Understanding the various processes, legislations and challenges involved in fire safety and security in FM. – by Shanti Petiwala

Research has suggested that both the security and fire safety industries will undergo a double digit growth over the next 5 years. In terms of fire safety, annual growth has been capped at about 12-12.5 per cent up till 2020. The fire code was also updated early in 2017 bringing about a lot of developments in the industry. It has also been estimated that the Middle East security market will hit about $4.8 billion by 2021, with, of course, UAE and Saudi Arabia comprising more than half the market. However, several developments in both these markets have left the FM community and its related stakeholders stumbling.

In order to address any discrepancies and to increase awareness of the latest trends and technologies in the market, FM Today magazine, in association with CG Technology – a provider of safety and security systems and solutions - organised a roundtable bringing together experts from the government, owners’ associations, developers and FM companies to talk about security and fire safety. The participants included, Alex Davies, Managing Director, Emrill Services; Andre Mars, HSQE Manager, Cofely Besix Facilities Management; C. Arif, Security Operations and Services Manager, Security Regulatory Agency (SERA); Ihab Assi, Country Director, Apleona HSG FM; James Barrow, Director of Business Development, Duserve FM; Kirk Watilo, Executive Director for Owner’s Association, Khidmah; Head of Operations, Concordia DMCC, Integrated Facilities Management; Michael O’Leary, Director of Community & Owners Association Management, APMD Community Management; Samer Gani, BR, SAGA International; Sanjay D’Abreo, General Manager, Pacific Owner’s Association; Sara Momtaz, Commercial & Business Development Director, QBG FM.

SECURITY & SAFETY Understanding the security and safety market

Jamil Francis, CG Technology, said, "The security market has been constantly undergoing changes. For good security to be implemented, it is important for service providers to involve people from the beginning – starting with informing them subtly that the area is monitored by CCTV." The current trend is that of smart devices, which increases the demand and acceptability of integrated devices. A number of manufacturers are offering integrated systems that combine BMS and security cameras to make it easier for FM companies to work. Cameras today can perform head counting and detect smoke in an instant. However, most of these systems are a huge security risk and invade privacy. IP Systems were introduced in the market about 5-6 years ago and took off well. However, they are expensive for small installations, need lots of maintenance and are extremely difficult to troubleshoot. Currently, the Chinese market is focusing on analogue systems. With the constantly updated laws, these systems are easy to replace or update, feasible and cost effective. Moreover, they do not require as much cable-work as IP systems.

Nowadays, several companies request permission to combine fire and live safety systems with CCTVs. Small developers usually have a standalone system, which is not connected to the internet. Usually, the governing agency allows that integration. However, it draws a line when it comes to any external connection because it is a huge security risk. Another trend is that of retina scanners. As it gets cheaper, facial recognition software is gaining prominence – 3D modelling of the face is also becoming very cheap now. But, it can be problematic.

Security guards

Samer Gani, BR, SAGA International, said, “Yes, technology is advancing but a lot of our dependency as owners associations (OA) is on the users themselves. We face several problems with licensed security guards. Almost 70 per cent of our problems need to be solved by security law enforcement because they are unable to resolve simple issues. I feel that security guards and companies must have more power and be better trained to prevent extra costs and loss of time.”

In the UAE, everyone has legal powers that differ. The security guard has no legal power because he is not a UAE national. Such cases need to be resolved differently, one way being addressing these concerns to the security agency. Currently, agencies are working on providing security guards with an app that will enable them to instantly contact law enforcement in any circumstance. That cuts a lot of time and cost. As a result the guard also feels more in control of the situation.

Alex Davies, Managing Director, Emrill Services, said, “A lot of the training onus is on us as service providers. Security differs within each sector in which the security guard is being deployed. At Emrill, we do not deploy anybody without five days internal training as it depends on where they are being positioned since each situation deals with different issues depending on the facility. Yes, SERA provides core training; however, we need to go above and beyond that to be truly successful.”

