Wild weather reveals safety shortcomings

Windows that hurtled from high-rise towers show work is needed to make our cities safer

Gusts from Wednesday's storm were strong enough to topple street signs in Khalifa City. Christopher Pike / The National
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Videos of Wednesday's wild weather make for compelling viewing, but they also have a serious overtone. Several of these clips showed windows hurtling from high-rise towers then smashing on the ground, and it was only through good fortune that nobody below was killed.

While the storm that lashed the country was exceptional, it was hardly unprecedented and our building standards ought to be robust enough to cope with this kind of tempest without potentially fatal failures. The fact these weather events only happen occasionally cannot be an excuse.

The flying windows might be the most extreme example of the shortcomings of either building regulations or the way they are enforced but they are not the only one. Window-cleaning cradles that were able to swing wildly in the wind gusts, awnings and advertising hoardings that collapsed and glass building facades that toppled under the force of the wind all pose obvious risks to the safety of those nearby.

The tragic death of a seven-year-old boy whose family's car was swept away by floodwaters in Hatta is just the latest of several similar incidents this year. It shows, unfortunately, that the message about the risks of trying to cross flooding wadis is failing to get through to everyone. Even more mundane annoyances, such as inundated roads because of substandard or blocked drainage, pose avoidable safety risks. If we are to make significant progress on decreasing this country's high rate of deaths and serious injuries on the roads, we need to eliminate factors such as these.

As a matter of safety, the prescience of Abu Dhabi Education Council's decision to close the emirate's schools ahead of the storm ought to be commended. This call ensured pupils were not at schools that were damaged and it avoided thousands of cars being on the roads as parents or caregivers shuttled them back and forth.

It is likely to be years before we endure another storm as big as the one this week, but that gives us the time to upgrade our infrastructure to make sure it can cope with a repeat without putting lives at risk. We were lucky to avoid fatalities from flying windows and falling awnings, but we should be able to rely on sound building standards rather than luck next time.