Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Firetraps need fixing

Saturday's tragedy in South Korea's Itaewon district has raised concerns about the management of crowded entertainment areas in many cities around the world.

As we express our utmost condolences to the families of the victims, we hope national and local governments around the world, especially those in Thailand, will now pay more attention to safety standards and evacuation management in public areas.

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon has asked officials to inspect safeguards at entertainment spots such as Khao San Road in Bangkok to avoid similar dangerous crowd surges.

His concern was echoed by Khao San operators who called for changes at the pedestrian throughfare. However, their calls were met with silence from the powers-that-be.

Indeed, Thailand has had plenty to worry about in terms of safety standards and evacuation plans in busy public areas.

In terms of festival gatherings and celebrations, the mix of large electrical appliances and water spray at concerts and events is rarely mentioned.

Yet the biggest elephant in the room concerns safety standards at pubs and entertainment premises.

The most tragic example is the fire at the Santika pub in Ekamai in Bangkok on New Year’s eve of 2008 that claimed 66 lives. The fire was caused by fireworks set off to usher in New Year.

The blaze spread quickly, and the flames became noxious due to the plastic and tar paper in the club.

The deaths were largely the result of two of the three emergency exits being locked or inaccessible and an ensuing stampede by those inside to escape via a single door.

And now, 13 years on, a fire at the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district of Chon Buri in August claimed 25 lives and injured scores of others, most of whom were trapped as fire swiftly engulfed a building that afforded its occupants only one avenue of escape, in contravention of safety laws.

Accidents happen, yet for Thailand the lack of safety measures and absence of good evacuation plans at such venues has become an unfortunate new norm; this is now a chronic problem.

There is a fundamental lack of safety standards that makes entertainment and pubs accident-prone sites.

Worse still is the repeated pattern of assurances by police and the government which, after a swift superficial crackdown in the wake of such tragedies, fail to address the problem at its roots.

These dangerous buildings must be fixed now, particularly as Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn and Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt are seeking to allow pubs and entertainment venues in “designated areas” open until 4am, instead of 2am at present, to stimulate the economy.

While the intention is good, the authorities cannot simply not let these venues open for the economy’s sake. They should also insist on safety standards and proper evacuation management as conditions for allowing them to do so. Public safety cannot be compromised in the name of making a quick baht.

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