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Connecting fire and flood risk with place through UPRNs


Fire and rescue services can use the UPRN as a tool in understanding the factors that feed into risk, writes Richard Duffield, senior consultant at GeoPlace

Is there a connection between fire risk and energy performance in a property? Or food hygiene? Or are fires more likely in specific types of housing? And where should efforts be targeted to protect the most vulnerable in the event of a flood?

Fire and rescue services are grappling with increasingly complex questions such as these in their prevention efforts, needing to know which people and places to target for inspections, assistance and education. They are drawing on information from a range of new sources, looking for connections as they try to pinpoint where the risks are higher. It is a place based approach in which some are discovering that the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) is a valuable asset.

The UPRN is the unique identifier for every addressable location in Great Britain, created by local authorities and managed by GeoPlace, the joint venture between Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Association. It is a 12-digit code specific to that address that makes it possible to identify a property in all types of datasets, and begin to look at the relationships in the data for that property.

Some fire and rescue services are using UPRNs in identifying the factors contributing to risk. They can be used in analytics projects to help prove or disprove connections, in both cases adding to the service’s knowledge of its community.

Energy performance question

One of the examples has been the London Fire Brigade’s innovative use of data science to investigate whether the energy performance certificates (EPCs) for properties can be a pointer towards fire risk. It was supported by GeoPlace, which matched UPRNs to EPCs for individual properties, and was able to build an all-addresses corporate database.

This was then used by a post-doc on Faculty's fellowship in a model that drew on records of past fires to model and forecast risk, and to understand which metrics correlate with it most closely

The early results showed that the information recorded in EPCs could be a useful factor in predicting fire risk.

Food hygiene question

Using data from the London Fire Brigade, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) sought to build upon this work through their Digital and Data Programme. It explored the question of whether a food outlet with a low hygiene rating would be more likely to have a fire because it could indicate a poor attitude to managing other aspects of the business, including fire safety.

The exercise brought together records of fire incidents, inspection data and hygiene ratings from the Food Standards Agency, all linked by UPRNs, in the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham.

A team of analysts from 11 different fire and rescue services spent a day examining the question, applying a range of analytical tools and techniques to the data. While they were unable to demonstrate a clear link between poor food hygiene and poor fire safety, it was felt that more could be done with additional time, a larger dataset and fewer gaps in significant elements of the data.

Regardless, the experiment reinforced the need to give fire analysts the opportunity to put their heads up and look at fire data in a new way, with unfamiliar sources to stimulate new thinking. Getting out of the office and working with like minds on common problems was great for community building, engagement and knowledge sharing.

Housing associations

Other fire and rescue services have tested their own hypotheses. Durham and Darlington worked with a local housing association, which provided details of its properties with the UPRNs. The service matched these with data from its record of incidents, producing a Power BI report and showing that there is a higher than normal risk of fire in housing association properties.

Restricted mobility map

Humberside developed an interactive map using Environment Agency data on flood risk and its own on the locations of people with restricted mobility. Again, the UPRN provided a link that enabled teams in the relevant areas to identify those who would struggle to escape a flooded home and prioritise the assistance accordingly.

An important lesson from all this is while fire risk is not just about place – it as much about human behaviour – the UPRN does provide a valuable tool in helping to make the connections that give fire and rescue services a stronger understanding. In turn, this helps them in strategic planning and targeting resources.

But the first step in all of this for the fire services is to ensure that they include UPRNs in all of their address based data, and it appears that they have a mixed record in doing so.

The Home Office and National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) compiled data for fires in buildings in England between 2010-19 to see how many incidents were recorded with a UPRN attached. The results varied widely, with some services showing rates of over 90% and others below 10%.

Reducing disparities

Apollo Gerolymbos, data lead for the NFCC said this matters because the UPRN will only have a value for fire and rescue services if their own data is complete. The disparities have emerged because local practices have evolved differently, and it would involve a lot of work to correct all of the fire records; but as a start, the services could begin to add the UPRN to their own data for new incidents.

The task does not require them to reformat their datasets, just to add a single field containing the UPRN. This will be step towards linking their data with that from other organisations.

This is another indication of the importance of UPRNs, and why fire and rescue services and the public authorities that work with them need to maintain a comprehensive list for all the properties in their regions. Local authorities, NHS organisations, police forces and others can benefit immensely in using the feature to learn from each other’s data.

It is a crucial factor in helping public sector organisations understand the factors that contribute to any type of risk.

For more information , see the GeoPlace blogs: ‘What can food hygiene tell us about fire safety?’ and ‘Predicting and preventing London’s next fire using predictive analytics and the unique property reference number’

The NFCC will be speaking at the GeoPlace conference on 7 October 2020.  Attendance at the conference is free of charge for all public sector people.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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