In two of the most devastating fires in the past three months, 19 people died in a Doha shopping mall and more than 100 families in a Sharjah building were left homeless overnight.
Ajai Datta, the general manager of the safe and sound division at Yusif Bin Yusif Fakhro, a supplier of appliances such as safety systems based in Manama, says mall and residential-building managers should spend more on fire detection and prevention facilities.
What are the potential danger areas in a mall or a residential building?
Any area not accessed over a period of time is going to be a threat. During the night, these are even more dangerous because there are less people around. Also, you need to see the kind of outlets there are in a mall [such as perfume shops that have] more inflammable materials. A residential building has a greater potential [for a fire] than a mall because ... residential buildings have an easygoing set up. I have been in buildings where they have not even taken off the plastic covers on fire sensors. People put sofa sets in front of fire exits.
What steps do property developers or mall managers need to take to retrofit a shopping centre if it needs additional safety features?
Get a specialist advice ... who are consultants in fire safety. And the specialist should have a flexile design for fire detection, fire fighting and smoke control. [More often it is the] smoke that kills you. The trick is to find the right fire sensor for the right place that can detect the [difference among] smoke, flame, dust and steam to pre-empt false alarms. High ceilings [in malls] have different sensors. You now have voice evacuation system instead of a bell or an alarm going off that asks people to move out in a systematic way. Every facility needs a daily walk through [by the personnel] to see everything works.
How much, potentially, could such safety upgrades cost?
As a gadget [these] don't cost much. Fire safety system costs should start from 1 to 2 per cent of the entire project budget. For a two-bedroom apartment, fire alarm systems should not cost more than Dh3,000 (US$816).
Where are mall or building managers falling short on safety?
Currently, the civil contractor who takes care of the bricks and mortar part of a project hires a mechanical, electrical and plumbing [MEP] contractor who in turn hires a fire and security system contractor to [implement safety requirements]. Each has to make a profit and the fire safety person does whatever he can [within the budget]. The contract on safety should come directly from the main client. Yusif Bin Yusif Fakhro puts in specialised security and fire systems in malls and residential buildings. Due to financial constraints the MEP contractor [often] starts with the least budget and also asks for cheaper products.
* Sananda Sahoo