Expo 2020 Dubai safety planners leave nothing to chance

Organisers outline emergency planning and testing to keep visitors safe during the world's fair

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Final checks are being carried out at the Expo 2020 Dubai site before its glittering opening ceremony.

Expo organisers told The National how emergency planning will never stop in the new futuristic city that has been built in Dubai South.

In the build-up to the opening, officials have anticipated and prepared for any eventuality that could crop up during the 182 days of the world's fair.

The testing never stops, until the last second – just to ensure everything is bulletproof in terms of a seamless journey for visitors
Ahmed Al Khatib, chief development and delivery officer, Expo 2020 Dubai

Ahmed Al Khatib, a senior Expo official, was part of the event's core team even before Dubai won the bid to stage the world's fair in 2013.

Responsible for the delivery and management of the Expo site, supporting utilities and infrastructure, he talked about a heightened sense of excitement following eight years of meticulous planning.

“The testing never stops, until the last second – just to ensure everything is bulletproof in terms of a seamless journey for visitors and enjoyable time for everybody,” he told The National.

“Processes have been developed for any event, for any circumstance, across all areas. It is key for us to focus as we are preparing to open the doors.”

The Expo is spread over a 480-hectare site in the desert, making it larger than 600 football fields.

Drawing up the blueprint, finalising transport links, readying the area for construction and managing frequent engineering challenges – such as installing the giant Al Wasl dome – these have all been major projects for his team.

“We built a city; it’s a future city because this is a mega event,” Mr Al Khatib said.

“We look at the day-to-day running of the site, management of logistics, of larger concerts, to a different scenario planning in case emergencies happen. It is about how we speak to authorities in emergency situations.”

Safety protocols are constantly reviewed and regular co-ordination is maintained with the police, Civil Defence and the health authorities.

Airport-style security is in place at entrances to the Expo and dozens of scanners are in place.

Visitors are required to place electronic devices, laptops, mobile phones, watches and belts in trays on conveyor belts for quick checks.

Security gates are installed at the Expo 2020 site in Dubai before the October 1 opening. Pawan Singh / The National

“Security measures are similar to other places in Dubai,” Mr Al Khatib said.

“Dubai has always hosted mega conferences and a lot of high-profile people have visited those events.

“We are sure our security measures will be no less.”

He said the city was a great example of how to run security measures seamlessly.

“Our main focus is to keep the experience enjoyable for all the visitors,” Mr Al Khatib said.

Contingency planning includes unforeseen scenarios, from fire to flooding.

Dubai Municipality built a deepwater drainage tunnel to manage stormwater and tackle flooding in case of heavy rainfall.

“In case of heavy rain, we have infrastructure that has been tested many times for heavy rain to ensure there is no risk whatsoever to visitors, workers and the buildings,” the Expo official said.

“Dubai Municipality opened a stormwater tunnel big enough to cater for the zone of the Expo in addition to the surrounding areas.

“We even have a stormwater collection point which is actually an added measure to ensure that nothing floods, even in the worst case.”

Fire teams are well-trained and have got their response time down to four minutes.

There are two fire stations, one that will remain permanently, and first responders across the site.

The Expo's Metro line, which was extended to take visitors to the doorstep of the event, has been put through its paces and is being used by Expo staff, contractors and volunteers.

Handling the one-year postponement caused by Covid-19 was difficult but Expo officials are now ready to open the site.

“It was an extremely challenging time. It did impact us and the entire world. Nobody can deny that it has slowed things down,” Mr Al Khatib said.

“Keeping our workers healthy, testing them on regular basis – (this is how) we managed to reach where we are right now.”

It is mandatory for Expo staff to be vaccinated. Covid-19 testing centres have been set up at the site.

The authorities have also offered to inoculate the staff brought in by the dozens of nations setting up pavilions.

“Our focus now is on the event,” Mr Al Khatib said.

“We never stop planning and putting strategies down.”

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Updated: September 30, 2021, 10:12 AM