tower also showed us all that we need a change in attitude.

We all need to rethink our approach to social housing, and we need to reflect on the way that successive governments have engaged with and responded to social tenants.

We don’t yet know for sure whether this disaster could have been avoided if the people who called Grenfell Tower their home had been listened to.

But we do know that for far too long, that their voices fell on deaf ears, so if nothing else, let the legacy of Grenfell be that such voices will never, ever be ignored again.
So saith Tory communities secretary Sajid Javid.
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:23 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


I might not just have been able to find it, but in case it's not been posted before: Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster, an early (1984) and relatively straightforward Adam Curtis documentary.

This shit had been going on for over twenty years even then.
posted by Grangousier at 9:23 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


an early (1984) and relatively straightforward Adam Curtis documentary.

Oh, bliss! T Dan Smith. John Poulson. Princess Margaret. Jerry-built buildings. Contractors. Costain. McAlpine. Wimpey (We Import More Paddys Every Year)...

Plus ça change: More than half of new-build homes in England 'have major faults' (2017)
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:02 AM on June 22


They're everywhere...

BBC News : Grenfell Tower: Seven high rises 'fail fire-risk tests'
posted by PROD_TPSL at 10:11 AM on June 22


We don’t yet know for sure whether this disaster could have been avoided if the people who called Grenfell Tower their home had been listened to

"It's at times like this, when I'm facing certain electoral defeat because of all those people who died in that fire, that I really wish I’d listened to what they'd told me over and over and over again for all those years."

"Why, what did they tell you?"

"I don’t know, I didn’t listen!"
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 AM on June 22 [11 favorites]




“red tape folly” which is “expensive and burdensome for small businesses”.

Ooft. Let this be the last nail in the coffin of the "down with elf'n'safety!" war campaign.
posted by Catseye at 1:39 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Apparently Gove was part of Red Tape Initiative?
posted by Yowser at 1:48 PM on June 22


This is off topic, but this came up when I searched for Red Tape Initiative on google:
a province of ontario's "red tape"(deregulation or changed(reduced)) initiative

I wouldn't have pasted It, except I just noticed the pages allow feedback, and 10% of registered users are from employees, retired, or unemployed people

40% of registered users are business owners.
posted by Yowser at 1:56 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


I mean, that's Canada, just for those who think Ontario is in the UK! Sorry for not being clear.
posted by Yowser at 1:59 PM on June 22


The Guardian: Police considering manslaughter charges.

And not just manslaughter:

[Det Supt Fiona McCormack ] said: “We are looking at every criminal offence from manslaughter onwards, we are looking at every health and safety and fire safety offence and we are reviewing every company at the moment involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.”

Det Supt McCormack, who is heading the police investigation, advised that every complete body had now been recovered, but that it was anticipated that the forensic search may take until the end of the year and that because of the intensity of the fire not all those who died would be identified or even found.

If that timescale sounds surprising, it seems likely that the police and other investigating agencies are going to have to forensically search and clear out 24 floors of burned debris, logging everything in detail in the process so as to aid the investigation and preserve the integrity of evidence.
posted by Major Clanger at 3:54 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


I guess people can sleep easy, it's a well-known fact all private landlords are responsible citizens.
Downing Street has said private landlords will not be compelled to carry out testing for flammable cladding on tower blocks, but local authorities will be advising them to have the materials submitted for testing.
Grauniad Live updates
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:30 AM on June 23


I'm somewhat grumpy about this statement from Number 10 about the fridge where it started
In a statement, business secretary Greg Clark said: “The safety of consumers is paramount. The device is being subject to immediate and rigorous testing to establish the cause of the fire. I have made clear to the company that I will expect them to replace any item without delay if it is established that there is a risk in using them.”
Because there's no evidence that there is a known fault with the model of fridge and no evidence that Hotpoint would be stupid enough to do anything but the swiftest recall.

