THIS week a fire ravaged the old Gaiety Cinema in Castries, and caused damage to neighbouring buildings too. Thankfully, there have been no reports of casualties, but this is not yet a cause for celebration. The thick plumes of smoke belching from the burning buildings provided a warning sign of things that we should hopefully learn from and do differently.
The several onlookers positioned within one block of the fire, recording the unusual events on their mobile phones, provided a stream of updates via social media, for others at a safer distance. At what cost though? The invisible damage and fumes generated by the fire might have been surrounding these onlookers. Perhaps a questionable use of ICT, if these individuals were unnecessarily exposed to such risks.
Encouragingly, some footage from a presumed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, or ‘drone’) was also circulated, which showed that ICT was being harnessed to observe the fire from a bird’s eye view, and hopefully help the Incident Commander and other brave individuals of the Fire Service in their efforts to fight the fire. Until that footage was shared, it was not apparent that the Fire Service was using more modern technology in their fire fighting efforts. Bravo!
Unlike the fire fighters who are paid to face dangers to rescue life and property, bystanders are not. A safe working distance ought not be measured by the size of our city blocks, which are relatively small. The use of remote sensing technology is a must, for such hazardous operations. Unlike the plumes of black smoke spreading from the fire, other hazards may persist. For example, the very next day, signs were placed at a Bridge Street bank advising that it was closed due to air quality concerns arising from the fire. Curiously, the Bank’s ATMs, located just inside the building, were still accessible by the unsuspecting public.
Based on these few observations, we might hopefully be better prepared for dealing with future fires. If mobile phones, and drones could be used, then what about historical knowledge of building construction and materials? Could the past use of the building, or materials used during its construction, harbour dangerous substances when exposed to fire? Based on that knowledge, perhaps firefighters have access to information from the DCA about building plans and construction. We could also include information from the Met Office about expected wind patterns. Fire incident planning should hopefully include involvement from WASCO to preemptively identify and charge nearby fire hydrants. The prompt involvement of the Traffic Police could help redirect traffic flows away from affected areas.
Outstanding questions remain about the fire’s origin, and whether ICT systems may have helped the affected businesses avoid the loss of data. While we breathe a sigh of relief that we were spared the worst, it shouldn’t take a major conflagration to alight our sensibilities or galvanize us into action.
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About the Author
Dr. Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant with a background in environmental and resource science. His expertise includes systems analysis, planning, and capacity building.