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Developed and maintained
by the NFCC

Control measure

Assess and monitor structural stability

Control measure knowledge

An appropriate understanding of structure design and construction materials is required to assess and monitor an unstable or collapsed structure. This will include identifying:

  • Age, design and condition of the structure
  • Structural materials and construction methods

Further information in relation to building construction can be found in Fires in buildings - Building Research Establishment supplementary information

All aspects of the structure, the actions taken, and the efforts made to distribute applied loads should be considered. An assessment of the unstable or collapsed structure should be made to determine the hazard area and, because of risks such as secondary collapse or falling debris, it should be monitored while personnel are working within the hazard area.

An unstable or collapsed structure should be assessed at the earliest opportunity, including its potential impact on surrounding structures and infrastructure. Although the initial assessment can be carried out by first responders, it may be necessary to seek specialist advice. It may be beneficial to appoint an external safety officer to monitor the stability of the structure.

Specialist advice and monitoring may be available from local authority building control teams, structural engineers or urban search and rescue (USAR) tactical advisers.

Signs of collapse may include:

  • Cracks in walls
  • Sagging floors or floors deflecting from wall
  • Displaced columns
  • Dropping arches
  • Bulging walls
  • Buckling columns or beams
  • Unusual noises coming from the structure

The minimum number of personnel should be committed to the hazard area, especially if assessment or monitoring indicates the potential for further collapse. Emergency arrangements should also be in place, which can be initiated if required.

If safe routes are identified they should be marked, and exposed elements or other hazards should be marked or clear.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Establish arrangements with appropriate agencies to provide structural advice, assessment and monitoring

  • Ensure personnel are aware of local or national arrangements and the specialist advice available

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Identify the age, design and condition of the structure

  • Identify the type of structural materials and construction methods

  • Assess and continuously monitor the structure for signs of collapse

  • Assess and monitor the suitability of the structure for working in the hazard area

  • Consider the potential impact of an unstable or collapsed structure on surrounding structures and infrastructure

  • Ensure the minimum number of personnel work in the hazard area for an unstable or collapsed structure

  • Have emergency procedures in place for an unstable or collapsed natural or built environments

  • Consider appointing an external safety officer to monitor structural stability

  • Consider requesting structural advice, assessment and monitoring from appropriate agencies