On 25th March at around 17:00 a fire broke out at the Winter Cherry shopping complex Kermerovo, in Russia killing 64 people 41 of them children. Early investigation is reported to have revealed that the fire alarms were switched off and some fire exits were blocked. There were also reports that some security staff simply ran away.

Whilst the cause of the fire is not yet known, there are early lessons that can be drawn from this terrible incident not least the importance of strict adherence to fire safety measures in large public venues. Faulty electrics, blocked fire exits, and compromised fire separation can and does occur in even the best run UK venues. It should be unthinkable (unless by prior design) for the fire alarms to be switched off in a UK venue but lack of maintenance means that they are frequently not functioning in some international venues particularly in developing countries where funding such maintenance can be a problem.

Much has been made of the fact that the security staff are reported to have panicked and run rather than helping occupants escape but is it really surprising that (in all likelihood poorly trained and poorly paid) civilians acted in this way when they themselves were in mortal danger? Again, there is often far too much reliance on casual staff to ensure public safety without recognising the fallibility of such an arrangement.

President Putin has been quick to declare it a case of ‘criminal negligence’. Russian police have arrested an executive with the firm that owns the shopping centre. The Investigative Committee, the state body that probes major crimes, accused Yulia Bogdanova of failing to address shortcomings in fire safety. Three others have been arrested and charged including a guard from a private security firm. Whatever the facts of the case, punitive action is likely to be heavy-handed and designed to make an example of those accused. It is salutary that a national major crimes unit has become involved rather than any local fire authority. Some event companies make the mistake of assuming that a lax approach by local safety enforcement agencies, or a lack of health and safety law, is a sign that those involved would not be held legally accountable for safety breaches especially where it leads to serious loss.

Ultimately, there are countries where this could have easily been an event or exhibition and quite apart from the terrible loss of life any event company should be mindful of the potent mix of public anger and the political need for swift high-profile punitive action as an additional impact on the company and its employees. A large UK global company would make an easy target against which to funnel such public anger.

The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ESSA, its members, board or staff. Our members represent a broad range of views within the event industry, and we have provided this section of the website for their opinions to be openly heard and discussed.

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