Defense dynamics with Sawsan Dahham

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The GCC Civil Defense Authorities shape the future of Fire and Life Safety industry, writes Sawsan Dahham, CEO of SIENA

With over a decade of increased awareness and proactive development in the fire and life safety industry (FLS), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Civil Defense Authorities (CD) worked hard on improving the quality of preventive and protective measures in case of a fire event or similar danger in their cities.

Several major reasons played a key role in the FLS industry development, starting with the growth of construction in the MENA region.

This noticeable surge in construction activity, driven by economic expansion in the GCC area, has created numerous new business opportunities.

Equally important is the determination of the region’s leading countries to establish themselves as exceptional tourist destinations by developing outstanding attractions, transforming their deserts into magnificent, advanced cities, and showcasing the beauty of their clear blue seas.

The second reason is the governments’ undeniable visions to shape their countries to reflect the increasing needs of their people, the groundbreaking social infrastructure plan and the continuous development in tourism programs.

The third and most effective reason is the lessons learned from fire events.

Those unfortunate incidents created a roadmap for concrete actions and preventive measures setting a solid foundation for CD development in the GCC region and specifically in KSA, UAE and Qatar.

Those countries did not only learn lessons from their own mistakes, but also expanded their knowledge capacity to include every major fire event in their awareness curriculum, as part of their continuous efforts to create a proactive approach to safety.

Throughout the history of public policies and rulership, it was proven that an effective government system with long-term plans provides an environment for evolution, growth, and advancement.

Taking a strict stance towards FLS awareness and implementation, the GCC countries started by empowering their (CD), as part of their holistic reform plans of becoming leading advanced societies capable of providing a high standard of living for their people.

This outstanding investment in FLS, is the outcome of a world-class regulatory framework that aims to raise the bar of fire safety by shaping its future throughout well-defined reforming steps.

Government responsibility

The initiative began with a governmental pledge to enforce all necessary measures to achieve and maintain the highest level of Fire and Life Safety.

In their relentless attempts for proficiency, GCC Civil Defense is continuously mandating additional regulations, updating their approval systems for submittals related to FLS and setting standards for companies and individuals that wish to be part of this field.

In most of these countries, companies that desire to provide engineering consultancy services in the field of FLS require a professional license fulfilling several conditions pertaining to the number of employees and their experience in this field, some of which even require professionals to undertake exams to get FLS practising certifications.

Under the CD authority, a key entity specialises in reviewing and approving FLS strategy design drawings and documents.

This constitutes the first line of safety defences by ensuring a compliant FLS strategy.

The second line is through mandating necessary approvals in order to import FLS systems, equipment and products, and only allowing their use after being listed and approved by entities certified for this purpose by the local CD authority.

For instance, the Saudi Standards, Metrology, and Quality Organisation (SASO) has qualified several product certification bodies and third-party testing laboratories to ensure that products, materials, and systems conform to the country’s regulations and testing standards.

On the other hand, the UAE established the Emirates Safety Laboratory (ESL), the first ever government-controlled facility for testing and certifying products related to FLS in the MENA region

The third defence line is strictly controlled by the inspection and permit entity that is responsible for the inspection of all types of buildings and structures under construction or existing to make sure they are in line with the approved FLS submissions and comply with all the requirements that qualify them to receive the no objection certificate of occupancy, guaranteeing that the structure is suitably safe to be inhabited according to its approved use.

The fourth line is through hands-on defence by extinguishing any fire incident through an effective CD operation entity.

One of their primary roles is to prepare and execute the strategies related to quick response and intervention in case of emergencies and everything related to rescue, firefighting and assisting in evacuation procedures.

The effectiveness and success of all CD entities is achieved by synergistic work not only between them but also across other governmental departments.

Investing in safety

GCC countries are committed to demonstrating the use of the latest technologies and innovative approaches in FLS, aiming to uphold their status as some of the safest nations, fostering innovative and radical thinking that aligns perfectly with their avant-garde future-oriented visions.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was a real testament to safety excellence, where the country’s CD played a pivotal and effective role.

Such mega events, put the country under international test to prove competency on many levels, the role of CD started at early preparation stages where they handled the country buildings and structure, new and existing, to make sure that they were all fit to be occupied.

They also took part in securing all transportation portals, safeguarding all stadiums, and organising people safe movement across the country.

As part of safety investment, a governmental budget is dedicated for the use of high-tech firefighting equipment and systems to enable the CD to do their duties within minimum time and maximum efficiency.

However, investing in safety is not limited to materialistic means, it also includes investing in the people.

After all, no equipment, systems, or materials are deemed effective without the involvement of qualified professionals.

Education and awareness

If we go back to the beginning of the 21st century, we notice a huge increase in staff employment at GCC CD, this surge is evidence to the government’s strong will to empower this authority.

This empowerment initiative begins by enhancing the officers’ knowledge through funding for higher education at internationally accredited engineering universities, and encouraging their progress by enrolling them in the best learning programs and trainings.

CD representatives also actively participate in numerous FLS conferences, internationally and in the GCC.

To achieve peak preparedness, enhance emergency response capabilities, and refine preventive measures, the CD authority eagerly collaborates with global leaders in the field to exchange expertise, study best practises, explore innovative ideas, and broaden awareness.

Raising the community awareness on fire preventive and reactive measures is crucial.

Therefore, CD authorities across the region, along with their strategic partners, developed and executed life safety educational programs for civilians.

These programs encompass training employees on how to react in the event of a fire, conducting periodic drills, fire warden training, and sessions on safety in homes and workplaces.

Codes and Standards development and enforcement

Throughout my career in FLS, I have designed numerous strategies based on a variety of international and national codes and standards.

I am proud to have witnessed the evolution of local codes and standards that started with the unified GCC fire code, then moved to create a country-oriented code mirroring the international ones due to their proven proficiency.

To end up merging between the world-wide adopted codes and standards requirements and their own countries safety needs based on lessons learned from fire event and local construction market evolution, in their most recent code edition.

I am confident that many professionals appreciate the effective enforcement of these codes alongside international standards, which avoids a ‘pick-and-choose’ approach that could lead to a disjointed mixture of FLS strategies.

To strongly support the effective compliance, the CD created strict submission procedures to regulate approval process.

The GCC Civil Defense plays a prominent role in shaping the future of fire by investing in safety, showcasing the best practises, experimenting in prevention methods, and raising awareness.

This commitment to safety does not only reinforce their worldwide position in mapping the infrastructure of fire, it also highlights their leadership position among their international counterparts, reflecting the advancement of their country in safety to life and similar disciplines.

This article was originally published in the May 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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