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“How does BIAL make continuous safety work, and what’s the fire preparedness plan?”

Conversation with Dr. K.J Devasia, Assistant Vice President – Enterprise Risk and Corporate Resilience, BIAL

Gopal Devanahalli: We’re really honoured to have you, Dr. Devasia, here with us today. One of the things that we’re all very proud of about the Bangalore airport is the excellence that the airport represents in every area, and it has won many awards for that. So I’m sure in the risk and safety also, of which you are part of to build a leading edge, which other airports around the world are following. So if you could take a minute and talk to us about what those are, that’ll be very interesting.

Dr. Devasia: Thank you. You rightly said Bangalore International Airport is one of the outstanding airports in the world right now. It is because of the service quality or the performance, and in multiple ways visitors are actually perceiving, this quality and performance. What is interesting is how we achieve that level of excellence.

What do we do at Bangalore Airport to have international standards?

An inside view of the new Kempegowda International Airport’s Terminal 2; (Photo: ANI)

Every department of the airport is actually an institution in itself, with complete authority, autonomy and freedom to deliver the best outcomes. That is, they are given the authority and the people who obviously are competent to handle the role. In no airport in the country will you find a department called ‘Enterprise Risk’. How it is usually done in our country – there is a fire department which is mandatory by the government of India. These are per regulations or audit requirements. So usually, one person will be recruited and he will be attached to the fire department, and they will make a plan and when risk arises, they will act on the same. But whereas here, I’m taking the example of my own department, we have gone beyond the usual, since that is not enough.

So, what is the outcome? There is quality product coming in, quality implementation, and automatically that will contribute to the safety of the passengers or people. We started with a smaller department and  now this department is the mitochondria of all the crisis management there is at the airport. The plan is developed and implemented. Ours is a huge organisation, and we don’t believe in the statutory regulatory minimum requirement, but to go beyond. So in every sphere, whether it is in operations or engineering or safety, security, wherever it is, actually we go much beyond what is the bare minimum requirement asked of us. We just wait for passengers or the people who experience the airport to come back and tell us how they felt.

Gopal Devanahalli: Yes, that’s a very nice point you made, that you’re going beyond. So let’s talk about fire safety specifically at the airport. I believe around 15 million people come to the airport in a year and probably more than that, 

Dr. Devasia: It’s 30 million. Probably 32 now.

Gopal Devanahalli: Wow! Okay, so that’s a lot. And fires can happen because of short circuits. And there’s a lot of construction that keeps happening in the airport. So while passengers use the airport, I’ve seen things are being cordoned off where some construction is going on. That could be a fire hazard. How do you, first of all, ensure that those things are prevented? What are some of the things that the airport does?

Dr.Devasia: A very nice area to talk about, actually. We have developed the culture within the airport where before we take up anything, we ensure a 100 per cent risk assessment is done and the actions are taken to mitigate the identified risk. 

What do we do to avert any fire risk:

If you come to Bangalore airport you will find even if it is a very small construction, maybe it is only a drilling on a wall, still there is a technical committee. It has to assess the situation. It has to assess the work. Whether it involves certain type of a drilling or anything that can trigger a fire, then they come back with the findings. The assessment will include what the likely complications are, what the impact will be, and how it can be mitigated. All these come up well in advance and people act upon mitigating all the risks. Only after it is signed off, and that work will get implemented. 

The risk assessment and risk mitigation measures are done before each and everything, not only in a drilling task. For example, if I am doing a full scale emergency exercise, maybe a building evacuation exercise that we conducted last week. We just evacuated the entire Terminal Two, even before the day one, when it was operationalized. Every exercise has got to two aspects. One actual response. Second is an organizing or an event management kind of an activity. So either side is evaluated and we identify what can go wrong and take actions accordingly. Probably one of its kind of a very strict risk culture. And we believe in risk, not in risk culture. It’s a risk and opportunity culture. That is what we have developed in our airport.

Despite these there was a fire, but how it was handled?

