Friday, April 1, 2011

How safe are you in the mall?

The bigger the safer there built?
I do not think so.
By Nick Markowitz Jr.
Fire Investigator

Seems every time you turn around some where they’re putting up another super Gigantic Mega Shopping Mall some where.
Some of these monsters have more than half a million sq ft. or more
I get to work in these malls every once in a while when I subcontract Burglar alarm installations for national chain stores, so I get to travel the back hallways and other areas in them. Where I get to see many scary things contractors and mall maintenance people have done wrong .From punching big holes thru fire walls and not fixing them running wires thru auto dampers so they will not close properly to building walls and not moving sprinkler heads to provide proper coverage now that new wall is in place. Yes you see it all going on in the back inner mall workings.
And the one big scary question in the back of my mind is. How in the hell are we going to get everybody out of here if something goes wrong from an airplane accidentally falling from the sky and crashing into the mall to a gas line explosion or accidental chemical release in a food court area to a terrorist attack? The latest store I worked in took 2500 feet to make it to an outside exit door traveling thru those back corridors and just imagine trying to do this in the dark because I guarantee the emergency light batteries have not been maintained properly . And although the entire mall is completely sprinklered it is also mostly all dry wall. Some malls do have voice Evacuation and Fire Pull stations smoke detectors etc. for earlier notification of problems and giving directions to evacuating customers but many have nothing other than sprinklers and duct detectors and a fire could easily get out of hand especially if renovations which are frequently done end up blocking sprinkler heads or if extra heads have not been added as needed or if the sprinkler systems have not been properly maintained. And dry wall in no way matches up against concrete block walls in a fire. Plus take all the weight of piping and lights firewalls which have had big holes cut into them and you have the perfect formula for something going very wrong and it does happen. Recently a mall had a horrific electrical explosion when renovations were being improperly done and an electrician died the mall was luckily not open for the day yet .It started filling with smoke and all the power was knocked out. With only store and mall employees in there it was not a major problem but what if this explosion had happened at 12:30 Pm and this mall is in an area where it is all volunteers that provide the fire fighting. Luckily they have a good day time response but many areas do not.
It is just a matter of time until there is a serious incident in one of these new super malls and a very real danger in the older many times over renovated smaller malls. Is any body paying attention or working on making sure there will not be a major problem in a very few cases yes in the vast majority of areas contractors do what they want when they want any time they want in these malls and no one is there to make sure the work is being done safely and correctly.
And the time bomb is ticking all over Pa. And many other states as well. Just in my area there are several malls in decline and half empty and I guarantee you maintenance is being cut back on in these malls since they do not have rental money coming in to pay for such things. i find sprinklers shut off in big shopping centers all the time why would it not happen in a mall.
Once again a very clear and significant area of life safety is not being addressed in our codes and protection is being based on computer modeling which can never fully take into consideration all that can go wrong .9-11 showed us exactly what can go wrong
And Murphy’s Law is often times never considered in design criteria.
Mr. Brannigan is right “The Building is the Enemy - Know the Enemy”

Note: I wrote this article several years back before the tragedy that unfolded in the Midwest when a gun man took hostages and almost an entire mall burned to the ground when a Jewelry store robbery went bad. To make matters worse sprinkler valves had been turned off. Needless to say all the geniuses at NFPA and every where else are looking at this case and we can expect some more nonsense rules and codes which will do nothing to address the situation. Way to go NFPA, UL, ICC and the rest of the code bodies.
Never listen to the guys in the trenches just sit there in your ivory towers as usual.

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