The largest shopping mall in the world

No structure best depicts affluence and wealth more than the Dubai Mall which is the latest addition to a development set to have a huge impact on the infrastructure of Dubai City with an additional 12 million sq feet of high end retail fashion space. FME is given an insiders view of this unique, high-end luxury retail complex by Michael Kelly, Director for Emaar Malls, the leading developer and operator of shopping malls in Dubai.

It is true to say that customers at Dubai’s biggest shopping centre are treated to 5 star fire protection as well as a lavish and luxury 5 star shopping experience. The four-storey Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest Tower Burj Khalifa, forms part of a multi-complex development positioned in the heart of a new and modern city, complete with the latest in fire and safety control.

Up to 75 million customers will pass through the doors of this exciting destination. Emaar constantly strive for perfection and provide safety standards that go beyond the conventional and minimum standard required in building and fire safety design, including its own highly professional 24/7 emergency response team responding to any incident in less than 5 minutes within the 4km stretch of retail and entertainment capital of the world.

With a total internal floor area of 5.9 million sq ft, The Dubai Mall has 3.77 million sq ft of gross leasable space and over 1,200 retail outlets.

The Dubai Mall features the world-class family entertainment including the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo; KidZania®, an innovative children’s ‘edutainment’ concept; SEGA Republic, a 76,000 sq ft high adrenaline indoor theme park and a 22-screen, Reel Cinemas megaplex with a total capacity of 2,800 seats. For visitors, there is an adjoining 5-star premium hotel, The Address Dubai Mall and car parking for over 14,000 vehicles.

A massive expansion of The Dubai Mall is currently underway, paving the way to welcome over 100 million visitors.

Fire safety challenges
Shopping centres, like any retail centre, face substantial public liability for a whole host of risks, from accidents and trips and falls to the risk of fire.

From a fire protection perspective, shopping malls are generally the most complicated of retail structures, requiring a fire alarm system sufficiently intricate to provide communication between active systems such as, zoned sprinklers, smoke control provision, secondary power supplies, emergency lighting and manned control centres.

The Dubai Mall is unique and not like any other retail outlet of its size but poses a number of challenges all of which needed to be considered in the design process; from egress systems, to the complexity of the fire detection system to ensure the maximum safety of customers and occupants and to maintain the integrity of the building where possible.

The systems at the Dubai Mall will protect the hundreds of thousands of customers that are expected to walk through the mall’s doors each day.

Systems in the Mall
The Dubai Mall is typical of a modern shopping centre and involves the installation of a number of systems, many of which operate in conjunction with each other in the event of a fire-related emergency.

The fire detection and notification systems in the Dubai Mall have been designed to the NFPA STD 101. The design utilises a networked series of intelligent addressable panels together with a combination of intelligent addressable smoke and heat detectors, call points and interfaces that integrate a range of building services, such as the air conditioning, fire dampers and sprinkler systems into a cohesive fire detection and fire protection system.

Building Regulations
While equipment and materials used by the construction are in the most part set to international standards, Dubai’s building regulations are a harmonisation of a number of different international codes. The influence of the United States is still strong, as the dominant building code is the American National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), but there is also an influence from the new UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice 2011.

Evacuation time for shopping malls can be lengthy. Much depends on the efficiency of the staff to manage the evacuation process and a life safety system that includes a number of elements; that activate audible alarms and that are programmed to automatically notify the local Civil Defence department. Smoke is as dangerous as fire, so a well-designed smoke control system is provided to maintain smoke-free escape conditions to allow the building to be evacuated with minimum risk of smoke inhalation.

The need to evacuate only the area of the Dubai Mall affected by fire has resulted in an intricate system to ensure that fire can be detected in the early stages, the right areas are evacuated and the right systems are in the right part of the building. For example, smoke curtains and smoke extract operate to maintain the ‘open’ mall area as a place of comparative safety.

Training and Resource
The Mall, Burj Khalifa and surrounding Downtown Dubai provide a variety of challenges for the Emergency Response Unit (ERU)and training for the unexpected Incident, is constantly rehearsed.

The ERU team are a 15 strong unit operating a 24/7 3 shift system to ensure full protection of the asset. The Unit is a specialised team, situated in the Dubail Mall in preparation for an immediate response, and regular training on various scenarios is carried out to a very high disciplined standard.

The team train, in conjunction with Dubai Civil Defence Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to ensure smooth transition and handover procedure if an incident is likely to be protracted and requires the support from the local DCD, who would eventually take over the incident.