Gopal Devanahalli: That’s very interesting, Dr. Devasia. There was a fire many years back, outside on the food court. So like you said and like Mr. Jena also said, while we are doing everything to prevent, sometimes there is a fire, and then what happens? How do you react to it? So maybe you can just tell the audience what happened and how did the airport react.

Dr.Devasia: Those who are familiar with the Bangalore airport, just after you come out or before entering into Terminal One, you have a very good shopping or eating facility. We call it the Quad. Probably it was a trial or an experiment in the Indian airports and it is a grand success. So when we introduced the Quad, we took a lot of mitigation measures and everything was in place. Before making the Quad, we took  every precaution, every action – electrical, civil, construction, everything. But unfortunately, what happened, the person who was making some kind of dish in a frying pan, triggered a fire scenario. It was neither electrical nor any other kind of situation. So there was a fire early morning at 5.45, it grew a bit, and one outlet was burned. Of course, preparedness was absolutely superb. Therefore, the people in that area responded  –  using an extinguisher. Immediately, the airport fire service reached there and all response was completed. There was no human loss or no major loss or anything. This is also not acceptable to our standard, so we took a few measures.

Measures taken after the fire accident:

The Quad has around 25 outlets. So what we decided is for every outlet, in every shift, there should be one person who is trained and part of the Quick Response Team, in layman’s language. So this team was constituted, they were trained and they have done sufficient trials and exercises.

Gopal Devanahalli: And also recently there was a fire in New York airport. So what happened there?

Dr. Devasia: So, in New York, in the Terminal One the fire started because of an electric short-circuit. Afterwards, the terminal was shut down for two days or so. The two flights that took off from Australia, and New Zealand had to be diverted mid-air and thousands of flights got cancelled.

Why is this happening? Of course, I’m not blaming why a fire happened. But the way we plan is important. In Bangalore, we have something called a continuity resilience plan. We have worked out a plan B in our airport for everything. So if something is down, the same service that my property for a defined, a one hour, two over three hour time, will come up in the next location. 

Gopal Devanahalli: My last question to you, there are similar public places in Bangalore, There are malls, there are movie theatres. In Delhi, many years back we had the Uphaar tragedy in a theatre, which is a public space. I mean, do you have any quick suggestions for what these public spaces should do and what we as Beyond Carlton we can do to work with people like you to get that message out?

3 Things I want to tell the public to ensure fire safety

Dr. Devasia: I know this is a very focused gathering with the idea of representation from multiple sectors and domains, so there are a lot of experts in the audience. One or two things, if I have to share from my experience, is that we should not be satisfied with the minimum. That is one important point I would like to communicate to all of you. 

  • Go beyond the basics

The National Building Code(NBC) 2016 – It is a superb documentation, but like in the world class organization  – the National Fire Protection Association of the USA –  we have to go beyond the basic levels as prescribed in the NBC. It is because a lot of new and innovative kind of infrastructure is being developed, and it goes beyond imagination. 

  • Participate and make people be part of awareness efforts

Second thing, what I’d like to say is- participation is really important. This morning in my apartment complex, there was a fire drill happening, and it was communicated earlier. It was conducted by the estate manager. Nobody else is there! It’s important to join hands with the people who are preparing us for safer living. 

  • Do your own risk assessment

The third thing is the risk assessment, and I want to re-emphasize this aspect. In an apartment complex, which is under construction, you have obtained the occupancy certificate. The alterations start after this – new rooms coming up, and lots of deviations happening. The corridors are filled with  many things. And if something happens, we are trapped. So before doing anything of that nature, let’s do our own way of risk assessment and the mitigation measures. 

Gopal Devanahalli: Thank you so much Dr Devasia, on that note, you are exhorting the citizens to also play a part. It’s not just about associations or just about the government, but the citizens need to also do their part. Thank you very much for your time. 


