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KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 — On May 4, shopping malls which had been largely empty and quiet for the last 47 days slowly came alive after the government announced that restaurants and other retail outlets could resume business with new standard operating procedures (SOPs).
A quick check at some popular malls found temperature screenings of patrons as well as personal check-ins through various smartphone tracing apps in place.
One stark change at these malls was the limited entry and exit points. Where before there were multiple entrances (and exits), these are now restricted in an effort to manage foot traffic.
This has, however, led to a safety worry with fire escape routes (emergency exits) now closed off.
Following a tip-off from Malay Mail about emergency exits being blocked at several malls, checks by the Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) were carried out at two shopping complexes last week, one in the city and the other in Petaling Jaya.
Bomba officials from both states found emergency exits at both malls obstructed and informed the management of these malls of the potential hazards and recommended changes.
In both instances, Bomba officials explained the oversight by the malls’ management as they prioritised controlling the traffic flow of shoppers, resulting in only a few designated entry and exit points.
After personally inspecting all the emergency exits within the parking areas of The Curve in Damansara Perdana, Selangor Bomba director Norazam Khamis told Malay Mail all emergency exits within the lower levels of the mall are accessible, not locked, and can be used in case of an emergency.
He expressed empathy for shopping malls; like everyone else, they are facing confusing and uncertain times dealing (and living) with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We don’t blame [the mall]; maybe it is the lack of a full understanding concerning fire safety hazards, but they are aware of their responsibility to ensure fire escape routes are accessible.
“We advised the management of The Curve to make sure exit signs must be clearly indicated, that fire-resistant doorways must always remain unlocked, and to include clear signage that certain entrances are meant to be used only during emergencies so as not to confuse visitors,” he said, adding they were also advised to remove any cones obstructing these exits
Kuala Lumpur Bomba Fire Safety Division assistant director Nor Mahathir Mohamad, who ran checks on the Mid Valley Megamall on Friday, also confirmed that several emergency exits were indeed obstructed, even though they are unlocked.
“We ran checks on the mall, and as per the observations by Malay Mail, found that despite being obstructed or blocked off, these exits, some of which are emergency exits, were unlocked and can be utilised in times of emergencies.
“We also advised the management on how they should be labelling the exits meant for emergencies and those meant to access the mall,” he said.
Nor Mahathir also sympathised with the struggles faced by these malls as they attempt to manage the flow of shoppers in and out of their complexes, saying some of these mistakes were only committed due to oversight and not neglect of safety standards.
“They redirected the traffic flow into the malls because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as they want to control the flow of shoppers and this is understandable.
“The mall has also made sure there are sufficient security personnel available to direct traffic flow in case of an emergency,” he added.
Selangor Bomba’s Norazman added that in general, shopping malls have been exemplary in adhering to the government’s safety measures in compliance with the conditional movement control order (CMCO), with minor challenges causing temporary confusion.
Norazman said that as a proactive measure, Selangor Bomba will be running checks on malls within the state starting this week to ensure adherence to the guidelines and fire safety standards are maintained.
Acting general manager of The Curve, Gina Long Ahmad, elaborated on the challenges the mall has faced in operating under a pandemic, stressing that the safety of shoppers was a priority.
“This is very new for everyone, not only for us, but even for government bodies, so from time to time there will be new regulations, maybe every week there is new information that needs to be addressed.
“But most of these changes we have complied with, and we also have our own in-house safety officer to look into the requirements from everybody, including the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Health Ministry, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health,” she said.
What does the law say
Federal Bomba Director-General Datuk Hamdan Wahid explained to Malay Mail that blocking emergency exits is a breach of the Fire Services Act 1988.
“If it is assigned as an emergency means of escape, (and if it is found to be) blocked or locked, or impossible to be opened from inside, then it is a breach of Act 341 of the Fire Services Act,” he said.
Hamdan stressed the importance of maintaining clear access to such emergency exits.
Hamdan said that often, in cases where malls choose to close off certain entrances or emergency exits, calculations would have been made by the building's management on the required steps to handle an emergency situation.
He said these calculations would have to be made after factoring the volume of visitors at the mall against the possible number of emergency exits available.
“If [the malls] feel that they want to control some emergency escape by blocking them, then they must have proof that there are some calculations done showing alternatives escape routes have been assigned to cater to the number of shoppers.
“If the calculation is right, then most probably we will give them some conditions for the approval.
“But, if they feel that there could be a big crowd and their calculation does not show the sufficient numbers to facilitate the discharge and sufficient number of routes, then we would never allow it,” he explained.