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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Exasperation, anxiety rise as Qatar closes second major mall to revamp safety features

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The abrupt closure of Doha’s City Center mall has sent ripples of confusion, frustration and applause throughout the community.

The closure, which comes on the heels of a Villaggio fire investigation report that decries non-compliance of safety standards in major public spaces, has been hailed by some as a step toward safer living.

The mall, which had already closed its main food court for repairs months ago after an eatery there caught on fire earlier this year, is always teeming with people on Fridays and Saturdays, even more so now that Villaggio is closed.

That is one reason why the move, which took place on a weekend in the summertime, has been criticized by some as a knee-jerk reaction that may have sent droves of people to congregate in other spaces unprepared for fires and other emergencies:

On Friday, the Peninsula reported that Qatar is drafting a new fire safety law that states:

All buildings in the country, whether new or old, residential or commercial, public or private, will be required to have emergency fire exits, spacious passageways to these exits, emergency staircase and the walls must be fire-proof. Storage areas in buildings must be safe.

Those who fail to comply with the new law could face up a QR20,000 fine.

In response to this, David Roberts at the Gulf Blog argues:

There seems to be an utter lack of nuance in these new laws. There needs to be a discussion as to balancing the needs of safety with a practical and realistic assessment of what can actually be done. …

In this desire to make Qatar a safer place, this kind of blanket approach will primarily result in onerous requirements for businesses and residents and an exponential rise in profits for fire-safety supply firms.

Communication surrounding the City Center closure also appears to have frustrated many, including those who found out that the mall was closed only after they arrived there to shop on Friday.

Questions have also been raised as to whether the mall will actually only be closed for two days.

Sources told the Peninsula that City Center’s existing fire safety system failed tests conducted by Civil Defense, and thus closed to bring the mall up to code.

Its new system would include a louder alarm system, better emergency lighting and a central control room to monitor the entire mall through CCTV – a laudable upgrade, but hardly a two-day effort.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Jassim Al Tamimi

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