“My lessons from the Carlton Towers fire and why citizens should take fire safety seriously”

Conversation with Ms Sashi Rajamani, Chairperson, Social Venture Partners(SVP), is a Carlton Fire survivor.

Ms. Vasanthi Hariprakash: Sashi, you were there on that day when the Carlton tragedy happened. Now, as someone who came out of it, I want to begin by asking you, what is it that you would like us, as citizens, to focus on, because it has clearly changed your perspective as you are sharing. So, let’s begin with the citizen talk. And what has been your perspective on it? 

Ms. Sashi Rajamani: Before I start with my story, I have a few questions for the audience. It’s like a truth or dare but I’m going to just dare you to tell me the truth.(A show of hands for each question)

How many of you change gas cylinders in your own houses? 

How many have a kitchen emergency fire spray in your house? 

How many of you know the telephone number of your nearest fire station? 

How many of you have participated in a fire drill recently in your own communities? 

How many of you know the closest hospital that can actually treat fire victims? 

So this is a great audience! 

If someone were to ask me these questions, 13 years ago before I was in Carlton Towers on that evening, quite possibly, my answer would have been ‘No’, to many of these, but today, I’m a lot more aware, responsible, and responsive. Since that time, I’ve become part of the QRT team and I continue to be a part of this team. I believe, like charity, safety begins at home! As an example. I work with my dad, who’s 83 years old, to check the cylinder and the hose, regularly. 

There is a nearby school where I have been volunteering for almost 12 years. I had done the safety audit for six schools after the experience at Carlton Towers. I had also gifted some fire extinguishers, which is a novelty in life. You don’t gift fire extinguishers but I found it as one of the best gifts to a school nearby. 

A small fire accident that we read in newspapers could be a lot more than what is conveys

There was an early morning blast – three cylinders went up in the air and that shook up 1.5 kilometres away! The glass door of my home was shaking. I could have just thought – well, something happened, become curious, and waited for the newspaper the next day, and I would have been done and dusted. But I decided to follow up to see how many victims, and where they were taken. They were taken to St. John’s Hospital, and the beds were all occupied. So, they didn’t have a hospital to rush the five people injured, including the business owner’s wife. We then found a hospital working with the police department. So it’s important to understand that we are all stakeholders. We needed to follow through on a sequence of steps, and coordinate actively at the hospital. In this case we did it almost every day for five weeks. Eventually, it was sad, since all of them died. There was follow through for three more months with the police and with the business owner to see if they got their compensation. So basically, being aware, being responsive and being responsible as a citizen is essential. I fully endorse Mr Jena’s point that the citizens have to get engaged, and must be empowered. They have to be aware, otherwise I don’t think we can make a systemic change come through. So that’s the kind of difference that’s happened in my life. I’m happy that I have learnt, and made changes in behaviour and attitudes towards fire safety. 

Ms. Vasanthi Hariprakash: I just want to take you through the other side –  which is that as a survivor that particular day, when your father was waiting at home, the way you look at things, that inner change. One of the things that I would love you to share with the audience is making public spaces, fire safe for children. I mean, that is something that you are engaged in at a personal level. 

Ms. Sashi Rajamani: So, when this happened, my daughter was five years old, and she did not know the details of what she was watching on TV. Neither did my father, who called my brother and said, “do not take Old Airport Road, there is some problem and there is a complete roadblock.” Then my brother said, “ this is exactly the tower in which your daughter’s office is located.” So, in any case, when I went home, my father, my five-year-old daughter greeted me with a crayon work that she had done with tall buildings, and people as stick figures jumping. Because my father had kept the TV on, and she’s been watching it and taking it all in. I worked in the corporate world, 11 years in the US, and 11 years in India. I got promotion after promotion, wanting titles, after titles homes after homes, cars after cars. I mean, this is how you measure your success, I guess, until something like this happened, and I was stuck there on the fifth floor of Carlton Towers. 

