Lumkani Archives - SASDI Alliance

How to sustain and scale up fire sensor technologies in Kenya and South Africa?

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN No Comments

By Thandeka Tshabalala (on behalf of CORC)

A multi-stakeholder discussion kicked off in early January in Nairobi, Kenya to deliberate on the lessons learnt from the fire sensor installation pilot project. In July 2015, The American Red Cross initiated a fire sensor technology pilot in Mukuru, Kenya and Khayelitsha, South Africa. About 2000 fire sensors were installed in both informal settlements. The discussion dwelled on the lessons learnt during the implementation of the project. It also explored options and possibilities of scaling up the project to other vulnerable communities throughout the world.

CORC (Thandeka Tshabalala) and Red Cross in conversation on fire sensor technologies

CORC (Thandeka Tshabalala) and Red Cross in conversation on fire sensor technologies

A human centered design approach

How can the early warning sensor best address urban fires? Urban fires are amongst the highest occurring disasters affecting urban poor communities. The project intended at strengthening and equipping the communities to best respond to the fires. Community engagement, learning, education and empowerment were seen as the underlying principle for an effective fire sensor. Community feedback (more specially vulnerable groups) on the design and technology formed the conversation around community ownership and perception of the sensor. All in all, an early warning fire sensor alone is not a definitive solution but building community capacity such as community based fire fighters and stations (a small community station is proposed for Mukuru settlement) – is truly building community resilience in fire response mechanisms. The sustainability of the project is thus far dependent on the community contributing towards the purchase of the device taking responsibility in maintenance when necessary. However, in the long run the project aim is for the community to be involved in the formation of governance structures to eliminate any risks of fires and independently sustaining the community based firefighters and/or stations. Moreover, the project aims at linking the fire sensor distribution to address unemployment.



Are there possibilities of scaling up the fire sensor project?

Scaling up the project would positively impact more people and address fire vulnerabilities at a global scale. However, context, urban mobility and sustainability are to be significantly considered. A fire sensor well suited to the context is important i.e. building material, sources of fires (wild or household fires) and local capital. For example, when comparing the two fire sensor models, one device had an added element of a smoke detector, which also slightly increased the cost of the device. Yet the Lumkani device, used in South Africa, focused on measuring the rate of rising temperatures in small structures is best used in this context, e.g. zinc structures or small tents such as in refugee camps.  Most urban populations are constantly in transit and in search for better economic opportunities. The residents in Mukuru are mostly tenants while in Khayelitsha they are ‘owners’ of the shacks. Due to flood threats, soon after the installation of the devices some of the tenants in Mukuru had already relocated to other parts of the city taking the device along. The relocation posed a difficulty in engaging the community around coordinated response mechanisms. In South Africa, a community response to fires is dependent on networked devices giving an alert. Shacks with no devices pose a threat to the rest of the community should the fire start in them.

The Lumkani device

The Lumkani device

When discussing long-term effectiveness of the sensor project for the wider vulnerable communities three words arise: scaling-up, sustainability and transferability. What role do donors play in the funding process? Upscaling the project requires multilateral partnerships and synergies with other projects to pool resources together. This calls for global advocacy to governments, especially to focus on fire prevention mechanisms instead of a responsive reaction to fire. This means building partnerships for infrastructure investment in the communities. Opening up access routes, disaster resistant material and water points should be a priority. In some instances the community and/ or fire services respond to fires before they create a lot of damage. However, in other instances this is not the case due to lack of access routes and dangerously hanging electrical wires which restrict fire engines who are unable to respond effectively.

Visit to Mukuru, Nairobi

Visit to Mukuru, Nairobi

Team site visit in Mukuru

Team site visit in Mukuru

From project to program: what still needs to be done?

There is still a need for data collection as a strategic tool to provide mechanisms for generating basic data on fire hazards, vulnerabilities and losses. Even though the fire department collects data on every fire occurrence the data is still not used to influence investment in fire prevention, preparedness and mitigation infrastructure. The hope to increase awareness at both community and institutional levels through data collection tools, improves risk identification and the use of knowledge, innovation & education to build a culture of safety. User friendly data can be used to target certain age groups so as to make fire awareness attractive and also strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response. This will enable the move from risk management through emergency relief and response towards a partner based early warning risk management. After each fire disaster in Khayelitsha, disaster management organizations respond with relief material that the community uses immediately to start rebuilding. This project aims to showcase that this approach needs to end and instead encourages the approach of preparing communities to better deal with urban fires.

Rolling out Lumkani Fire Device: Preventing Fires, Upgrading Communities

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, News No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

The last two months bear witness to the devastation fires can cause. At the height of South Africa’s hottest months, fires pose a continuous threat, often breaking out in informal areas, wiping out entire segments of informal settlements, despite the response of fire departments.

Fire in Langrug, Stellenbosch Municipality, February 2014

Fire in Langrug, Stellenbosch Municipality, February 2014

A proactive response to fire?

