Fire in our heads. Do SNIPs and "hidden" exits make shopping in Russia "fire hazardous"?

Resource: Interfax
Fire in our heads. Do SNIPs and "hidden" exits make shopping in Russia "fire hazardous"?

Tragedy in Kemerovo shopping mall

Pain Points

Experts on the commercial real estate market in Russia declare that fire safety measures in shopping centers are observed. But with a correction. Only in professional facilities. There is a minority of such in Russia. According to C&W, as of January 1, 2018, there are only 21 million square meters of format retail facilities in Russia. Managing partner Sergey Ryabokobylko notes that, unfortunately, in the regions of Russia there are many objects that position themselves as professional shopping centers, but in fact they are not.

According to Bulat Shakirov, the President of Russian Council of Shopping Centers, the most risky from the point of view of fire safety are old buildings, which were converted to shopping centers.

"The big problem is former factories, warehouse complexes and industrial complexes that are used as shopping centers. They cannot be compared to new buildings that have serious safety standards," Shakirov confirmed to Interfax.

"In this case it is much more difficult to control to the full extent the compliance with fire safety norms, and this means that the corruption component is much higher," agrees Oksana Vrazhnova, the chairwoman of the board of Miel group of companies.

However, even with this in mind, experts believe that the Russian SNIPs are not perfect. According to Shimon Matkovski, a partner and chief architect of Blank Architects, the regulatory base for fire safety lags behind the reality, and the rules are not even included in the list of mandatory documents that ensure the safety of buildings and structures.

"The federal fire safety law is generalized and does not regulate all the nuances specified in the regulations. All this leads to the fact that in the interpretation of the legal framework there are many misunderstandings. In fact, each object considers it from its own point of view and becomes unique in its own way, "- said the expert.

Nor does it take into account the psychology of the crowd, experts say. As Blank Architects noticed in Russian shopping centers the evacuation exits are often "hidden" from visitors. When an emergency occurs people, guided by their logic, try to leave the building the same way they came in - that is, running towards one of the main exits, which leads to chaos and crush.

"To reduce fire risks at the design stage, you need to use fire-resistant materials, provide competent evacuation routes, make aisles wider, and design fire extinguishing systems. Particular attention should be paid to areas of increased fire danger - these are restaurants and cafes in shopping centers," reminds Alexander Ustinov, Deputy General Director for Development of RD Management.

Watch out for children!

There are a lot of questions to the zoning of the shopping centers. A typical example is children play areas, which are usually located on the top floors, where it's the most difficult to get out.

"Traditionally, children's entertainment, movies, food courts and everything related to this is located on the top floor. Usually it's the third floor, but it can also be the second, fourth, fifth, etc., depending on the parameters of the mall. This is the configuration that most of the Russian shopping centers have, this is a global practice", - says the chairman of the Board of Directors of RRG Denis Kolokolnikov.

"Children's zones on the upper floors of Shopping Centers are located because of profitability reasons. The income from these areas is much less than from retail space, in addition, there is usually a cinema and a food court nearby, which is convenient", - explained the founder of the architectural bureau Master's plan Yulia Zubarik.

Meanwhile the Russian Ministry of Construction told "Interfax" that in Russia in 2009, applies SNIP, which states that in shopping malls, multipurpose centers, exhibitions, museums "children's play areas should be placed no higher than the second floor and no further than 20 meters from the evacuation exit.

As experts explain, bypassing the ban allows the formation of special technical conditions (STU).

"There are norms, but if the project involves any deviation from them, they are agreed on the basis of special technical conditions, which are developed directly for a particular area and coordinated with the fire department and EMERCOM," commented Diana Zaznobina, head of "Shopping centers" at "Magazin Magazin".

Dangerous economy

Often, emergencies are provoked by the banal economy of owners and managers. For example, the fire resistance of a building can be reduced even at the design stage.

Matkovski calls the most dangerous the economy on warning systems and smoke exhaust systems. "A sprinkler system is more about preserving property, while a smoke evacuation system will prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. At the same time, the smoke evacuation system at the facility is one of the most expensive and requires a significant amount of space to accommodate," the expert explains.

In addition, owners save on redevelopment and "shuffle" free space. For example, rooms and corridors which were not supposed to be used are rented out, given for storage, cafes, etc. As a consequence, the gas cylinder can be in a place where it absolutely should not be.

In Cushman & Wakefield among the most common situations are the economy on the number of guards, their training, as well as maintenance of security systems, upgrading security systems and video surveillance.

"Owners refuse to conduct training so as not to stop work in stores and thereby not lose profits," warns Semyon Yurchenko, partner and head of the company's real estate management department.

And the chanterelles took the matches...

Much also depends on how the shopping center is operated - whether the working exits are in working order and whether the staff is ready for emergencies. As Alexander Morozov, director of S.A. Ricci's Consulting, Research and Evaluation Department, put it, the center's service personnel should act like a "mobile emergency squad" - clearly, quickly and according to a set algorithm.

"It is likely that the Winter Cherry had both fire extinguishing systems and warning systems, as well as several staircases leading from the fourth floor. But the systems did not work, the exits were closed, the personnel were not trained to act in case of fire, thus, two factors - technological and human - were grossly violated," Morozov said.

Later, as confirmed by the Head of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin, the administration of the mall was aware that the fire alarm system in the building did not work and that the operative forced warning system had not been activated by the mall security guard after the fire started.

B.Shakirov reminds that there are strict norms that clearly prescribe all the regulations concerning the evacuation of any emergency incidents.

"Notification must be automatic - there can be no such thing as someone pushing a button or not pushing a button. That's a 100 percent norm. Secondly, all the evacuation exits must be checked by the management company on a daily basis, there should be no locking mechanisms," the president of the Russian Council of Shopping Centers told Interfax.

How can all the above be summarized? Something has happened which should not have happened. What can we do to prevent it from happening again? Act! The authorities of all levels understand this and have initiated checks of shopping malls in almost all regions. At the federal level, President Vladimir Putin instructed the government to analyze the regulatory framework governing the activities of shopping and entertainment centers.

"It is clear that we will not change the rules related to liberalization in the economy. The current regulatory framework allows us to do everything to ensure the safety of people. We have to take a closer look. If something is missing, one will need to make appropriate decisions after consultation with business associations and relevant analysis of available materials," said the president.

As previously reported, the fire in the mall "Winter Cherry" in Kemerovo occurred on March 25. According to the latest data, 64 people were killed, including more than 40 children. According to one version, the fire started in a trampoline pit of children's play area. March 28 is declared a day of mourning in Russia. The editorial office of Interfax-Real Estate offers its sincere condolences to the bereaved families.