How the incident changed my life for good

I could have also been gone in the fire. Somewhere the stars align, the universe is watching for me and I was saved. So then I went home, I thought I’ve been given a new lease of life, and I should do something different. I’m sure God has a game plan in this. And at that point in time at Carlton Towers, I was running an NGO, for the first time in the social sector. I was learning the game but it paid very well. Paid me a corporate salary at that point in time too. So I decided to move on to pro bono social work, and ever since for the last 12 years I’ve been working with around 28 or so NGOs. It has been most rewarding, and humbling to see the change makers who are dreaming and aspiring like Mr. Vijayan. It’s hard work, and the problems are so complex. The stakeholders to solve any problem or way too many to bring together, to make them work together to solve a problem. But these change makers are out there with almost no money in their pockets. But just passion, and true passion driving them.

And I’m so happy to be a little power, little battery that gives them the little energy to move ahead and being able to contribute. My years since Carlton have been extremely rewarding. 

Ms. Vasanthi Hariprakash: Please share with us your big takeaways

Policymakers are many, we suffer with implementation

Ms. Sashi Rajamani: I would like to repeat some of the points made by Mr. Jena. We have many policymakers in India. Many beautiful policies are written, and then moving it into an Act happens over the years. But when it comes to implementation, we suffer, and I think Mr. Jena explained all of that. So we need bureaucrats, we need political leaders, we need citizen movements which can actually come together to make these things happen. So to that, I would request that we make an investment, not only in infrastructure, but in human resources and when we make policies, let’s be more inclusive.

Are our policies inclusive?

I work in the space with lot of people with disabilities and nowadays organizations are big into hiring saying that they’re inclusive. So organizations, who are hiring these people with disabilities. Do they know how to take care of them? And especially in the event there is a fire? So let’s make sure the policies are very inclusive and also make investments in infrastructure and human resources for this purpose. Allow rather, invite citizens to participate in vigilance and governance. I think if they take control in their hands, whether it is through our RWA, whatever form it is, it will make a difference.

Can we use air time to spread fire safety awareness?

Ms. Sashi Rajamani: We need more hospitals, especially government hospitals, that have burn wards. Seriously, I don’t think there are many hospitals like this, where you’re allowed to treat fire victims. We see the advertisement about smoking being injurious to health shown at the movie screens, where you close your eyes. That’s how bad it is! It’s not tastefully done either. It’s very scary, but nobody bothers, they still smoke. Could we use air time like that? During emergency announcements on the plane, every time we all listen. Right? Can we talk about fire exits in public spaces? Can we create awareness? When you enter a hall like this, we announce ‘can you put your phones on silent mode’. What if also talk about the location of the fire exit, or a emergency message? You don’t have to wait for things to happen, but create this as part of awareness in public spaces.

Can we create awareness in schools?

Ms Sashi Rajamani: In schools, children are eco-warriors these days. For the last ten years, eco-warriors have become a popular term. Can we build ‘Fire Buddies’ – who not only know how to act, but also how CPR is commonly taught? Can we teach them how to be the first responder whether it’s in your own house, or in their own school? Can we challenge public spaces including schools, whether they’re doing their drills? If you walk into a mall, when you see an extinguisher does anyone go and read the label to check if it has expired? Do we challenge them for maintenance? The AMCs?   – to show when this was done? I think there’s lots that we can do, and it’s in our hands. 

Ms. Vasanthi Hariprakash: It was not just sharing of memories, but really, each one of those points that you mentioned. We join you in that salute to all the people who keep us safe and thank you so much. 


There is still a fire

There is still a fire

Residential fires account for 58 per cent of all fires, while fire-related deaths are over 10,000 annually in India! The overall deficiency in the country in a number of Fire Stations is 97.54%, in fire-fighting & rescue vehicles 80.04% and in fire, personnel is 96.28%, respectively. (NDMA Guideline, 2012, CR SFAC, 2011). We are woefully deficient as a nation toward fire preparedness.
It’s clear the citizen has to take charge.