To make things easier, SERA is now planning to categorise service providers on the basis of the security services provided whether high-end or low end. This will give clients a better idea of which service provider to contract for the job. Sara Momtaz, Commercial & Business Development Director, QBG FM, suggests that these service providers be rated biannually to see if they meet the standards prescribed. “All the top end FM’s and all top end security companies are going to want to embrace this and want to have this categorisation so they can prove themselves,” added James Barrow, Director of Business Development, Duserve FM.

Challenges in security

One of the biggest challenges in security is the building structure. Very often, just as the building is being finished, there are several structural changes, and security is not adapted to those changes at the last minute; moreover, 2D drawings do not represent the actual building. Most developers and integrators treat security systems as a brickwall. A security system needs maintenance and care and can’t be just forgotten about. The capability of the person that installs the camera is also extremely crucial.

Several companies find the constantly changing and updating laws rather inconvenient. Kirk Watilo, Executive Director for Owner’s Association, Khidmah, said, “We recently opened a delayed building in Dubai that was built to the standards in effect 7 years ago. Within two months of the opening, an inspection was done and because the laws changed, we were required to put in another 120 cameras. This completely blew our budget, but it had to be done.”

The law is constantly updated to improve security. A new version that is being introduced has specifications on the location of the cameras in a building and eventually the number of cameras required. However, dealing with last minute changes is a result of a disconnection between all stakeholders of the industry – the government, security agencies and the private sector. People are scared to approach governing agencies considering that it was created to bridge any sort of gap and to improve awareness and understanding. In fact, SERA conducts courses in security measures and standards; it is important to sign up for these to be constantly updated. 

Internal FM training

Sara Momtaz observed that despite all of this, it is important to specifically define the roles of security guards to maintain consistency of services. “This is why I feel that licensing should involve a biannual assessment. This will also keep the licensed guards on their toes. Laws keep getting updated in Dubai, and two years is too long a time for us to understand how we can adapt to those changes.”

Barrow suggested that SERA should send bulletin announcements to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the new regulations so that they can go about with complying. Michael O’Leary, Director of Community & Owners Association Management, APMD Community Management, said, “We recently set up the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Middle East chapter – maybe we can work with SERA to pass on any communication to our service providers and make it part of KPIs, SLA’s if they are not performing.”

FIRE SAFETY Fire safety technologies

Prabha, CG Technology, stated "Fire alarm systems today have normal detectors and are extra sensory. CCTVs can be connected to the fire alarm systems and IP network. Similarly, emergency light systems are being manufactured separately to overcome emergencies connected with fires; this prevents a lot of cable-work." Fire extinguishers, too, are being updated without chemicals – today extinguishers can use sound waves to put out fires. When it comes to smart products, apps are now being created to set off fire and smoke alarms on the telephone. Companies today are also heavily investing in training – FM companies and OA’s are taking a lot of the responsibility and getting more actively involved in training – including that of the fire warden and security guard. 

When it comes to fire wardens and marshalls, it is up to the FM company to assign the right kind of trained personnel to OAs. Samer Gani said, “We expect the security and fire-fighting companies who we deploy to take full responsibility as per the license they have been awarded. If there is a problem we look at it; we supervise.” Several of the FM company representatives around the table, however, were unaware of how one can differentiate between security and fire staff. Michael O’Leary suggested that the bulletin boards in building lobbies mention the names and details of the fire wardens designated to the site. Momtaz added, “This allows buildings and facilities to embrace the sort of culture where the security, fire wardens and even residents are more involved.”

Most of the stakeholders were aware of the fire safety protocols and code. The Civil Defence offers training to facilities and their staff, and it is imperative that all fire wardens and fire marshalls are trained. Moreover, FM companies regularly organise trainings with their fire-safety contractors. Alex Davies said that it is important to have consistent fire drills, “Being service providers, we have silent drills for the wardens in every facility every month. We don’t hit the fire alarm, and residents aren’t aware of what we are doing, but we have our fire wardens running through buildings going to each point and doing the checks practicing what they need to do. That is done on a monthly basis, and on a six-monthly basis we do an organised building ‘tip outs’. These are mine and my teams’ legal responsibilities by the end of the day.”

The OAs and FM companies have a strong communication when it comes to fire training and safety. Watilo said, “We carry out a monthly scoring of our service providers, evaluating their actual performance to their KPIs and SLAs, but we also sit down weekly to discuss any discrepancies. This is a practice in most buildings to keep service levels on track.”

