Smoke Alarms for Informal Settlements: Monitoring and Challenges from a Large-Scale Community Rollout in Cape Town, South Africa

Robyn Pharoah, Patricia Zweig, Richard Walls, Rodney Eksteen

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Abstract

This article presents the findings of a pilot project to test the large-scale rollout of smoke alarms in an informal community in Cape Town, South Africa. The work provides novel insight into the effectiveness and challenges associated with using smoke detectors in low-income communities. Technical details and detector considerations are also provided that will assist in enhancing future interventions. The project installed 1200 smoke detection devices in TRA informal settlement in the suburb of Wallacedene, in the City of Cape Town, and monitored their effectiveness for a period of 12 months. The monitoring showed that there were 11 real activations, where the presence of the devices likely saved lives and homes. The project also identified a series of challenges, especially in relation to nuisance alarms, where everyday household emissions, dust, and insect ingress caused false alarms, leading some participants to uninstall devices. The findings of the pilot study suggest that although smoke detectors could provide a valuable tool for reducing the frequency and impact of informal settlement fires in South Africa and elsewhere, they need to be adapted to meet the specific needs and conditions encountered in informal dwellings. Modifications, such as adjusting device sensitivity, preventing dust and insect ingress and tailoring devices to everyday conditions, will be essential to make smoke alarms more suitable and effective in the future. Smoke alarms could become an important component of low-income community fire safety if such challenges can be addressed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)936-947
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Science
Volume13
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

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