Hotel fire exposes shocking flaws

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2012, 12:00am


Last Saturday, a fire triggered by a faulty electronic billboard atop a 42-storey luxury hotel in North Point forced hundreds of people to run for their lives in the middle of the night. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries. But some guests complained that they did not hear fire alarms on their floors. Some fire exits were also found to have been blocked. It was only luck that the fire did not turn into a fatal disaster. The blaze serves as a wake-up call to review the city's fire safety rules, in particular the potential danger of outdoor LED lighting displays. Attached to the roof or the outer wall of high-rise buildings, the installations for advertisements and live broadcasts have become increasingly popular in shopping districts such as Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. Building rules stipulate that outdoor signboards should be fire-resistant and structurally safe. Under the electricity ordinance they are also required to be properly installed by certified professionals and to undergo regular maintenance.

The cause of the fire remains unknown at this stage. But experts confirm that outdoor LED display screens are potentially dangerous. Lawmakers have raised concerns that the monitoring of these signboards has fallen into a grey area. Given the popularity of these signs and the density of buildings in Hong Kong, there is a case to consider whether safety rules should be tightened.

Guests at the Harbour Grand Hotel have good reason to complain. They were left scrambling during the evacuation without help. It is shocking to learn that some fire exits in the five-star hotel were blocked by groceries and carts. Fire alarms were also heard on certain floors only, although firefighters say this is permissible in hotels. It seems odd that a hotel is not required to install fire alarms on each floor.

At stake is not just Hong Kong's image as a safe and enjoyable tourist destination, but also the safety of buildings with potentially dangerous lighting displays. We should learn the lessons and prevent such an occurrence in future.