Prevention practices

O’Leary brought to the table’s notice the concept of cigarette butts and how they trigger fires as part of a major security breach. He said, “We can install penalties or notice violations, but is there anything more we can do to catch residents that are totally ignorant of the rules and carelessly use barbecues or cigarette butts?” Security agencies have no objection to installing cameras that oversee the boundary of any building. These can be installed to monitor the external portion of the buildings; however it requires permission of occupants and the OA. This will allow the authorities to understand the source of any fire if ignited externally.

Andre Mars, HSQE Manager, Cofely Besix Facilities Management, emphasised on how building material must be considered for passive protection like curtained walls, wheel pipes, etc. He said, “Building plans must be drawn properly – fire protection units need to be installed between two floors, and this must be done before the site development is started. It is extremely important for OAs to be involved at the design stage – that is when they are able to identify any hazards or discrepancies in the building before it gets occupied.”

Recent reports mention that 3D filming was carried out at a development in Abu Dhabi. The final film was then used to give the developer an idea of faulty materials or methods used that could hamper fire safety. Head of Operations, Concordia DMCC, Integrated Facilities Management, said, “The UAE revised its building safety code in 2013 to require that cladding on all new buildings over 15 m (50 feet) tall be fire-resistant. But, the new rules did not apply to buildings erected before that year, so many of the city’s skyscrapers fell outside the regulations. The challenge is to change the cladding, given the new updated fire code, which incurs a huge cost and would require considerable investments. External fires may not trigger the building’s fire detection/alarm or extinguishing systems and the likely reason is that smoke does not reach the smoke detectors, and heat does not reach the sprinkler heads, until the external fires had become sufficiently developed to break into the interior of the buildings. In such a situation, it is imperative for developers, OAs and service providers to have a proper fire-fighting system in place working at an optimum level.”

Gani said, “Our insurance premium went from 50-60,000 to 300 thousand because we aren’t aware of the quality of cladding. If we want to carry out any tests, it will cost us that much. So we along with FM companies are caught in the middle.”

Barrow continued, “One of the things that almost all top tier companies do when they take up a new project is a risk assessment and business continuity planning. Sure, active systems are great and even better if they are maintained properly. But, it is passive systems that pose the biggest challenges. They are completely ignored. Fire stopping is always a significant concern. MEP contractors who do not have the required DCD license or expertise in product selection and installation end up installing fire stops. They should be all labelled; they should all have independent third party certification numbers for the installed fire stop system alongside every fire stop that is installed in buildings. So, from our perspective, we come along and carry out these annual inspections as per the fire code. So, if it then requires any maintenance, we know exactly how it should be built up in terms of the backing material, etc. in order to maintain it. That isn’t being done almost anywhere in this country. Fire doors need be inspected on a quarterly basis. I do not know of any building that is doing it. Nobody is interested in these checks to comply with the fire code!”

The solution is to raise awareness. The fact is that if a fire incident takes place in a building, the compartmentation is supposed to demand that backfire is contained at the point of origin for at least 2 hours to give the fire marshalls the opportunity to evacuate the building safely. The fires that spread in the country spread uncontrollably because the fire stops in compartmentation are not regularly inspected or maintained. Barrow added, “And when we take over a building and point out these discrepancies, 95 per cent of the time they are not addressed by the OA. These are usually construction defects, which is the developer’s responsibility to put right”

Kirk Watilo said, “We inspect buildings and create reports addressing the condition of a building long before allowing a building to be handed over from the developer to the OA so as to protect the OAs from taking on unfair liabilities.” Ihab Assi, Country Director, Apleona HSG FM, contributed, “We have been very active in Sharjah, and we are in touch with the police and civil defence regularly. We try to give them our opinion and feedback regarding various related strategies and technologies. Given our German base, our role is to bring the best quality into business without crossing the cost limitations set by the market aspects. Knowing that a city like Sharjah has had many fire incidents, we have a major focus there together with our JV partner to play a role towards improvement of the market standards in terms of prevention and intervention, depending on advanced technologies.”

