SEAN CRONIN

LONDON: Owners of high-rise hotels across the Gulf should review their evacuation and fire alarm systems in the wake of an horrific blaze in London last month, said a leading international fire expert.
The large number of high-rise hotels in the region represents a particular worry for regulators, according to Jim Glockling, the technical director of the UK-based Fire Protection Association.
He made his remarks as it emerged that cladding used in at least 60 tower blocks in the UK had failed a new safety test.
Glockling said building owners should urgently review both their fire detection and evacuation procedures as regulators worldwide absorb the lessons of the Grenfell Tower blaze, in which at least 80 people died last month.
A surge in hotel construction spurred by the growth of regional tourism and events such as the Dubai Expo 2020 and FIFA World Cup in Qatar two years later has led to hundreds of new high-rise hotels being constructed in the region, many of them covered with cladding panels.
Hotel owners may now have to review their entire evacuation procedures in the wake of the fire as insurance companies reassess building fire risks.
A cladding fire which erupted on New Year’s Eve 2015 at The Address Downtown Dubai hotel was broadcast live to millions of people worldwide and triggered reforms to the fire safety code in the UAE.
“It is critical that you have a robust alarm detection in place to get the earliest possible warning,” said Glockling. “Many alarm systems are de-sensitised so that a big building doesn’t have to be evacuated if someone has burnt the toast or left the kettle on.”
Such false alarms can lead to complacency among building managers and fire fighters.
He said that some 95 percent of automated fire alarms in the UK are either false or unwanted — such as those caused by someone smoking or from cooking fumes or vapor.
Building owners should instead install more sophisticated systems that are triggered when there is more likelihood of a fire than not.
“These systems indicate a fire is more like 80 percent likely than 90 percent unlikely,” Glockling said.
Police in the UK said on Thursday that they had reasonable grounds to consider whether local authorities had committed corporate manslaughter as tests on buildings with cladding continued across the UK.
At least 80 people died on June 14 when the blaze ripped through the London tower block, the city’s deadliest fire in more than a century.
Unlike the UK, where many old concrete towers built in the 1960s and 1970s have been recovered with flammable cladding panels, such panels are more likely to be found on much newer towers in the Gulf, where a real estate boom has added hundreds of new high-rise towers over the last decade — most of them covered with aluminum cladding panels with flammable core materials.
The Grenfell Tower fire “has enormous implications” for such buildings, said Glockling.
The Fire Protection Association has also warned of the urgent need to update 10-year-old fire regulations in the UK.
“We are concerned that other sectors of the building regulations, particularly to do with sustainability, unwisely bias building methods and material choices to those that might perform less well in fire scenarios,” according to a briefing note. “The regulations do not constitute a holistic approach to the creation of a safe, resilient and habitable building.”