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Human-techno collaboration – for better fire safety & security
Shopping-centre management and retailers are finding new ways to collaborate and beef up on safety and security measures, reports Suzanne Loh in Singapore.
Regarded as among Singapore’s most-frequently patronised spots, shopping malls are exposed to every possible risk of a fire outbreak and criminal assault.
This warrants the urgency for retailers to beef up their current measures and facilities to reduce fire hazards and security threats — which could endanger the lives of their staff and customers anytime, anywhere.
Although the latest fire-incident statistics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) showed the incidence of fires at shopping complexes has increased by 17 cases from 14 in January-June 2003 to 31 in the same period this year, Margaret Heng, chairperson of the Commercial Premises Committee, National Fire Prevention Council (NFPC), says the level of fire-safety awareness and fire-prevention measures in retail outlets and malls is very high.
“Based on the audits conducted for the Fire Safety Excellence Award, the judges noted that some shopping centres have invested on equipment and personnel training, which is over and above the statutory requirements,” she says.
“Few instances of fires have been reported in the past two years, primarily due to the stringent practice of fire-prevention measures by retailers and their landlords. Regular practice drills, briefings and checking of systems also play a significant part,” says John Hirst, senior consultant, Singapore Retailers Association (SRA).
Marcus Tan, managing director of Chad Technology Singapore agrees, saying that retailers in Singapore are making good progress in fire prevention primarily due to fire-safety regulations and initiatives set by government authorities like the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
These include new requirements like engaging a fire-safety manager responsible for conducting regular inspections; reviewing fire procedures; and training in-house staff through fire-evacuation drills.
Shopping-mall owners and their architects will also benefit from the new performance-based fire-safety engineering approach prescribed by SCDF’s Fire Safety (Amendment) Act. This approach essentially allows them the flexibility to meet fire-safety standards within the constraints of their building designs, and has been adopted by many countries including New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, the US, the UK and Japan.
In addition, the Fire Safety Bureau conducts regular checks on buildings, shopping malls and offices to ensure that fire-safety rules are being followed, and issues fines or summons to those who break them.
Security is equally important to the viability of the retail business for both owners of shopping malls and retailers, AK Moorthy, senior security consultant, security consultancy services, CISCO, points out.
“From the perspective of a shopping-mall owner, having security measures in place is good for the mall’s image and business. Such a climate will attract choice retailers to set up shop in their premises, consequently offering convenience to shoppers to patronise these outlets as they would be able to meet most, if not all, of their shopping needs under one roof,” he says.
However, security solution providers believe local retailers are not doing enough to fight against shop-thefts and break-ins, as well as invest in counter-terrorism measures.
Tan says local retailers are still not willing to take additional measures to either prevent or deter rising shoplifting and break-in problems in the past two years.
“Small retail businesses with little profit margins might find it too expensive to invest in security-surveillance camera and security-alarm systems. Also, their goods might be too small in value to justify for such an investment,” he says.
Simon Lau, general manager, sales and marketing, Chubb Singapore, says although many retailers have installed security systems and deployed security officers, very few of them realised that they have unknowingly put in place ineffective measures.
In fact, many clients were unaware that their current alarm-monitoring providers do not have decent central monitoring system (CMS) stations. Some of these stations are essentially just an operator working behind a PC with telephone lines connected to a cubicle in an office.
“Generally, they do not offer security facilities based on global standard British/Australian Grade 1 CMS. This requires the installation of bullet-proof glass, double-layer wall and double-lock door to prevent unauthorised entry into the CMS station; a standby generator for power failure and a hot-redundancy equipment to serve as the call centre,” says Lau.
The core message from these security solution providers is mall owners and retailers should never dismiss the importance of effective security facilities to safeguard their properties and human lives at all times.
Indeed, the best way for retailers to curb security risks would possibly be the right combination of technical support and human effort.
“Retailers should work in partnership with their building and security solution providers to tackle the threat on two fronts — people and systems,” says Tristan Sim, assistant director for media relations, Singapore Police Force (SPF).
In the case of technical support, CISCO, Chad Technology and Chubb are providing integrated fire-safety and security solutions that can be customised for small and big retail operations.
Most of the basics of security facilities such as close-circuit television cameras (CCTV) as well as electronic security systems like burglar alarms and access-control systems are provided by these companies for individual retail outlets. Chubb’s wireless alarm-monitoring system, for instance, is popular with small retailers and residents.
Outlets located in malls also rely on fire-prevention and security facilities provided by mall managers. These mall facilities and systems encompass more points of security like multiple fire-exit doors, fire-escape stairways, exits and entrances as well as fire-intercom systems, along with round-the-clock security surveillance.
“The bigger the premises the more fire-detection or security points are needed. Thus, we need to propose equipment of a higher intelligence that has the capacity to meet premises requirements of the malls,” says Tan of Chad Technology.
Fire-safety and security solution providers also help clients incorporate fire-safety and security features into their operational spaces in the event of new store openings and renovation works for existing outlets.
In addition, CISCO’s remote-monitoring systems allow security managers in retail-chain outlets to monitor their customer traffic at all times. “By locating cameras in strategic areas, managers can view the images whenever and wherever they want. They can also check the store traffic, staff and customer interaction as well as view the store displays and stock levels,” says Lim Yong Gang, assistant director, marketing, CISCO.
Equally important is the human effort to help consolidate security measures into more constructive levels.
“Retailers should continue to emphasise that security is every employee’s business and strengthen the internal systems to tackle the security checks on movements of people, vehicles and goods in daily operations,” says Sim.
Hirst of SRA agrees, saying it is very much a coordinated effort by both the retailer and shopping-mall manager to develop crisis-management plans and guidelines, and carrying them out in times of crisis for the welfare of consumers and staff alike.
In fact, SRA is working closely with the NFPC and the National Crime Prevention Council to conduct regular briefings, help mall owners draft their own crisis-management plans and develop emergency communication networks between operators.
“This is crucial in the dissemination of information to retailers and mall owners, and to ensure all are instantly informed of any threat,” says Hirst.
SPF has also started a terrorism-prevention education and mobilisation programme for building managers and retail staff. Besides increasing vigilance among security personnel and staff, the programme also helps retailers review security measures, practise evacuation plans, and keep themselves updated on developments relating to terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts.
At the security-industry level, guards from licensed security agencies are required to upgrade their skills through the National Skills Recognition System (NSRS) competency standard. Under the NSRS, both agency and in-house security guards undergo proper training conducted by approved training institutions like CISCO.
At the end of the day, it is evident that retailers, mall owners, government authorities as well as fire/security solution providers concur that the human-technological collaboration would continue to be the best strategy to prevent fire and fight against security threats.
“To avoid losing focus through tiring ourselves in the long run and ‘crippling’ our business and our ‘way of life’, it is important to calibrate our responses to the threat as it evolves. Over time, the gradual ‘hardening’ of these retail premises through a concerted effort will stand us in good stead,” says Sim.
“We can have the best fire-prevention and security equipment in the latest technology. But if retailers are not trained, prepared and vigilant, retail staff will not perform their duties well, and rescuers will not be able to reach trapped people in time because of unnecessary hiccups like fire-escape stairways blocked by irresponsible retailers,” says Tan.