How did the UAE's fire legislation change in 2016?

January 2017 marks a year since a fire gutted The Address Hotel – Downtown Dubai. How has the UAE’s fire legislation evolved since then?

One year on: The Address Hotel – Downtown Dubai caught fire on 31 Dec, 2015.
One year on: The Address Hotel – Downtown Dubai caught fire on 31 Dec, 2015.

It wouldn’t be entirely incorrect to say that 2016 has been a year of introspection for the UAE’s fire detection and management sectors. Most regional reviews about the theory – and practical implications – of fire and life safety best practices have emerged from Dubai, where a fire broke out at The Address Hotel – Downtown Dubai on 31 December, 2015.

How it happened

The hotel, situated close to Burj Khalifa, reportedly caught fire minutes prior to a scheduled fireworks show on New Year’s Eve last year. Dubai Media Office said on its Twitter account that the fire had started on the building’s 20th floor.

On 20 January, 2016, Dubai Police confirmed the fire had started due to a short circuit spurred by an electrical failure. A forensic team found an electric fault in a spotlight used to illuminate the hotel started the blaze.

Ahmad Mohammad Ahmad, head of the Forensics and Mechanical Engineering Department at the General Department of Forensic Science and Criminology of Dubai Police, released this information.

While no deaths were caused due to the fire, up to 15 people were injured during the evacuation process.

Follow-up action

Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties – which owns the property – said on 1 January, 2016, that the hotel would be rebuilt. The Address’s guests were relocated across different hotels in the emirate, and Emaar set up a dedicated team to “ensure that all requirements of our guests are being met immediately”. Days later, Arabian Business reported that UAE contractor Dutco had been picked to rebuild the hotel.

A senior official from Dubai Civil Defence said the last evacuation drill carried out at The Address Downtown was held in September 2015.

Speaking to fmME on the sidelines of the Safety and Security Design in Buildings 2016 conference held last January, the official from Dubai Civil Defence’s operations department added that up to 3,000 guests were present in the hotel when it caught fire.

Looking ahead

On 13 January, 2016, the Dubai Civil Defence announced it was planning a review of all buildings in the country in a bid to gauge the fire safety risk they pose. An Arabian Business report stated that DCD’s review could spur high fireproofing costs for developers and building owners.

Shortly after, Pramod Challa, chief of engineering at Dubai Civil Defence, told fmME that an updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code – which would place increased emphasis on the role of building owners and consultants – was being prepared by the authority. Challa added that the revised code would include various modules, such as the responsibilities of developer, consultant, owner, and tenant, as well as facilities, school, and hospital management.

While initially slated for a March 2016 release, Zawya Projects reported in November 2016 that the new code will likely be released in 2017 as authorities review some chapters of the revised regulation. A precise launch date for the new fire code is yet to be announced. Regardless, there is little doubt that the code will reshape how the UAE’s FM teams fight fires in 2017 onwards.

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