The half-kilometer tower

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The tower is at the very top of the table. Photo from Phnom Penh Post.

Today the first sod will be turned for the construction of a half-kilometer  tall skyscraper in central Phnom Penh. That’s  113 floors of luxury, consisting a 6-star hotel, apartments, high-standard office spaces, and a mall. All going well completion will be in 2019, at a cost of $1 billion. All this despite the fact that relevant ministry hasn’t yet received an application request, let alone granted permission.

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Let us assume that it gets built. One thing on my mind is what happens if there’s a fire? Back in 1999 the Post addressed this question:

Some simple rules dramatically increase survival chances. The first: don’t have a fire between 11am and 1pm or 5pm and 7pm because the firefighters are not available during meal breaks, says their chief.

The second: have substantial amounts of cash to hand out because the firefighters don’t put out fires unless paid, say past victims.

And finally: try to live near Wat Phnom or the Ministry of Interior because they are the only two places where fire engines have 24- hour access to water.

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Diamond Island (Koh Pich) fire station.

That, of course, is almost 20 years ago; the new tower will be just over the bridge from Diamond Island, which has 24-hour access to everything and the most modern firefighting equipment in the kingdom. Still, I doubt that even the best-equipped fire trucks in the world have ladders long enough for this. How do mega-towers handle rescue?

Of course, the tower will have all the latest in safety measures – smoke detectors, sprinklers, all that. I have no doubt it will – prestige developments take these things seriously. How does Phnom Penh in general measure up on that front? The Post addressed this much more recently, in 2013:

… fire safety is effectively up to the discretion of property owners … no basic fire safety code exists in practice … [no] policy or … regulations for the safety systems of skyscrapers … 10-storey Basak Tower luxury apartment building on Sothearos Boulevard [has] fire extinguishers [n]o smoke detectors [has] sprinklers on the corridors … [c]orruption … dodgy dealing prevents effective enforcement … many building owners put lives at risk by cutting fire safety costs….

There are plenty of high-rises in town already. “Before, there were never high buildings. Now there are a lot. When there is a fire [in a high building], there will be a big problem.” Read Bennett Murray’s article in the sources, it’s very illuminating.

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People use extinguishers to put out fires, Koh Pich, National Fire Prevention and Extinguishing Day, 22 Feb. 2016 (photo: Phnom Penh Post).

Sources:

• Siv Meng, Government eager to kick-start mammoth tower development, Phnom Penh Post, 13 March 2016.

• Samreth Sopha, Firefighters fiddle as Phnom Penh burns, Phnom Penh Post, 5 March 1999.

• Bennett Murray, Fire protection, a case for alarm?, Phnom Penh Post, 15 March 2013.

 

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