Saudi daily calls for urgent review of mall safety standards

May 30, 2012

A Saudi newspaper has called for an urgent review across all shopping centres in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of their safety standards and measures.

“All malls need to review their fire and safety systems and the integrity of key elements such as staircases, have them independently assessed and audited and then publish the results for everyone to see,” the Saudi Gazette said in its editorial. “Of equal importance, we must ensure that our firefighters have plans ready to tackle a blaze in all major public places, such as malls. We must not have a Villaggio tragedy here.”

The Doha mall tragedy should give every GCC country, where these shopping centres are so common, pause for serious thought, it said on Wednesday.

Even though the investigation launched by the Qatari government will make clear how 19 people, including 13 children trapped in a first floor nursery, came to lose their lives, some details already paint a catalogue of faults and errors that, combined, caused the disaster.

“The tone of the fire alarms was anything but urgent. People in the Villaggio Mall said that they wondered if the noise they heard was perhaps a security alarm. The apparently low-key and disorganised reaction of the mall staff and management, added to the impression that this was not a serious incident,” the daily said. “Police and civil defence teams were on the scene quickly, but it has been reported that there was no accurate floor plan with which they could work to clear the mall and in particular reach the nursery where the children were trapped. A staircase up to the first floor collapsed. If there was a system for venting the building of the thick smoke that quickly built up, either it was not activated or did not work.”

‘Regular inspections’

According to the daily, the first impression is there was minimal planning for dealing with a large fire, both by the operators of the mall and by the police and civil defence.

“It ought to be axiomatic that not only are such premises inspected regularly to ensure that they comply with all fire and safety regulations, but also that firefighters should conduct proper exercises, so that they have a clear plan of how to deal with a blaze. If it is true that there was no floor plan of the mall immediately available, or indeed held by the civil defence teams themselves, then this is an extremely serious failure.”

The Saudi Gazette said verbal assurances by mall owners would need to be convincingly reinforced.

“Customers will start to ask questions about their favourite local malls, here in the Kingdom. Could such a tragedy happen here? Mall owners will say of course not. Unfortunately, after the Doha tragedy, that is not going to be good enough.”



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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