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January 5, 2022

Is the UAE still suffering from alarm fatigue?

The UAE had set its sights on bringing false fire alarm numbers down to zero by 2021, aiming to pull the country in line with its goal of being one of the safest countries in the world, however, as we head into 2022 is the country still suffering from alarm fatigue?

With one in three GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) residents who ignore false fire alarms coming from the UAE, experts have warned of a ‘cry wolf’ attitude towards fire alarms in the country.

Alarm fatigue occurs when a person becomes desensitised to an alarm due to repeated false alarms and as a result, fails to react appropriately in an emergency – having potentially fatal effects.

From Dubai to Abu Dhabi, frequent false alarms have made residents complacent causing them to delay evacuation and put lives at risk.

A common cause of false fire alarms is the accidental activation of manual call points and pull stations, often placed in high traffic areas it is easy for sensitive units to be knocked or mistaken for other electrical buttons.

After an incident at the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Police reported: “Dubai Police would like to clarify that a person mistakenly set off the fire alarm at the Mall after he had broken the emergency button fixed on a wall inside the Mall.”

It is not uncommon for public buildings across the UAE to be evacuated because of false alarms; affecting routine, costing businesses valuable time and money, and reducing the confidence the general public have in fire alarms.

Frequent false alarms at the Duja Towers in Dubai meant that when an actual fire broke out in the building in February 2020, many tenants ignored the warning bells.

Just two months later, as flames ripped through the 190-metre Abbco Tower in Sharjah, residents ignored multiple alarms before finally scrambling for safety.

Suffering from alarm fatigue one resident said: “We ignored it thinking it was just another false alarm. But when it rang a second time and then a third, we got intrigued and looked out of the window.

“The sight that greeted us looked straight out of a disaster movie. Huge flames licked one side of our building as thick plumes of black smoke billowed the darkening sky.”

False fire alarms allow for a dangerous laissez-faire attitude towards evacuations, however, they can be prevented. As recommended in BS 5839-1:2017 manual call points can be fitted with a protective cover to prevent false fire alarms, and halt alarm fatigue.

The British Standard Institute recommends in section 20.2b, that: “All MCPs should be fitted with a protective cover, which is moved to gain access to the frangible element.”

A British Standard with global reach, BS 5839-1, has been used on high profile construction projects across the Middle East, including Dubai – the Standard recognises that false alarms can seriously prejudice the safety of occupants by contributing to alarm fatigue.

Safety Technology International manufacture a range of protective covers, from integral covers to outdoor and sounder models; there are variations to suit all applications. These covers are specifically designed to prevent false fire alarms.

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