There is evidence that the wiring in Grenfell tower was unsafe enough to cause severe damage to multiple types of CE approved electrical goods because it did in 2013, and I don't think it's been rewired since then.
posted by ambrosen at 5:40 AM on June 23 [8 favorites]


That said, this tower block fire a mile away was caused by a tumble dryer which was the subject of a lackadaisical recall from Hotpoint's parent company, so…
posted by ambrosen at 6:20 AM on June 23


no evidence that Hotpoint would be stupid enough to do anything but the swiftest recall.

Not to say this is Hotpoint's fault - the blame absolutely lies with whoever authorised the flammable cladding - but Whirlpool dryers were proven to have started a fire, and yet:
it did not issue a product recall, insisting that people may continue to use the affected dryers while they are waiting for them to be “modified” – provided they are not left unattended.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:22 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


'Private landlords' for tower blocks will mostly fall into two categories (subject to a caveat I'll come to in a moment.)

The head landlord will be the freehold owner of the building, who will usually own the outer shell, common areas and building services, and will have responsibility for work on the exterior.

Then there will be the leaseholders of individual flats, who will typically own (via a lease of 99 to 999 years) the flat itself and the inner-facing part of the walls.

Where such flats are let on short-term rentals (i.e. via an Assured Shorthold Tenancy) then the tenant's immediate landlord will be the leasehold owner, not the freehold owner. Those intermediate owners thus won't have direct control over the cladding or power to get it tested, although it's very likely they could put a lot of legal pressure on the freehold owner to carry out such testing or remove/replace the cladding. In other words, most of the people you would think of as 'private landlords' of tower-block flats aren't the owners actually responsible for matters like exterior cladding.

I mentioned a caveat. For some time now it's been possible for a majority of leaseholders within a building to club together and compel the freehold owner to sell the freehold. In such cases, the leaseholders in question will end up running the building (often as directors of the right-to-manage company that would usually be set up in the process). Leaseholders often do this because it means they no longer pay ground rent and have more control (or assume they do) over service charges and major works. It wouldn't surprise me if it's suddenly dawning on some of those RTM leaseholders that they are now responsible for compliance with safety for their building.

(Apologies to any other English land lawyers for any inaccuracies or generalisations - that's a simplified explanation I've done very quickly.)
posted by Major Clanger at 6:26 AM on June 23 [12 favorites]


Most illuminating. Thanks, Major Clanger.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:27 AM on June 23




Statement from Council leader.

"the decision has been taken to decant residents from all five tower blocks at the Chalcots estate"

[my bold]

Decant? Camden is pouring residents from one container to another? Whatever happened to "move"?
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:24 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


That's what happens when you consider your poorest citizens to be raw materials, not people.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:03 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


In fairness I have heard the term used before as shorthand (especially within the public sector) for 'moving all the people working in Building X out of it in one go', usually in the context of an organisation moving location or the building being refurbished. However, it's one of those terms of art that professionals should check themselves before using in public because of how it's likely to come across, especially when applied to people's homes.
posted by Major Clanger at 5:46 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


It's used in housing, when for instance, an entire estate is being redeveloped and the current residents have to move out, and choose whether they will move back afterwards or take up accommodation elsewhere.

My first job was working with residents who were being decanted off estates in Coventry. It was the eye opener my young self needed. Nothing that's happened in the last two weeks has surprised me.
posted by Helga-woo at 12:38 PM on June 24


I don't know if there's anything new in this New York Times piece about the regulatory failures that led to the fire, but it has some telling details about Arconic, the US company that manufactures the cladding. In the US, the cladding can't be used on buildings taller than two stories, and Arconic's marketing materials for American customers stress that it's inappropriate for tall buildings because of the fire hazard. That detail is omitted from marketing materials aimed at British customers, which instead suggest that customers consult local building codes. This makes me wonder whether survivors or next-of-kin of Grenfell victims could have standing to sue Arconic in US courts. Surely it's negligent to knowingly sell dangerous products, even if it's permissible according to local regulations.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:03 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Just to add to the voices saying that "decant" is a term of art, not an insult, and also agreeing that the distinction between a useful term of art and a piece of impenetrable and demeaning jargon is context, and it's important to be aware of context. Certainly, I use it with professional colleagues in the context Helga-woo describes, but always say "temporarily accommodated" or "temporarily housed" to clients.
posted by howfar at 1:54 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Well, this is pretty horrendous news about the fireproofing of cladding:
The fact that all samples so far have failed the tests underlines the value of the testing programme we have set up with the Building Research Establishment to get samples checked properly in the laboratories.
That's testing from 34 blocks with aluminium composite cladding out of 34 sent in so far, and 600 publicly managed residential tower blocks have any sort of cladding. It looks like there's going to be a lot of building work afoot. (And I hope there's going to be a lot of sprinkler systems fitted while they're at it.)
posted by ambrosen at 1:56 PM on June 24


