Fire meets its match at Wimbledon

1st August 2008

Nigel Pollard of Honeywell Life Safety looks at how the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club has addressed its fast-evolving fire protection needs.

Compared to the informal garden party atmosphere of the first tournament back in 1877, today's Wimbledon Championships have become a highly professional event, attracting some 500,000 spectators over the fortnight, with a further 6,000 staff helping to manage what has become one of the top annual showpieces in world sport. Players from over 60 nations compete in front of a global audience of millions, through the press, radio, Internet and television.

Inevitably, this has continued to place increasing demands on the need to provide adequate life safety protection on a diverse 43 acre site with some 97,000 square metres of building stock. Yet since the early 1990s, with the adoption of a comprehensive Notifier by Honeywell based fire protection systems, Wimbledon has overseen an easy and seamless transition.

Continuous development

In 1993, the All England Club unveiled its 25 year Long Term Plan designed to improve the quality of the ‘Wimbledon experience' -including safety for all its main audiences, from players, spectators and members to officials, the media and all those working at the event. Over the following 12 years this included, for example, a rebuilt No. 1 Court, a permanent broadcast centre and brand new Millennium Building. Its criteria for implementing the most suitable fire safety protection system to support this continually evolving site were at once both simple and demanding. With up to 45,000 spectators and staff in the ground at any one time, the Club required a totally reliable system which would provide quick, accurate and precise information to the location of any incident.

Safety has always been at the top of the priority list for the Wimbledon authorities, who insisted on a state-of-the-art life protection solution which could provide the robustness, flexibility and scalability needed to meet both current and future requirements. As a result, in working with Notifer Engineered Systems Distributor (ESD) and long-standing fire services provider to the All England Club, Powerpoint Electronics, Wimbledon selected an installation based on Notifier by Honeywell control panels as best able to meet the exacting demands of this unique leisure complex.

The first phase of the new intelligent fire system was completed in 2004 and consists of 10 Notifier ID3000 control panels, providing 42 loops divided into 284 fire zones and more than 3,000 addressable smoke and thermal detectors and modules. The individual control panels are networked over 2.5km of fibre optic cable, utilising Notifier's modular ultra high speed Intelligent Digital Delivery Network, ID2net, which transmits an alarm across the network in less than half a second. In particular, using fibre optics was recognised as essential, due to the high local levels of EMC generated by the fire, police, ambulance and broadcasting services. The fire system drives five separate UniNetgraphic stations located at key control points around the facility. It also interfaces with an existing staff paging system so that fire-trained staff can investigate any potential incidents as quickly as possible, before a general alarm signal is broadcast.

One of the major strengths of the closed system is a comprehensive yet user-friendly graphics package linked to five out-stations at key points around the Wimbledon site. As an easy-to-use interface -requiring little more than a standard computer screen and a mouse to operate -it tells the user all they need to know, allowing them instantly to isolate, locate and investigate any incident across the site. This has enabled the Wimbledon authorities to operate a flexible 'double knock' investigation system. If a single detector is activated, it can immediately dispatch a team to that precise location. If, however, a second detector goes off before they arrive, the emergency services are automatically called and, using the graphical interface, they are able to see exactly where the problem has occurred.

The value of the system was proven when fire broke four years ago on New Year's Eve, when the site was unoccupied. Not only was the Club able to respond quickly but also, by going through the Notifier system log and checking the sequence of activations, in working with the fire investigation team it was able to determine the source of the fire and how quickly it spread throughout the building.

Future-proof protection

Most recently, Wimbledon completed its redeveloped turnstile, ticket office and administration block, together with a new Museum, situated underground, which opened in April 2006. This features a 200°cinema enabling visitors to experience what it is like to play on Centre Court -together with ‘a walk through the Men's Dressing room with John McEnroe', an exhibition of Wimbledon fashion through the ages and numerous interactive displays. This too is protected by an ID3000 intelligent eight loop panel, integrated with the existing Notifier system and similarly providing full Level I and comprehensive void protection. At the same time, the graphics repeaters, which previously ran on the site's normal network, have migrated to the fire system's fibre network.

Today, Wimbledon has a truly off-the-shelf solution, requiring little customisation: at the same time, though each control panel protects individual areas, the system network effectively operates as a single integrated system, making it easy to add additional panels as required. In short, it is a future-proofed system which will grow with the Club's needs.

From day one, the system has also been designed with full Disability Discrimination Act compliance in mind. As a fully addressable system, it is possible quickly to pinpoint the source of any problem, with visible and auditory alarms in place to warn all those on site, whatever their disability. All this is supported by a series of well-planned and rehearsed evacuation procedures with a high staff to visitor ratio to ensure these are carried out effectively.

In January 2004, the All England Club unveiled the latest part of its Long Term Plan, the highlight being the Centre Court, with an increase to 15,000 spectators capacity and a new state of the art retractable roof, enabling play to take place in all weathers, due for completion in time for the 2009 Championships.

Fire protection for this development alone will require a further eight loop Notifier panel, together with nearly 1,600 detectors and modules, yet in implementation terms this represents a straightforward extension to the existing system.

Since its installation, the Notifier system has been faultless in operation, providing the durability and flexibility essential to the safe, efficient running of this high profile sporting venue. For example, the powerful graphics interface enables users to isolate, investigate and correct an incident, wherever it is located, without necessarily having to evacuate the whole site.

For large public arenas such as Wimbledon it offers an ideal solution, setting new standards in technical sophistication, functionality and reliability, at the same time remaining easy to install, programme and operate.

Nigel Pollard is Notifier business manager, UK & Ireland, Honeywell Life Safety