Older malls need to review safety plans

In the wake of the overcrowding issue at Mustafa Centre and the fire at People’s Park Complex (picture), safety experts say older shopping malls here will need to review their safety plans to keep up with changing business operations and growing crowd numbers.

Mr Kenneth Jones, the director of building inspection and survey company Robinson Jones Associates, told MediaCorp he has seen some worrying lapses in older shopping centres along Orchard Road.

At one such mall, for example, the fire doors were sometimes not securely shut, and shopkeepers were unaware of the danger this poses should there be a fire.

It is not just about adhering to fire safety protocols, either, said National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council chairman Alan Loh.

Being older, these malls pose more of a fire hazard risk and need to keep up with the times, he said.

“For instance, when there are now more foreigners in the mall, the management should make fire announcements in multiple languages where previously it is just doing it in English,” he said.

Engaging building surveyors is one way to identify safety lapses, and conducting regular drills is another.

But even then, some retail tenants say these drills are not always done effectively.

At Far East Plaza, which is about 30 years old, some tenants said the drills usually take place in the morning, before many retailers arrive to open their shops.

Ms Adelene Tan, owner of fashion store Green Petals, said she has personally not heard of any safety evacuation plans nor fire drills in her five years at the mall.

“If a fire breaks out, I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said.

Another shopowner, Ms Jocelyn Wong, who was in the mall two years ago when a fire broke out at the residential complex there, feels assured, however, that there is enough maintenance work to upkeep the building.

There are fire sprinklers and ventilators within each store and many exits in the mall, she added. The shopping centre’s building management could not be reached for comment.

According to City Developments Limited (CDL), which oversees Orchard Road’s oldest mall, Tanglin Shopping Centre, the key considerations in fire safety is to be proactive in safety management and enforcing these measures.

A CDL spokeswoman said that sprinklers, smoke detectors and adequate fire escape routes would be enough to protect older malls against fire risks.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force did not reply to MediaCorp’s queries for this report.

At other shopping centres, building managers say they still remain watchful about fire safety.

Mr Tan How Song, vice president of property operations at YTL Pacific Star Property Management, which oversees Ngee Ann City and Wisma Atria, said staff are trained in safety preparedness.

And when safety plans are changed, there must be detailed communication with tenants on what to do when an emergency situation arises, he said.

Fostering close relations with neighbouring malls is also important, as this will enabled resources to be shared during emergencies, he added.

Source : Today – 30 Apr 2010

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