Fire is a major concern in Indian cities. But the fire prevention and safety industry still does not see interest from customers to invest more.
As with many other countries, the fire safety market in India has always grown at a steady but slow pace. According to 6W Research, the fire safety systems and equipment market in the country is expected to grow at a rate of 9 percent in the five years ending 2023. A range of sectors from hospitality, retail, entertainment, transportation, and residential, are expected to fuel this growth.
The last few years have seen a pickup in demand, as developments across the country, especially in Tier-II and Tier-III cities, expanded. Awareness among customers is more than before. Extensive media coverage of recent fire-related incidents has contributed to this. But this doesn’t mean that the market penetration of fire security companies is anywhere near complete.
Regulations (or the lack of it) still the main driver
The unfortunate truth is that most of the demand still exists not because people are concerned about fire safety, but because government regulations are becoming stricter than before. Tony Alex, Co-Founder of Trident Automation Systems, explained that most business happens because of the norms and not because people have realized the requirements.
“This means that many projects are limited to what is required for approvals, and getting the building up and running is a priority,” Alex explained. “In many cases, even these existing norms are not fully followed. But in the commercial sector, corporates and large companies are doing a fairly good job in using the necessary fire safety and prevention solutions.”
Speaking more in-depth on this matter, Gowri Sundarmurthy, Director of Dantecq Consultants, said that even though there are building safety codes that constructions must adhere to, much of it gets ignored in the current scenario. If they are commercial buildings such as factories, they need to get certifications to begin operations. But a lack of stringent monitoring allows them to forego such mandates, and they begin operations without proper fire security measures in place.
The failure of reactive measures
The most severe problem with the Indian fire security market is that customers are either not concerned about the possibility of a fire-related incident or are don’t have the will to invest in it. That is until something happens. When there is a fire incident, there is a flurry of investigations into what happened, and questions are raised in the media and in public spaces on why proactive fire prevention measures were in place.
“Even when there are fire alarms in place, there is no system to maintain in,” Sundarmurthy said. “I know places where solutions are installed for up to three years without anyone even checking if they are still functioning. There should be test alarms done at least once in six months or year to ensure that the system is working fine.”
Interestingly, there is no lack of incidents to warn about the need for proper fire prevention measures. A massive fire that broke out at one of the biggest banks at the heart of Bangalore city last year is the best example. There was a major fire incident at a natural gas plant in Gujarat as recently as a few days ago. Such incidents continue to happen frequently and stress the weak prevention measures in place.
What’s in demand and not
As most customers still stick to the bare minimum, the solutions that are most in-demand for fire prevention include optical and heat sensors, multi-sensor detectors, beam detectors, etc. Alex pointed out that addressable systems are popular with top-end customers in the commercial and corporate spaces as they give much-required control over the solution.
In the residential sectors, standalone devices like LPG gas detectors see a slightly more significant demand than before, mostly as more and more high-end apartments get built. In some cases, real estate developers may provide an option to incorporate a fire prevention system, and some homeowners may choose to use them. But Alex explained that the market is still relatively small, and it would take several factors, including regulations, awareness-creation, and affordability for further growth.
Less prevalent is the fire alarms integrated with public address systems
, despite industry professionals highlighting its importance in massive public places like malls. Sundarmurthy pointed out that integration with public address systems are necessary when it comes to evacuating people in the event of a fire. But in many cases, as with other systems, an integrated fire alarm system is either not in place or not maintained and tested periodically.
Even less or rarely seen in the Indian market is the use of video-based verification. Alex points out that a solution where the camera detects fire
is not widely accepted yet. Its efficacy is still being questioned, and we are yet to see convincing results.
What the market needs and who can provide it
There are adequate solutions in the market. There are more than enough consultants and installers to provide services. What’s lacking is an awareness among the customers and regulatory systems that enforce stringent norms.
As a systems integrator, Alex explains that manufacturers would probably be able to do more here, to include the need for security in their marketing campaigns, targeting a wider audience. At the end of the day, fire prevention and safety measures should be integral to any place where people frequent.