x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Malls rethink safety plans after Doha fire

Shopping centres are practicing fire drills and submitting their safety plans for review after blaze at Villaggio Mall that killed 19, 13 of them children.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - April 26: Some of the stores at Wafi Mall in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Salam *** Local Caption *** PS18- WAFI.jpg
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - April 26: Some of the stores at Wafi Mall in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Salam *** Local Caption *** PS18- WAFI.jpg

DUBAI // Shopping centres in the UAE are reviewing fire-safety procedures after a blaze at a mall in Qatar killed 19 people.

"The Doha fire opened our eyes to the fact that emergencies do happen and that the effort we put into the systems and procedures is of great importance," said Petrus Blignault, health and safety manager at Dubai's Wafi mall, which holds annual fire drills.

"The fact that the building management did not identify the seriousness of the events led to a larger tragedy. What could have been a building fire only, turned out to be a massive tragedy."

The fire at Villaggio Mall in Doha on May 28 killed 13 children and four teachers trapped inside the Gympanzee nursery. Two firefighters also died.

There were reports that sprinklers did not work, that clear exit signs were lacking and that evacuation of the mall was too slow. An investigation committee into the blaze said that everyone involved had failed to follow laws, safety measures and procedures.

After the Doha tragedy, Mercato and Town Centre Jumeirah in Dubai sought help from Civil Defence for evacuation drills, said Stephanie Ba'Shammakh, the malls' operations manager.

"After the Doha incident and as a precautionary measure, we have engaged the services of the authorities to practise proper evacuation drills. We have also sent a copy of our exiting safety process to the authorities for their review and advice," she said.

"We already have a very good fire and safety system in place in both malls, and we carry out monthly check-ups on our fire system with a government-recommended supplier and third-party inspector to ensure that everything is working properly and is in good condition," Ms Ba'Shammakh said.

In Abu Dhabi, Marina Mall is installing intrusion alarms on all fire exits to ensure there is no unauthorised access and the doors are not tampered with.

And Natalie Kardoush, marketing manager at Abu Dhabi Mall, said staff conducted emergency exercises and drills each month to ensure they were ready for any eventuality.

"We pride ourselves in having a security team that has undergone a comprehensive training programme covering basic firefighting, first aid and CPR skills," Ms Kardoush said.

Among the measures the mall has taken are a bomb-detection system and a carbon-dioxide alarm system in the car park.

Khalidiyah Mall, the Emke Group's largest, said it had an emergency-response system that was approved by Abu Dhabi Civil Defence and frequently maintained.

"After the incident of Doha mall, we are more vigilant about this subject by regularly checking our systems and strict monitoring," said Praveen CY, the mall's assistant manager.

A spokesman for the Emaar division that runs the largest shopping centre in the UAE, Dubai Mall, as well as Dubai's Marina Mall, said proper maintenance of sprinkler systems and fire alarms gave people more time to evacuate in the event of a fire.

"While the alarm systems will give sufficient warning for visitors, the sprinkler systems used in the mall will help contain and control a fire, in addition to reducing smoke and the temperature of hot gases, ensuring that people have ample time for safe evacuation," the spokesman said.

Bhaskaran Nair, maintenance manager at the BurJuman Centre in Dubai, added: "One needs to always be vigilant in matters of public health and safety.

"We have placed a high priority on the maintenance aspect with regard to our tenants, in particular focusing on tenants that use open fires in their kitchen operations.

"We are currently increasing the frequency of retailer maintenance checks to once a month. As a mall we need to ensure all tenants comply with the necessary maintenance precautions."


* With additional reporting by Anwar Ahmad