Given all of the above challenges, the unanimous idea was that the main consultants needed to be held responsible. The budget that they set aside for security or fire in the beginning of a project is hardly adequate. Project managers are constantly thinking of just finishing the job without any adherence to standards and quality requirements. The consultants do not understand the need for these requirements and as a result they contract the jobs out to sub consultants and so on. At the end of the day, no one takes the responsibility.

Sanjay D’Abreo, General Manager, Pacific Owner’s Association, said “We find that many times consultants also do not conduct any of the inspections that the contractors define and require. They are usually hired by the municipality or freezone authority.” The consultants put up 0.02% of the budget for security and just 3% for fire safety, and then they are shocked when the cost of maintenance rises. There is a huge gap between consultants and the legislation – they still plan buildings as they did in the 1970s.

Ihab said, “We expect improvement on the legislative part of the business in order to have the consultants and contractors abiding to improved and modernise standards. Assessment of market players at all levels should be carried out frequently, and teamwork between all stakeholders is highly required in order to reach our goal and be at the level of responsibility towards end users.”

The Head of Operations, Concordia FM, contributed, “We are basically stuck in two situations – one where the various stakeholders involved need to correct issues before they become permanent in construction (should be immediately looked at), and the other one where existing buildings require modification. Each building should be treated individually to consider items such as the area of cladding, cladding detailing issues (for example, fixings around existing windows and balconies, etc.), other factors affecting economies of scale and the practicalities of replacement such as building height and confined site access, which will all affect the total removal and replacement cost. At Concordia, we manage more than 30,000,000 sq.ft. of Master communities, retail, residential and commercial properties. Years ago, we had a fire in one of the towers we manage. After that, there were a lot of directives with greater emphasis on training. Systems are tested on weekly and monthly basis and upgrades are carried out at end of life cycles. After that there have been no fires in the area. Improving communication and retraining MEP, Soft Services and Security staff across our managed assets also improved awareness and readiness to respond. That is how they have managed to conserve the area and buildings making JLT among the communities we manage safer. As a matter of fact, now we are upgrading the entire alarm and detection system in one of the master communities that we manage.”

The consensus around the table was that it was important that they reacted to an incident and became proactive. But, what if owners and OAs were proactive from the very beginning? It is important for the parties involved to carry out risk analysis and act before anything happens. The 3D modelling software is a giant step in that direction, too. Stakeholders can be shown visually what can happen if a wrong material or method is used.

Samer Gani concluded the roundtable discussion by saying, “We are working closely with RERA to ensure that the services we provide are the best and in line with the name and reputation of Dubai.”


Safety and security are the building blocks of any nation and the foundation of any empire. They are founded upon three pillars - the government to legislate and enforce; the companies as a guided hand to follow, install and maintain the government’s vision; the government’s most valued asset: the people. As a country progresses and evolves, it attracts individuals from all nationalities. Crime is a direct consequence of a growing populous and a deterrent for tourism, visitors and potential residents. Thus, the role of security is even more vital.

Dubai proudly holds the title for being one of the safest countries in the world thanks to the vision of its forefathers and wisdom of the rulers. Their proactive approach with security has made a once prospective vision a reality - CCTV Surveillance in every public building, automatic number plate recognition cameras at every public facility’s parking and Intruder Alarm Systems with an exceptional response time from the police are all made possible by the Police Monitoring Station.

As a guided hand of the government, CG Technology plays an active role in bringing awareness and safety & security to as many people and projects as possible in the UAE. Therefore, we take pleasure in organizing and sponsoring events to help further the Government’s vision. As with any event, the sponsor’s role in comparison to the attendees’ is trivial. Without the behemoths of the industry present in our discussion, the entirety of our talk could be compared to a casual coffee date with friends.

At CG Technology, we don’t believe in just selling materials or a one-time prospect. We place great value in supporting and advising our clients. The capability to live up to this promise is evident in our fleet of over 180 engineers and technicians. CG Technology Group Marketing Manager, Sahar Ahmad adds, "At CG Technology, we believe that a professional company must work in tandem with their clients, giving them the best customised solution at the best price. Following this vision, we plan to hold more discussions in the future."










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