The Arabian Peninsula faces the challenge of fire safety 

Today, the entire Arabian Peninsula is facing significant risks in terms of fire safety. The different states are reconsidering their legislation, adapting themselves to the situation, and raising public awareness. For businesses, this challenge is leading to the emergence of new markets and encouraging innovation.

Common risks in the region 

In 2017, an explosion caused a fire to break out at a refinery in Bahrain. The Minister of the Interior declared that it was an act of sabotage. 

And in 2022, a fire broke out at the Mina Al-Ahmadi oil refinery in Kuwait during maintenance work, killing two workers and seriously injuring five others. This was the second fire at the refinery in the space of three months. These two events, which took place just a few years apart, demonstrate how vulnerable refineries are to the risk of fire. Other infrastructures, including skyscrapers, are also affected. They present major challenges in terms of fire safety because of their height and population density. Longer evacuation times, fire spreading faster through open spaces and between floors, and difficult access for firefighting equipment are all factors that add complexity to already significant risks. A fire that broke out last April in a residential tower block in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates resulted in the death of five people. Forty-four others were injured. With 39 floors and 750 apartments, the evacuation took more than 10 minutes for some of the residents. At the end of December, another fire in a tower block in Dubai caused the death of one person. The United Arab Emirates is regularly confronted with such fires due to the use of highly flammable exterior cladding. Since then, new regulations have been introduced in the country banning its use and requiring it to be replaced by flame-resistant materials. 

A booming market

The fire risk in the region is on a massive scale, and this is leading to the emergence of a new fire safety market. Demand for fire protection systems and equipment rose sharply in Qatar in connection with the organisation of the Football World Cup in 2022. The country’s fire safety market is keeping pace with that of new building construction. Between now and 2029, the sector is expected to grow by 9.13%, mainly due to the construction of new buildings as part of the “Vision 2030” programme and the organisation of the 2030 Asian Games. 

According to estimates by 6Wresearch, the industrial sector is likely to continue to drive investment in fire safety over the next few years, a demand reinforced by the many risks faced by refineries and petrochemical companies. Consequently, Qatar’s fire protection systems market is buoyant and French companies could seize this opportunity, particularly through programmes such as “Invest Qatar”, which aims to encourage foreign investment in the country. The Qatari authorities prioritise investments that ensure, as far as possible, that companies are established in the country. State funding is also driving growth in this market in other parts of the region. Estimated at $1.65 billion in 2022, it is expected to grow by 8.5% between now and 2030. 

New technologies and fire safety

The integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) is opening up a whole new world of possibilities in the field of fire safety. Sensors, integrated into fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and fire alarms, supply and analyse data in real time, allowing systems to be monitored remotely. To speed up response times in the event of a fire, the Emirati government has decided to equip 25,000 buildings with the Hassantuk system, a fire alarm system connected 24/7 to the civil defence command centres in each emirate. As well as generating an alarm, in the event of a fire the system will immediately send the alert to the command centre, which will carry out a telephone check. If the danger is confirmed, the fire alarm is transmitted to the nearest civil protection authority, along with the location of the building and the resident’s contact details for immediate action. The use of drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras is gradually gaining ground across the region. Giving firefighters a real-time view of fires allows them to assess the situation more quickly and accurately so they can act faster and more coherently. In Dubai, the integration of artificial intelligence into some systems is a minor revolution. “In August 2021, we launched Dubai Civil Defence Readiness, an app that combines multiple Dubai Civil Defence systems into one app. Above all, this application lets us predict fires using artificial intelligence (AI), identifying the moment when a fire is most likely to occur and helping us to prepare for any incident,”explains Saeed Alshaiba, Head of Information Security at Dubai Civil Defence. A new tool for predicting the areas most vulnerable to fire was introduced in 2023. Fire data from the past five years was analysed to develop the“Dubaï Readiness” programme, which is now fully operational.

Preparing and protecting local populations

The Qatari authorities have strengthened fire safety legislation to increase protection for local populations. All private companies, institutions, buildings and restaurants have had to comply with this new law. All plans for new government buildings must now be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible, among other things, for approving or rejecting the effectiveness of fire detection systems. Awareness of fire safety principles is regularly raised in schools across the country. In 2023, the General Directorate of Civil Defense organised an awareness-raising event designed to teach 5,000 schoolchildren about fire safety and prevention methods. A supreme council for civil defence has also been set up, with responsibility for defining general firefighting policy. The firefighting and rescue sector in Abu Dhabi is one of the civil defence authority’s largest sectors, comprising more than sixty firefighting centres. Since then, the various commands have been brought together under the aegis of the fire and rescue department. Emergency fire drills are regularly organised in Dubai, as was the case in 2021 when the Burj Khalifa was evacuated. Firefighters arrived in four minutes, and the fictitious fire on the 112th floor of the tower was brought under control in 10 minutes. The exercise provided an opportunity to check the effectiveness of the fire systems and to reassure both the authorities and the local population. 


Image: Unsplash/Dominik Sostmann

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