In the US, the cladding can't be used on buildings taller than two stories, and Arconic's marketing materials for American customers stress that it's inappropriate for tall buildings because of the fire hazard.

This isn't consistent across the whole US. As detailed here, several states and DC have dropped the relevant requirement because builders were complaining that it was too expensive to find cladding that complied with the fire safety regulation.

Oh boy, there's even this little gem:
Advocates for eliminating the NFPA 285 testing requirement have said it's a prudent cost-saving change, given the lack of dramatic fires in the United States like the Grenfell Tower fire. And they point out that most fires start inside a building, where required sprinklers are likely to keep a fire from spreading to the cladding outside.
I was going to write in some snarky analogy here but I think that pretty much speaks for itself.
posted by indubitable at 2:17 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


At this stage is it known whether the fire was caused by the panels, or by the insulation behind them? The diagrams I saw showed the panel, then a 2" / 5 cm air gap, then insulation applied directly to the building surface. It seems plausible to me that the panels weren't directly responsible for the fire, but they provided a chimney that would let a fire in the insulation roar up the side of the tower, and potentially reach very high temperatures indeed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:59 PM on June 24




Shit, I know people who work at Arconic (née Alcoa); they're headquartered right around the corner from us here in Pittsburgh. That's really distressing that they're culpable in this.
posted by octothorpe at 7:25 PM on June 24


Reuters: Arconic
Arconic also knew the quantity of panels being supplied and thus the total exterior coverage. A source at one of the companies involved in the process said Arconic had "full involvement" throughout the contract bidding process.

Omnis Exteriors, which cut the Arconic tiles to shape and supplied them to the cladding contractor, said it was not responsible for the choice of panel.

"CEP played no part in the selection of Reynobond PE and simply fulfilled the order as directed by the design and build team," the company said in a statement on Saturday, referring to CEP Architectural Facades Ltd, the Omnis unit which fulfilled the contract.

Harley Facades Ltd., the company which installed the panels, Rydon Group, the overall contractor on the 2014-2016 Grenfell refurbishment, and the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns the tower block all declined to comment.

Rydon previously said in a statement that its work on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, which was intended to give the building better heat and sound insulation, complied with all building regulations. Harley said last week it was "not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower".
Not my job to want to know.
posted by flabdablet at 1:15 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Was talking to a relative who works in building the other day and they were saying these panels / cladding 'are everywhere' and it's going to be massive problem going forward.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:19 AM on June 25


"Decant". That word is still bugging me. To my ear it doesn't sound like the sort of term current during the post-war Clem Attlee Labour government housing/re-housing era.

"Decant" sounds more Thatcherite or Blairite. Amirite?

Don't have acccess to the OED. Anyone here know when "decant" entered the professional lexicon?
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:51 AM on June 25


Online OED doesn't have enough specifics in the citations to help there; there's late 19th and early 20th C. citations for more general figurative uses of a non-liquid thing being removed from a non-decanter object, e.g.
1915 J. Buchan Thirty-nine Steps vii. 171 I was decanted at Crewe..and had to wait till six to get a train for Birmingham.
But it's a pretty slight entry and doesn't include any specific subsection for this specific meaning. Which, if it's a term of art, isn't surprising since OED doesn't usually seem to get that granular on relatively new, jargony language. This is more a job for searching through piles of 20th C. news writing, probably.
posted by cortex at 7:40 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


My partner tells me that “decant” is regularly used in her University to describe the process of transferring a department from one building into another.

