I recently watched the Netflix web series, “Trial by Fire”. The series is based on the 1997 Uphaar Cinema tragedy in New Delhi.
A fire broke out from a faulty transformer during the opening day screening of “Border”, a much-awaited Bollywood film. The perfect storm of a packed house, non-functioning fire equipment and absolute negligence of the theatre owners, resulted in gruesome death and destruction.
59 people died due to asphyxiation and more than 100 were injured in the ensuing stampede. While, as a parent, my heart went out to the victims and protagonists, here I seek to present my thoughts on the fire safety industry in India.
The protagonists’ fury is rightly directed at the developer, given that they owned the premises. Hence they were fully accountable for its safety and upkeep.
However, they are shockingly not alone in this crime.
I believe there are two imperatives to a well-functioning security system, be it fire detection and suppression, public address, access control or CCTV.
The first is a fundamentally good product, backed by solid technology and manufactured to high performance specifications.
Most buyers are well-aware of this and do not cut corners here. Top global brands viz. Edwards from United Technologies, Notifier from Honeywell and Bosch from Bosch Security Systems have an established track record. They are within +/- 10% in performance for the same specs.
These latest generation alarm systems are fully intelligent, addressable and networkable, i.e., they talk to each other and process multiple signals in milliseconds.
In an ideal end-to-end networked complex, a fire alarm detector would evaluate the severity of the environment. Set off an alarm in the control panel, activate the hooters, light up specific escape routes while shutting off elevators and simultaneously gun the hoses, sprinklers, and extinguishers into action all within 5 minutes.
CCTV magnifies the impacted area in control rooms for further action; add Building management systems (BMS) and your lighting, aircon, ventilation and hydraulics are integrated too.
This advancement in technology is light years ahead of the simplistic human manning system or basic alarm systems that proliferated a couple decades ago.
Now give this behemoth into the hands of an experienced and accredited contractor, and you have a fully certified and safe building. For 12 months.
So, what happens then? From here on, the second imperative kicks in. Consistent, high quality maintenance by experienced engineers and technicians is critical for the long-lasting efficacy and working of these systems.
Which a few customers may be clueless about, but the majority are short-sighted or worse, unscrupulous.
In India, AMCs (annual maintenance contracts) are increasingly given, and resignedly accepted at rock-bottom rates which, if one looks under the hood, will not cover basic cost (variable material + labour) in most cases.
AMCs are the critical human element, and the core of how this technology will safeguard and protect life and assets in the long-term.
Any security system, from any global brand, cannot perform long-term unless it is regularly cleaned and tested, sorted out for false alarms and recalibrated.
If this critical part is neglected, the result is a dirty, dust filmed alarm detector, containing dead batteries, unable to sound a warning on any level. Ditto for hooters, call points, voice alarms, extinguishers, and in fact the entire BMS.
As the serial reveals, Uphaar had all these lapses and more, with very little care and maintenance on any detection or protection equipment, resulting in needless death.
We know now all too well, how critical is the human touch in enabling the best of technologies!
Electroquip was the first company in India to supply, install and commission (SITC) the very first intelligent fire alarm system in the country at India habitat centre, New Delhi. Also, basis its track record, Electroquip was awarded the AMC of the Delhi Parliament Library, every year, for 15 years as a gold class in security maintenance.
Electroquip Ltd and Secursolve Pte Ltd are top distributors of United Technologies in India and Singapore respectively. We urge all contractors, developers and property maintenance companies globally to achieve and maintain the gold standard in security AMCs.
Every life is precious!
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