In January and February 2015, the Alliance was alerted to two fires in ISN/FEDUP settlements alone, with several more breaking out in the City of Cape Town and Stellenbosch Municipality such as in Langrug informal settlement where an estimated 70 structures were razed to the ground. In 2014 the City of Cape Town’s Human Settlements directorate spent R6.5 million on fire aid by issuing 1 186 enhanced emergency kits to victims of 254 separate fires in a period of two months.

How can the response to informal settlement fires become less reactive and more proactive and preventative? Since early 2014 the SA SDI Alliance has partnered with Lumkani, a social enterprise that has designed and co-developed an early warning fire detection device with ISN and FEDUP affiliated communities in Cape Town.

UT Gardens leadership with Lumkani with installed device on wall

UT Gardens leadership with Lumkani with installed device on wall

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Co-developing the Lumkani device

The Lumkani device uses heat detection technology to sense for fires. It accurately measures the incidence of harmful fires alerting the family inside a shack of the danger. Each device is networked to surrounding devices within a 100m radius. In the event of a fire the detecting device sends a signal to surrounding devices within this range. A solid beep means that the device has detected a fire in your own home while a broken beep indicates that the fire is in the nearby surrounding. A wave of sound creates a community-wide alert and response to danger. This buys time for the community to become proactive in rapidly spreading fire risk situations. Through deep engagement with UT Gardens community leadership, the Lumkani team co-developed the device to optimally suit the informal settlement context. Read more about the device and the co-design process here.

The Lumkani device

The Lumkani device


Co-developing the device – workshop in UT Gardens ahead of rollout and installation.


Co-developing the device – workshop in UT Gardens ahead of rollout and installation.

Roll-out and Community Contributions: “We are proud of our device”

In November and December 2015 the first Lumkani devices were rolled out in UT Gardens and Siyahlala’s D-section. Currently ISN and FEDUP community leaders have rolled out 650 devices.

On the first day of distribution and roll-out, community leaders and members of the Lumkani team installed about 20 manufactured devices in the homes of community leaders and general community members. The devices need to be installed 1m away from the cooking area, to avoid triggering a false alarm in the event of close proximity to a heat source. The device is therefore positioned as high as possible while still in reachable distance in order to test or silence the alarm.

As the first batch was installed the community leadership collected a 20% contribution of the overall cost of the devices from community members through door-to-door visits. Contributions are an integral part of the Alliance approach of “Vuku’zenzele” – “Wake up and do it for yourself”.

Nokokheli Ncambele, Western Cape ISN co-ordinator explains,

“[Contributions are important because we want] communities to find solutions to their own problems. If a community contributes, they show that they are interested. With our contributions, we leverage more funds”

Communities that expressed interest in the device during initial mobilisation could apply to the Alliance’s Community Upgrading Finance Facility (CUFF) for co-funding, whereby CUFF covered 80% and community members contributed 20% (i.e R20) of the total cost.

Emily Vining, who facilitates Lumkani’s community interaction, reflects on the significance of community contributions,

“It is our hope that the act of purchasing the device is an exercise of freedom whereby people can increase their own safety and security and that of their community through their own agency and choice. Communities don’t have to wait for external actors to bring about change. They can do it for themselves”

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UT Gardens community leader, Vuyani Ntontela and Lumkani engineer Frank Petousis install device

Lumkani with Nozuko

Siyahlala’s FEDUP co-ordinator, Nozuko Fulani, with Lumkani’s Emily Vining & Frank Petousis

Fire prevention record so far

So far the system has prevented the spread of two fires in UT Gardens. The first (9 Dec 2014) occurred in the late morning when a light breeze blew some embers from a cooking fire into the neighbouring home. Although the homeowner was away, the Lumkani device she had installed triggered her neighbours devices who ran outside their homes to see where the danger had come from. The community managed to keep the fire contained with buckets while one community member used the toll-free emergency number 112 to call the fire department. The fire had burnt the community member’s home to the ground but no other structures where affected. The community attributed this to the early alert the Lumkani system provided.

The second incident occurred in the early morning hours of 22 Dec 2014 when UT and Lumkani leadership were alerted by SMS text messages that the system had triggered. Later that day it emerged that some men had left their pot unattended while making food. Their Lumkani device rang when the pot caught fire alerting them to the danger. They quickly put out the fire and shared the story with UT Gardens community leader, Thamara Hela, as they were very impressed with the functionality of the device.


UT Gardens community leader, Thamara Hela, with Emily Vining

A broader approach to Upgrading

The Alliance’s partnership with Lumkani is an example of what a proactive community intervention can look like. Its significance lies in the co-design and co-development of the Lumkani device – between community members and Lumkani’s technical team. What sets the Lumkani device apart is the community’s involvement in developing its own technical intervention. Through negotiating additional funds through their own contributions the community expressed its interest in taking the device on as its own – “Vuku’zenzele”.

The partnership is also an example of a broader approach to upgrading, one that reaches beyond housing and basic services. When upgrading includes co-design and relevant co-intervention, communities move from being receptors to actors, taking more control of the development process itself.