Hassantuk fire alarms in the UAE is a good step, but we all have a role to play

A bigger safety landscape could include provisions for home insurance and rigorous owner-tenant co-operation

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 05 MAY 2020. STANDALONE. Fire at the Abbco Tower near Nahda Park in Sharjah. Police and fire fighters responded to a blaze that was reported after 8:30. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Salam Al Amir. Section: National.
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As The National reported earlier this week, Hassantuk fire safety systems are now mandatory in villas. Those homeowners who had not installed the instant-alert system by the start of this month may now be warned and fined for non-compliance.

Hassantuk connects a home directly to the emergency services in the event of a fire to quickly mobilise help. The system has been in use in public buildings for some years and is credited with ensuring rapid response and saving lives by Civil Defence. Now it is time for its more widespread and mandatory adoption in domestic settings.

While some homeowners who don’t yet have Hassantuk will no doubt be concerned about the fines that may be due and, indeed, the cost of implementation and commissioning, it is worth remembering that any home that has the system installed will benefit from its ability to rally rapid response to an emergency.

The cost of domestic fires is far too great for this not to matter. These are not words I use lightly, as a tragedy of this nature came calling in my own family several years ago.

Those who read these pages regularly will know that I previously told the story of my father dying in a house fire in the UK. Now, many years on from that tragedy, I can say with certainty that these events never fully leave you. Trauma and grief are rarely delivered with a use-by or best-before date. That’s why I believe that the Hassantuk system is so important, because it sets a standard in safety and will save lives.

Domestic fires don’t just threaten lives, they also often eviscerate personal effects and damage health and well-being

All the usual platitudes and truisms about time being the greatest healer are also partially accurate. The crushing feeling of grief of an event of this magnitude gave way at some point to gloom and then to a form of acceptance. A residue of sadness will always be something I live with, however. In a way, I am still processing all these years later.

Any major fire that we report instantly triggers my mind – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

This week’s Japan Airlines runway collision fire – with the catastrophe of five lives lost and the miracle of hundreds more being saved, thanks to the quick response of the crew onboard the airliner and the emergency services on the ground – made me think once more about my own family’s story, however tangential and remote that event may seem from my own circumstances.

Each time there is a report of a domestic fire – such as the International City fire late last month, in which one person died and two were injured – my mind spins a lot more.

Fire safety is a responsibility for all of us, which is why I’d encourage all homeowners to get compliant as quickly as possible. The new system will save lives and should bring much-needed peace of mind.

I also hope it will bring other considerations into play.

Alongside the safety system, I hope more people will seek out home insurance to cover against the worst happening. While in some other parts of the world, the majority of homeowners and occupiers may be insured for loss or damage of their personal effects, historic data in the UAE puts that figure much lower.

Ajman high-rise fire brought under control

Ajman high-rise fire brought under control

We are fortunate to live in a low-crime, safe society, which partially explains why there are low rates of adoption for contents and building insurance. Unfortunately, however, fire and flood do not make choices between the insured and uninsured when they arrive and can have devastating consequences on individuals, families and communities.

Domestic fires don’t just threaten lives, they also often eviscerate personal effects and damage health and well-being. Home contents insurance can provide at least some financial buffer against this kind of event and, precisely because we live in a secure country, is cheaper than it is in other parts of the world.

Insurance companies themselves have a role to play here, too, by making policies and pricing easy to understand and purchase. A step further might be the introduction of a mandatory home insurance scheme, similar to the nationwide unemployment insurance policy, in both price and scope – levied and collected in the same way as the Tawtheeq-related municipality charge is through utility bills.

There is also some clarity required for tenanted properties, because the original resolution on Hassantuk states that “all homeowners must install fire detectors and subscribe” to the Civil Defence system. The burden is on owners, but the commissioning clearly requires co-operation between owners and occupiers.

It is in the interest of both parties to get this right, just as it is to make sure that electrical wiring and equipment is properly maintained and meets modern standards and that additional safety equipment, such as extinguishers and blankets, is present and functional, as well as ensuring that smoke detectors are regularly checked.

Hassantuk is one part of a bigger safety landscape, in which we all have a role to play.

Published: January 04, 2024, 2:00 PM