UAE plans fire safety risk review after NYE hotel blaze drama

Building owners could be liable for costly upgrades in wake of Address Downtown fire, says Dubai Civil Defence chief
UAE plans fire safety risk review after NYE hotel blaze drama
By Sarah Townsend
Tue 12 Jan 2016 04:27 PM

Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) is to conduct a major review of all buildings in the UAE to establish the fire safety risk each poses, its director of preventive safety has announced.

Building owners across the emirates are to be notified in the coming days of the substantial project to be undertaken by DCD. 

Property owners could be forced to pay millions of dirhams to fireproof their properties as a result of the tough new action taken by Dubai authorities in the aftermath of The Address Downtown hotel fire on New Year’s Eve.

The survey will aim to identify which buildings pose an unacceptable level of risk to public safety. DCD will then work with stakeholders to draw up plans for upgrading those buildings.

Lt. Col. Jamal Ahmed Ibrahim, director of preventive safety at DCD, told reporters on Tuesday the survey would oblige some building owners to invest in fireproofing their properties, but that the DCD would seek to propose the most cost-effective solutions.

He said: “We are doing a survey now for all buildings in the UAE – not just in Dubai – and will [compile] a report. If any building [poses] some issue, we will put forward a solution. Of course, different buildings require different solutions; one solution will not suit all.

“The law is very clear – the owner has responsibility for his building. This means that if after the survey any building is found to have some issue, the owner will have to replace [parts] and work with a lot of companies to deliver the necessary work.

“In some cases, the whole façade will need to be changed and that will be a high cost for the owner. We need to study a lot of solutions, the market also, to make the best suggestion.”

The blaze erupted at the Address Downtown hotel opposite the Burj Khalifa on December 31 and spread quickly up the exterior of the building. There were no reported casualties, but 16 people were said to sustain minor injuries.

The authorities are still investigating the cause, with a report due before the end of the month. Property owner Emaar has insisted it adheres to all fire safety standards and that its systems are regularly tested by third-party entities.

In the week since the fire, experts have observed that hundreds of buildings in the UAE are clad in panels made of aluminium composite – a highly flammable material that is no longer permitted in new buildings in the UAE.

However, an estimated 60 percent of older buildings in the country are still clad in the material and that goes some way towards explaining the spate of dramatic façade fires that have made local headlines in recent months, some experts allege.

Col. Ibrahim insisted that such claims were untrue but admitted “the cladding issue” could affect up to 20 percent of buildings in the UAE.

“The [current code] includes all the European fire and safety industry standards, [specifically, regulations named A48], but there was a small gap between DCD’s issuance of these regulations, and the construction of that building [the Address Downtown],” he said.

He added that the DCD’s survey will evaluate all buildings in the country, not just those clad in aluminium composite.

“We are reviewing every building in the UAE and not just the external façade; we are doing the inside too. Fire-fighting is about more than cladding – you have to make sure people can leave the building.”

Meanwhile, the UAE’s fire safety code, last updated in 2011, is to be reissued in March with new requirements for property developers to appoint a dedicated fire safety consultant to oversee all stages of design and construction.

Under the new rules, the consultant must be retained for a minimum of one year after the building has been completed, Col. Ibrahim said.    

“The UAE is a young country but its fire safety code is one of the most advanced as it incorporates best practices and rules from all across the world,” he added.

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