It does sound like modern-ish bureacrat-ese.
posted by pharm at 8:10 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Oxford Dictionaries (which I think is based on the OED, but I don’t have an Athena login to hand) has a bunch of quotes for decant in this context:
Definition of decant in English:

decant
verb
[WITH OBJECT]

1 Gradually pour (wine, port, or another liquid) from one container into another, typically in order to separate out sediment.
‘he decanted the rich red liquid into some glasses’

1.1 British Temporarily transfer (people) to another place.

‘tour coaches decant eager customers directly into the store’
‘Once decanted into the new abode, I love unpacking and arranging stuff.’
‘Stacey told me that he finds the 40 oz. handgun somewhat more accurate than the 1955 vintage Smith K 32 which he next decanted from his shooting bag.’
‘In the 1950s, the great and the good - the people who really knew what was in the best interests of the lower orders - decided to bulldoze the slums and decant people into tower blocks.’
‘But now there's coriander in the Co-op, tour buses that decant Europeans into places called the Skye Experience, and metropolitan types up for whizzy weekends of gastronomy and midges.’
‘Yorkshire could be one of the main winners from radical plans to decant about 20,000 civil servants out of London and move them into the English regions, it emerged yesterday.’
‘As a last resort, we could try bringing back 18th-century bathing machines - funny little huts on wheels, in which ladies were trundled into the surf and decanted into the sea with their modesty intact.’
‘The police car has decanted three or four cops, who are now quizzing a homeless guy who ‘lives’ opposite me.’
‘Every summer young British tourists are decanted from cut-price jets into the nightclubs of Laganas, Ayia Napa and Faliraki, where they set about rescuing the local economy.’
‘His commissions included compulsory land acquisition in the years immediately following the Second World War, when Swindon grew a great deal, largely due to an influx of people decanted from overcrowded areas of London.’
‘It is not uncommon for them to sit at a stop for 10 minutes while drivers chat to their friends or wait for inspectors, nor for them to break down and the passengers to have to be decanted.’
The wording of some of these suggests post-WWII England to me, but sadly no references are given.
posted by pharm at 8:19 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]




hell yes

i can't even imagine a US politician anywhere near the left using such honest, straightforward language
posted by indubitable at 9:25 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


"Murdererd by political decisions".

More in this long, detailed and extensive New York Times report: Why Grenfell Tower Burned: Regulators Put Cost Before Safety
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:26 AM on June 25


If that NYT report is correct, the self-policing rot set in with the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which happened during the reign of the Beau Blair.

Who, to be fair, would have been much too busy keeping the world safe for democracy by creating power vacuums in the Middle East to pay much attention to the less Cool Britannia.
posted by flabdablet at 12:05 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


The evidence is mounting that we're looking at a classic case of lassez-faire capitalism quietly calibrating itself to maximise profit and minimise work, relying on obscurity, obfuscating and denial to isolate itself from the consequences of that trajectory.

Which is great, except you can't bribe physics.

Red tape or black smoke. Them's the choices.
posted by Devonian at 4:11 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


This is scary from BBC News: Why do England's high-rises keep failing fire tests?
We reported last night, however, on a troubling fourth route. The National House Builders' Council (NHBC) is a big player in building inspection. Last year, they issued guidance which states that you can use a variety of sub-A2 insulation boards with B-grade external cladding - and you can do all of that without even a desktop study.

That effectively means that a sector body has unilaterally decided that largely using B-grade material is now sufficient, not A2. NHBC themselves state that "this is on the basis of NHBC having reviewed a significant quantity of data from a range of tests and desktop assessments."
So amongst all the mere quality of life and financial reasons to despise the British house building industry, there's contempt for life, too.
posted by ambrosen at 1:05 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I think it was this very thread where people were telling me that talk about the construction and housing standards here wasn't relevant to safety or fire concerns.

Well.
posted by Dysk at 1:11 PM on June 27


And I already conceded that I was wrong in this thread, too.
posted by ambrosen at 1:19 PM on June 27


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