Kenyan airport fire insights

September 2013 Fire & Safety, Security Services & Risk Management

It is a fact that incidents can and will happen at airports. However, when I was listening to the broadcast on Sky News about the huge fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi this week, it wasn’t just the scale of the incident that surprised me, but a comment made by the reporter that the cause of the fire was unknown.

Speaking from the airport the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure, Michael Kamau, explained that the fire started at 5 am in the immigration area, spreading to the arrivals building, with the emergency services trying to stop the fire reaching the departures area. As a result all inbound and outbound flights were cancelled.

The human cost is of course immeasurable and thankfully no major casualties have been reported, so it would seem that the evacuation procedures worked very well, but the financial cost of shutting an airport can run into the millions within hours, and of course the logistical problems for the airport, airlines and travellers if planes have to divert and are in the wrong places. Add to this the businesses that use the airport to transport their goods and the costs begin to spiral.

Once the ash has settled the questions need to be asked as to how the fire was started, how the incident was managed, what can be learnt and put in place to better prepare in future – to detect, contain, control and ideally prevent such a situation. For example, did the airport have the right sensors and alarms? Were they positioned in the right place? Did the water hydrants fail, as one official is reported as saying? Had they been recently checked? Were CCTV cameras located near the sensors to provide a live-feed and playback to the control room when the alarm was raised? Did the people in the control room have the right training, access to the necessary information and clarity of the emergency procedures to manage the incident? Were the emergency services able to respond in good time?

As a provider of PSIM solutions to many large international airports around the world it would be remiss not to point out such a solution is worthy of consideration for JKIA. Whether it is an advanced situational management solution that encompasses all safety and security systems and sub-systems, or a management layer for the four core security systems: video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection and fire systems, it is all about ‘joining the dots’ and giving the control room a clearer operating picture.

Of course, this requires investment and given a recent quote from The Secretary-General of the Kenya National Fire Brigades Association, Francis Liech, that “…as we speak, not a single fire engine is up and running,” it would seem that there is also need for investment in other essential emergency services that can service the airport and the surrounding areas. However, with a new terminal due to open in 2017, a new runway planned and a strategy (Project Mawingu) to connect 115 destinations in 77 countries across six continents by 2021, it is clear that the Kenya Airports Authority and Kenya Airways are committed to expanding trade and travel to and from the country. As such it needs to look at the measures other international hubs are taking to improve safety and security of travellers, employees and infrastructure.

Thankfully at the time of writing the airport is getting back on track and time will tell if this fire could have been prevented, or contained better. I hope the lessons are learned which help improve the overall management of safety, security and operational incidents at the airport, in the future.

For more information contact NICE Systems, +44 148 977 1200,,

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