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A blueprint for safety

  • Sun, 11 Feb 2018 04:47

A blueprint for safety

Taking a proactive approach focused on fire prevention, Beyond Carltons Fire Safety Blueprint could trigger a serious structural change to keep Bengalureans safe

Narrow, congested approach roads, high-rises without setbacks, extinguishers rarely tested… If this is not a recipe for another killer fire accident in Bengaluru, what is? Indeed, no lessons have been learnt from the past incidents. But a comprehensive, well-articulated and structured fire safety blueprint, prepared by the citizens collective Beyond Carlton could change all that.

The horrific Mumbai rooftop fire accident and the mounting cases of avoidable fires across this city have injected a sense of urgency in building a robust fire safety mechanism. The Blueprints introduction articulates it aptly when it says, "The need for a comprehensive review and forward planning of Fire and Emergency Preparedness is an absolute must."
The plan is well laid out over a period of the next five years. Prepared in consultation with the Karnataka State Fire & Emergency Services and the NGO, Janaagraha, the Blueprint has a critical objective: To ensure Zero Deaths due to fire accidents in Bengaluru city in the year 2023, and reduce the fire incidents to 50% of the number in 2017.

Fire preparedness

The starting point is not a vacuum but a thorough understanding of the loopholes that currently exist in the citys fire preparedness. Fire accidents big and small in the past have exposed glaring violations in building plans, mandatory fire-safety measures and more.

The entire plan has been divided into two phases. The first phase is to be executed from 2018 to 2202, and the second phase from 2021 to 2023. The Blueprint takes a very collaborative approach between the various key stakeholders - the Government, the building owners / occupiers, the Fire Brigade, the city administration, the industry and the civic organisations.

To ensure that everything works according to plan, the milestones / goalposts have been identified for each calendar year. Technology is to be adopted as a key enabler and act as a force multiplier. Also recommended is Public-Private Partnership to boost fire-fighting capability. What should be the game-changer is the Blueprints emphasis on targeted updation of codes and standards coupled with rigorous implementation.

Poor implementation

Existing rules might appear robust on paper. But the poor implementation of these is blamed on the lack of a coordinated approach by various city civic agencies. Thousands of buildings have come up without any care for fire safety. Occupancy Certificates are issued to builders without the mandatory No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire department. Corrupt middlemen, inspectors and the bureaucrats have ensured that the high-rises are built and sold to gullible buyers, whatever the violations.

In terms of multi-agency coordination, Bengaluru has miles to go, notes R A Venkitachalam, Executive Council member of Beyond Carlton, who played a key role in preparing the blueprint. "Coordination between Bescom, BWSSB, BBMP, the traffic police and local health services is critical when there is a fire incident. We complain about no water in hydrants, fire-tenders arriving late, electrical short-circuit triggering a fire and more," he says.

The Blueprint, he says, has been conceived as a serious value-add to the existing plans. "It has been developed in close consultation with the fire department. It had to cover areas where the Fire Department has no jurisdiction now."

Beyond Carlton founder Uday Vijayan sees the blueprint as a means to get proactive. The attitude to fire safety so far, he says, has always been reactive. There is the need for a greater focus on fire prevention rather than on firefighting. Firefighting is really reactive. Most often, he points out, it is really late. The Blueprint proposes a different, more efficient approach to prevent fires.

GPS fire trucks, GIS mapping

Technology adoption is a key component of the Blueprint. Simply put, this implies GPS-enabled fire tenders and GIS-mapping of highly populated buildings that are most vulnerable to fire accidents. Cinema halls, multiplexes, malls, metro stations, congested markets and other public spaces easily fall into this category. The Fire Department should know inside-out of these buildings and the approach roads. "Technology can also ensure that the traffic signals turn green when fire trucks are speeding to douse a blaze," explains Venkitachalam.

The PPP model is envisaged to address the gaps in infrastructure. A city of Bengalurus complexity and population size requires 70 fire stations. But it has only about 25. Roping in commercial establishments and other private players to allocate space for fire trucks could be one way of tackling this critical shortage.

Stringent penalties

The Blueprint could trigger some serious changes if it can link inspections and fire-safety violations with stringent penalties and follow-throughs. As a fire safety expert puts it, "identify glaring building violations and pursue it with deliberate speed. Catch and punish 10, and the rest 90 will fall in line. That will send the message that the government is really serious."

The plan could potentially work on new buildings. In old structures where retro-fitting of fire-safety measures can be a big challenge, the key is to identify spots that are most prone to fire and do the needful. Simple inspections could ensure that.

The Fire Department and Beyond Carlton are on the same page on the Blueprint. The department chief, Director General of Police, M N Reddi has lauded the efforts of the citizens collective in bringing about awareness. He has dubbed the report very technically sound. The department, he assures, will integrate the plan into all its ongoing projects.

Deccan Herald - City

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