BEYOND CARLTON is committed to Scripting Citizen Fire Safety 101. We are plugging away toward our vision –  zero loss of life due to fire.  That’s a mighty task! Our eleven-year effort has carved a niche in India’s citizen fire safety map. The impact of successful advocacy by BEYOND CARLTON has led the Karnataka State Government to declare 23rd February (the date of the Carlton Fire accident), as Fire Awareness and Prevention Day across the State. It has helped create a large platform for visibility and created an opportunity to build fire safety awareness amongst communities, schools, hospitals and others.

Our aim is to reach every home with the fire prevention message. The B-FIRE SAFE program is designed for this purpose. It is also important we encourage youth participation to bring a fresh perspective and newer ideas for action on citizen fire safety. Our interns from the National Fire Service College, Nagpur, underscored the lack of recorded fire-related data. Their study on How Fire-safe is New Delhi gives some pointers on what more needs to be done. We continue to build on national and international partnerships to strengthen our reach, learning, and impact. A lot more needs to be done on the fire-front.  Meanwhile, we hope where there is a fire, there is a prepared citizen.



Another fire tragedy – IMS & SUM hospital – Bhubaneswar

I was shocked to see the images on TV on 17th October night about the fire in IMS & SUM hospital in Bhubaneswar. It was reported on 18th Oct that 20 people had lost their lives.

One goes to a hospital with a lot on the mind already – about the illness and the treatment; the financial obligations; the post discharge planning etc. The last thing a patient or her family member have on their minds is fire safety. One expects a Public Space, especially a Hospital, to be fire safe. Even if a fire accident happens, one expects processes to be in place to evacuate the patients and their family members to safety. So it is really shocking that 20 people lost their lives. This after the fire accident in AMRI hospital in Kolkatta where over 90 people were killed a few years ago.

The questions that need to be discussed are as follows:

  • Why is it that we don’t learn from history? After the AMRI fire accident, has anything changed in the way hospitals are audited by external agencies on fire safety? NABH is one of the certifying agencies – have they incorporated any changes?
  • Have hospital managements reviewed and modified their fire safety processes – both on prevention and evacuation? Is fire safety even discussed at the highest levels of the management?

In my view all hospitals in the next 30 days should do the following:

  • Review the current process on fire safety and incorporate changes if any
  • Create an annual training calendar for all employees of the hospital to be trained on fire safety. In fact, an employee should go through a training session once in 6 months
  • Come up with a calendar for conducting mock drills periodically – take the exercise seriously and not as a mere check mark
  • Create a mechanism for all the patients and the family members to be given directions on fire evacuation – ex : play videos on TV screens

In addition, the Fire Department or agencies appointed by them should do periodic audits of the hospitals – say every 6 months.  Also NABH and agencies should re-look at their fire safety processes and modify them based on the learnings from AMRI and SUM hospital.

If we continue to ignore the past, we will have similar tragedies occurring frequently. It is time that all the stakeholders in Healthcare wake up!!

– by Gopal Devanahalli


Gopal is currently Senior Vice President, Manipal Global Education. He has over 22 years of Corporate experience and has worked with Infosys and Kotak in the past. He has been interested in public policy and has recently done a public policy course in The Takshashila Institution. He is a member of the Executive Council of Beyond Carlton. He lives in Bengaluru.


Fire safety: why fire wardens are needed for Bengaluru’s high-rises

The Carlton Towers fire tragedy in 2010 illustrated the lack of fire protection measures in most buildings in Bengaluru.

I would like to propose the following idea to improve fire safety in Bengaluru – create a set of fire wardens in each of the high-rise buildings who will:
1) Ensure that fire safety norms are not violated, and
2) Be the first responders when there is a fire.


Why Fire Safety

As per the National Crime Records Bureau, 2012, around 4 people in Karnataka lose their lives to fire every day. Around 271 people in Bengaluru alone died due to fire related incidents in 2012 – this is higher than many other cities like Delhi.

