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Palace of Westminster

Emblematic: comprehensive security solutions for the British Houses of Parliament

For any British company, it's an honor to be involved in a project for the Palace of Westminster (commonly known as the Houses of Parliament). The team at Protec Fire and Security Group (Protec UK), a Bosch company, was, therefore, more than happy to tackle the many large and small challenges for upgrading the fire and voice alarm systems of this sprawling 112-square-kilometre complex in the heart of London. They mastered them with flair – and will therefore continue to be in demand for safeguarding this over 900-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of the River Thames and the illuminated Westminster Palace

The cradle of democracy nestles proudly and opulently alongside the Thames River in London, where the British Parliament convene, and is also home to the Palace of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower (commonly known as Big Ben). The palace was completely rebuilt in 1860 after being destroyed by a fire. It has been a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1987.

Several years ago, work began to upgrade the Estate’s fire detection and alarm systems. Protec Fire and Security Group (Protec UK), a British systems integrator that joined the Bosch family in 2021, was selected in 2015 to provide its equipment and services to carry out this upgrade. “It’s a great honor for us to be involved in developing and upgrading the life safety systems and take responsibility for maintenance,” says Richard Heaton, who is in charge of the project at Protec UK. “In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget the prominent role that the Palace of Westminster has historically played in England and continues to play today.” His team, joined with all other trades on the estate and showed their mettle in September 2022, when Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was placed on a raised platform in Westminster Hall. “We literally worked round the clock to ensure that the preparations for Her Majesty’s public viewing and funeral went smoothly,” recalls Heaton. “And I’m very proud of it.“

12,000 fire detectors and a network of 20 voice alarm cabinets

Protec UK planned and installed a state-of-the-art fire detection and voice alarm solution spanning, Victoria Tower, Elizabeth Tower (“Big Ben”), and Westminster Hall. The audio evacuation system comprises a network of 20 voice alarm cabinets. For comprehensive fire protection, Protec UK’s experts commissioned 12,000 fire detectors through the estate. An emergency voice communication system was also installed to optimally safeguard personnel, MPs, and visitors. In the event of an evacuation, they can use an intercom system at designated refuge points to let the control centre know their whereabouts so the rescue teams will know where to find them. A glance at the details reveals the importance of this kind of support: around 14,000 people work in the palace, and 7,000 tourists also visit daily. The building itself is 300 meters long, comprising more than 1,100 rooms that are interlinked by over 100 staircases and kilometres of corridors.

Portrait of Richard Heaton

It’s a great honor for us to be involved in developing and upgrading the life safety systems and take responsibility for maintenance

Richard Heaton, Protec Fire and Security Group

Complex planning for a World Heritage Site and parliamentary operations

The Palace of Westminster has the status of a World Heritage Site and its parts date back to different eras, and the life safety systems therefore needed to be inconspicuously integrated in the historic building. Construction work was also kept to a minimum, which called for considerable ingenuity on the part of the team from Protec UK. Both the House of Lords and the House of Commons meet there, and parliamentary activities are ongoing year round. This made it crucial for Richard Heaton’s crew to meticulously plan every step in advance and take care to implement the upgrading work without disturbing the parliamentary sessions, which often continue until late at night. They had to thoroughly analyze the existing structures beforehand and make sure to comply with the requirements for preserving historical buildings. “The planning phase was considerably more work-intensive than other, also quite complex projects which we had implemented previously,” recalls Heaton. “The Palace of Westminster has its own heritage team which reviews and approves all plans. The thorough preparations in creating them paid off, because the actual installation phase was relatively straightforward as a result.”

Aerial view of the British Parliament

An ongoing project: Protec UK now tends the life safety solutions

After completing the last installations, Protec UK’s experienced team also took on the job of maintaining the fire detection and voice alarm solution. “To optimally provide this service, we have another team on site that concentrates exclusively on it,” sums up Richard Heaton. “The customer greatly appreciates our commitment and performance over the early years of our contract has led to the client entrusting Protec with ongoing maintenance of all of the site wide EVC (Emergency Voice Communication) systems, sprinkler & watermist systems, dry risers, fixed extinguishing systems, and portable fire extinguishers.”

About Protec, a Bosch Company

Protec is one of the UK’s most significant industry-leading fire detection manufacturers. With experience spanning seven decades in the fire and security industry, the company provides innovative products and superior services to exceed clients ever more demanding expectations.