“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. 

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