The fire that broke out in The Address Downtown Dubai on New Year’s Eve underlined the emphasis that Dubai places on public safety.
For the past 5 years, the Downtown Dubai New Year’s Eve Gala has been the one of the most-visited tourist events in Dubai’s events calendar. Citing the number of commuters on the Dubai Metro on December 31 and the footfall at The Dubai Mall, among other indicators, it has been reported that the event attracts, on an average, 1.5 to 1.7 million on one night.
No doubt, it is a safety officer’s challenge. Among the most important considerations on that night is crowd and traffic management with preparations starting much in advance.
Coordinated by Emaar Properties, the developer of the 500-acre Downtown Dubai and the organiser of the event, with the Dubai Police, Dubai Civil Defence, and the Roads and Transport Authority, the event sees vehicular traffic controls being imposed much early in the day.
The entire area is secured with clear entry and exit points, and visitors are encouraged to use public transport, especially the Dubai Metro. This year, as Emaar had announced, the New Year’s Eve Gala was to feature an 8-act fireworks display in addition to a sweeping panorama of lights framed by laser displays and LED works.
Ahmad Al Matrooshi, Managing Director of Emaar Properties, had observed: “The Downtown Dubai New Year’s Eve Gala has become one of the world’s most-watched spectacle with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to Downtown Dubai. With various governmental departments and the private sector joining hands to realise this event, the celebration serves as a true testament to the spirit of cooperation.”
On December 31, 2015, all roads flowed to Downtown Dubai. The site was brimming with people from 1 p.m. onwards, as they hurried to take vantage positions to watch the fireworks. Emaar had presented several vantage viewing-points that offered prime views of the spectacle.
By 9 p.m., the area was a sea of humanity. The Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, a 3.5-km walkway that encircles Downtown Dubai, was milling with crowds, mostly families. Since the roads were closed to traffic, people were lined by the pavements. There were families, children in strollers, and the elderly.
The performances of The Dubai Fountain were ongoing, and people were preparing for the start of the laser shows and the eventual countdown when the unexpected happened.
There was a sudden melee by The Address Downtown Dubai, a hotel adjacent to The Dubai Mall, and overlooking the fountain and Burj Khalifa. It offered the best views of the fireworks, and had already been voted as the ‘World’s Best Hotel’ for 5 consecutive years by the Global Traveller Awards. The hotel is among the most sought-after by celebrities and the high net worth individuals for its superb location.
Eventually, people regarded the fire as a minor incident but as they watched aghast, the fire leaped up to scale the entire 63-storey building that was home to some 196 hotel rooms and over 600 serviced residences. Estimates by the Dubai Civil Defence say the building had at that point in time about 3,000 people.
At a height of over 300 metres, the hotel’s exterior cladding was burning, the fire raging in ferocious appetite. Evacuation measures were prompt. Fire engines rushed to action. Ambulance sirens ringed the air. The people in the hotel were summarily evacuated by the Dubai Civil Defence in record time.
Alongside, the humanity that had formed in Downtown Dubai was rushed to safety first inside The Dubai Mall, to prevent any potential injury from the falling debris of the hotel. The people were the evacuated from the mall, too.
It was a full-blown crisis that happened, obviously, at the wrong time. And, that is when Dubai proved the efficiency of its crisis management model.
Even as firefighting was going on, the city took the brave decision to conduct the fireworks. While the tempo of the fireworks might have been pale compared to what was planned, conducting the event had a soothing effect on the crowd. There was unprecedented order – given how volatile it could have been in any other city – and people watched the fireworks clapping their hands.
……………….(Read the full article in the February issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2016)