Human and cultural factors play an essential role

While with London Fire Brigade, IFE chief executive Steve Hamm, along with IFE technical advisor Paul Trew, were both involved in fire safety planning at the 2012 London Olympics in the UK. Here Paul reflects on the experience and lessons learned and the role that human and cultural factors play in understanding risk and shaping safety management at such high-profile events like the forthcoming FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

When it came to the London 2012 Olympics, it was a very long time since the UK had hosted such a major international sporting event and although some of the infrastructure was there, we were effectively starting from scratch. With Qatar the extent and speed of development to support the World Cup has been phenomenal. In Qatar’s case the ability to plan safety in from the outset has been an advantage that is rarely enjoyed by such hosts.

Fire engineering is continually evolving, and each new event has opportunities to learn from past experiences and best practice is the cornerstone of safety planning for such events.

The fire safety framework

Section 51 of FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations sets out guidance on fire safety at its events. It sets out how the host nation’s fire safety legislation shall be referred to and adhered to within all stadiums. Qatar’s own fire and life safety guidelines were updated in March this year. [1]

In August, Director of Occupational Safety and Health Department at the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) Eng Abdullah al-Bishri told Qatar News Agency (QNA) [2] the focus is now the safety of the fans in many places, such as stadia, buses, malls, metros, hotels, event venues and anywhere crowds gather, which involved the co-operation of all partners in the country.

At the venues, general risk assessment looking at on site fire systems, evacuation plans, reporting of accidents or any source of danger and checking of all entry and exit gates was underway. This includes ensuring the safety of all the project floors and stairs, along with a joint health and safety inspection with the Civil Defence, the ambulance service and facilities management.

Collaboration and communication are key

Ultimately fire safety at a major event is a team effort involving multiple stakeholders from the authorities, including the police, stewards, fire service, first aid and emergency services through to hospitality suppliers, volunteers and spectators. Each must have a clear understanding of what to do in the event of an emergency and communications ranging from signage to announcements and pre-event guidance must take into account the diversity of audiences that are involved in keeping everyone safe.

The most important contribution to fire safety planning for the Olympics was that we were involved from the beginning. Years before the event itself. Fire engineering has a vital role to play from the design and planning stages through the management of facilities. Familiarity with the sites, making sure signage is clear, all contributes to safer outcomes for all once in the event of an incident once an event is underway.

Event buildings and infrastructure

With the FIFA World Cup taking place in Qatar from 20th November to 18th December 2022, the preparation work has been done. The State of Qatar has spent more than $200 billion on building infrastructure, including new roads; public transport; hotels; and sporting facilities as well as the eight stadia. The event is expected to attract up to 1.5 million
football fans.

A stadium designed like a hat, one made of shipping containers and one in a tent-like structure – the World Cup stadiums will certainly be different in Qatar. [3] Eight stadia [4] are separated by roughly an hour’s drive and 43 miles at most. Seven of the eight venues have been built from scratch for the tournament, with the other one also extensively redeveloped.

Six of the stadia will have about half their seats taken up afterwards (and sent to developing countries), while a seventh will be dismantled. Only one will be retained as the home ground for a football team afterwards.

Documenting the fire procedures for each stadium and for all the new infrastructure will help to eliminate any confusion about the procedures that are in place for each.

Potential risk factors

FIFA’s guidance identifies smoking as one risk factor and recommends designated areas to help contain the risks.

When it comes to other potential fire risks such as fireworks and flares, only organised displays backed by a complete risk assessment approved by the fire service and local authorities are permitted. “The stadium safety and security management team must adopt and enforce a clear policy prohibiting spectators from bringing flares, fireworks or other forms of pyrotechnics into the stadium. This should be clearly stated in the stadium code of conduct.”

It also sets out guidelines for checking voids are kept clear of combustible materials, waste is dealt with, all potential fire risk areas such as kitchens, catering outlets, hospitality areas, boiler rooms, oil fuel stores and general stores, enclosed or underground car parks are all separated from spectators by constructions offering at least 30 minutes fire resistance and are equipped with adequate and appropriate firefighting equipment.

It also sets out minimum requirements for fire detection and alert systems and firefighting facilities and equipment. Guidance on staff training and information on response and evacuation is also provided.

The movement of people is important.  You can have the best plans in the world on paper but taking human factors into account is an important consideration. The 2012 Olympic village was built without kitchens and with communal restaurants instead, but some athletes brought in their own cooking facilities, and we hadn’t planned for that. They simply didn’t want to eat with other people. There was a no smoking policy but for some cultures smoking is a way of life and they will do it indoors. We hadn’t anticipated that some countries’ media would insist on smoking in non-smoking areas.

Taking into account different cultural factors helps with scenario planning risks and should involve all parties and external advice where appropriate.

Involving emergency services, volunteers and security staff in the planning is critical too. They need to have a shared understanding of what the guidance is, what their individual role is in preventing and responding to incidents and what needs to be reported. Information for spectators also needs to be clear.

With the vast majority of buildings and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup being new build, there has been an opportunity to build fire safety in from the outset, not just for the World Cup event itself but to account for the future potential use of the stadia once the tournament has concluded.

With every major event, there are opportunities to develop fire engineering best practice and we anticipate that the unique nature of the Qatar event and its investment in new state-of-the-art stadia and infrastructure will help to inform future tournaments.

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