The Dubai Mall is like a small city and due to its size there is always a risk of an incident occurring whether it be medical; flood; fire; ultra high rise or a road traffic collision.

The Emergency Response Unit must train in various disciplines to ensure we can meet and deal with any incident in the mall or surrounding area that we face. This is carried out through a programmed training schedule throughout the year which includes practical training, lectures and self study. The Emergency response team members are professional fire fighters from various parts of the world. This eclectic mix has a great advantage in that it creates a proficient, multi-lingual team able to communicate in various languages dependent upon the training they are delivering to other departments in the mall or indeed when attending an incident where the first language is not always English.

The ERU team also carry out realistic scenarios involving search and rescue using our rescue dummy and smoke machine. These exercises are coordinated with Mall Management in conjunction with scheduled fire evacuation drills which helps to bring a realism to all staff to ensure readiness for any eventuality.

Specialised and bespoke equipment
The ERU team has a variety of equipment ranging from the usual hose and branches to more sophisticated equipment such as snake-eye and infrared cameras to assist in location of concealed fires in high up ceiling voids or confined space areas. The mall is made up of an intricate labyrinth of large and small aluminum and steel ducts including kilometres of cables and services running through the ceiling voids; it is essential we have equipment to meet these needs and assist us to locate any small generation of heat before it turns into anything more serious.

One of the most fundamental pieces of equipment is the bespoke Polaris Ranger 6 vehicles we have situated around the mall and Downtown Dubai. These vehicles offer 6 wheel drive capability with integral 462 L water tank with foam induction capability. These vehicles can enter our goods lifts for immediate response to higher floors and have on and off road capability to ensure a response can be made to any part of the mall in any circumstance, this is and continues to be an important part of the design to ensure an effective readiness and response capability.

However the biggest risk is fire and the mall operates a fully integrated Risk Reduction and Fire Awareness policy for staff and more importantly the tenants and the retail managers themselves.

Proactive Prevention and Fire Awareness
No building is safe without the full support of the managers who run them. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of fire safety awareness and prevention programme. The proactive response starts at the very top through full support and co-operation from the senior managers and their staff. This understanding and appreciation of risk transcends to the rest of the team developing a safety culture through positive actions.

This culture of safety is transmitted through regular fire evacuation drill training, fire safety meetings and fire safety inspections carried out by the in-house Emergency Response team to identify and highlight any fire safety violations and where action is immediately taken to reduce, remove or mitigate the risk.

Tenant participation
One of the underpinning values of maintaining a safe mall that looks after 75 million visitors a year (more than those visiting New York) is to ensure the tenant managers and staff receive fire safety awareness training.

With over 1200 shops to deliver this vital message we need to utilise one of the great resources in the Mall; the Multi-plex Reel cinema. Here we provide a year long programmed timetable of training to meet the various needs of the tenants that range from retail shop risks to food and beverages in kitchen areas where a greater risk may pertain

It is mandatory that retail managers and staff attend a video and PowerPoint lecture on the dangers of fire and are also given a fire safety tenants pack which includes a tenants manual and emergency procedure pack.

Fire alarm systems and smoke control systems are essential but must be equally balanced by training, evacuations drills, maintenance and most importantly a fire safety awareness culture – one cannot work without the other. The mall and its team provide that balance to ensure the safety and well being of it customers, staff and visitors in this great iconic building.

The future
Many Fire Brigades throughout the world are now beginning to understand the need for self regulation and responsibility to building owners and on all fire and life safety issues due to the impact of limited resources many fire brigades have. Dubai Civil Defence would be no different and I believe both here and across the world more emphasis should be put on development of in-house professionally trained fire fighting teams into the larger and more complex building infrastructure where there is high life risk.

The concept of protecting critical assets has long been developed in the oil and gas industry. Why should it be any different for very large retail and entertainment assets where a large fire could seriously affect life safety, financial and business continuity, image and public confidence.

Advantages of in-house response:

  • greater understanding of the building layout and its associated risks
  • good liaison and co-ordination with local authorities upon arrival to an incident
  • reduced impact on limited manpower resource through inspection by inhouse teams
  • in-house teams working in conjunction with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) adopted by the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)
  • rapid intervention to reduce business impact

Large mega malls are becoming small cities and the epicentre of a large and thriving community and should consider the initiatives taken by the Dubai Mall in taking that step further to protect all its stakeholders.

In recognition of the highest standard of fire safety Emaar malls was presented with a prestigious award from the World Safety Organisation (WSO).