There are two sides to fire safety:
a) Prevention
b) Fighting the fire

Many fire tragedies could have been prevented. There were fire safety violations in most cases – a) closed doors, b) use of inflammable substances, c) lack of well delineated fire escape routes, d) lack of fire safety awareness.
Post the Carlton Fire tragedy, a PIL was filed by the Beyond Carlton advocacy group – this resulted in the State Government issuing a notification in 2011 under Section 13 of the Karnataka Fire Services Act which focuses on fire prevention in high-rise buildings (that are of 15 metres height or more). The notification states that a NOC from the Fire & Emergency Services Department (Fire Dept) is needed for a new building; and it needs to be renewed every two years. It also lists the penalties for not obtaining the NOC (including non issuance of OC, disconnection of BWSSB and BESCOM connections, etc).

Unfortunately, the inspections of high-rise buildings are still being carried out by the Fire Department – in fact another PIL was filed by the Beyond Carlton group to find out the progress of the inspections. Lack of manpower and the general apathy are the reasons cited for the poor progress.

Fighting Fires
There are several challenges in Bengaluru when it comes to fighting fires:
• Inadequate number of fire stations – According to a Wilbur Smith report commissioned by the Fire Dept in 2011, Bengaluru needs to have at least 71 fire stations (roughly 1 station every 10 sq.km.). However, we currently have only 20 odd stations.
• According to a Beyond Carlton report, out of 170 Crores budget for the department in 2014-15, around 80% has been spent on administration and personnel costs – very little has been apportioned for costs related to developing the infrastructure or procuring the necessary equipments (including vehicles).
• Bengaluru has only two aerial ladders which can reach a height of around 50 meters – there are over 400 buildings over that height.
• The heavy traffic in Bengaluru invariably prevents most fire engines from reaching the fire in time


Policy – Constitution of Fire Wardens

Fire safety norms are violated for various reasons with some of them being:
– People believe it is expensive to follow the norms
– The belief that the likelihood of a fire is almost nil
– Lack of awareness about fire safety
– There are no stringent consequences for violations (no action is implemented by the government authorities).

To help prevention of fires and protection of lives / property during a fire,the Fire Dept should constitute a Fire Warden Organization(FWO). These FWO members will:
• For a start, carry out periodic audits for fire safety violations in their buildings
• Conduct fire safety awareness sessions for the citizens
• Be the designated Disaster Recovery Personnel (DRP) and help in evacuation during a fire
• Be the first responders during any fire accident and help the firemen during firefighting

Unlike Traffic Wardens, the FWO will not be purely voluntary – every building will need to have a set of designated Fire Wardens(based on the number of people residing in the building). They can be sourced from the RWAs in case of residential complexes. Apart from the mandatory members nominated by residents or RWA’s, there could be volunteers too. The Fire Wardens will go through a Fire Safety Certification process initially and will need to appear for re-certification every two years so that they are adequately prepared to handle various activities during a fire. They will be expected to spend around 2 hours per week in related activities.

To encourage adoption of fire safety standards, incentives are to be provided to these Fire Wardens – reduced property taxes; discounts on water and electricity bills, etc. could be some of them.

The stakeholders who will have to be convinced to adopt this policy include:
• The Fire Dept – the FWO will be part of this department
• Government of Karnataka – a notification is needed to get the RWAs to designate Fire Wardens
• BBMP, BWSSB, BESCOM – to structure incentives
• RWAs, Citizens – getting them onboard would involve a lot of awareness building


Despite the challenges mentioned above, it is time we take Fire Safety seriously in Bengaluru. I believe that having a Fire Warden Organization is a positive step in the direction of creating a safe Bengaluru where each of us can go into any building without worrying about fire safety violations or our lives being endangered.


Gopal Devanahalli is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Manipal Healthcare Enterprises. He has over 22 years of Corporate experience and has worked with Infosys and Kotak in the past. He has been interested in public policy and has recently done a public policy course in The Takshashila Institution. He is a member of the Executive Council of Beyond Carlton. He lives in Bengaluru.

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