US firm: Filipino homes need fire alarm systems

A US industrial giant that produces fire protection and security products sees more opportunities in the Philippines, as more Filipinos achieve higher income and demand better protection from flames.

The growing Philippine economy, driven by the rise of business process outsourcing sector that requires high-quality office space, has created a $100-million market for fire protection and fire safety products, according to Harish Vellat, vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific of Honeywell Security and Fire, a division of industrial giant Honeywell International Inc.

“We have been in the Philippines since 1995.  In terms of the opportunity, there is tremendous opportunity here.  In our best estimate, the market is in excess of $100 million to $120 million in terms of opportunity to serve from the product point of view and it is growing roughly 10 to 20 percent,” Vellat said in a news briefing at Makati Shangri La Hotel in Makati City.

Honeywell Security and Fire in collaboration with AmCham lead a discussion on the improvement  of safety and security in the Philippines.  Shown in the panel are (from left) Philippine National Police deputy director for community relations Gilbert Cruz, Omnipay chief compliance officer and American Chamber’s overseas security advisory council chairman Steve Cutler, Bureau of Fire Protection regional director Leonardo Banago, Yek Yeu Merchandizing Inc. group manager Albert Chuabio and Honeywell vice president and general manager for Asia-Pacific Harish Vellat.

“If you think of the GDP of the Philippines and you apply that this industry is growing 10 to 20 percent, it is obviously a very attractive destination for any company in the safety industry,” he said.

Data from the Bureau of Fire Protection show that the Philippines had 17,000 fire incidents in 2015, causing more than P3 billion worth of damage on properties.

A survey conducted by French market research company Ispsos and commissioned by Honeywell shows that 84 percent of Filipinos consider fire as the second top threat to physical safety, next to earthquakes at 91 percent. Other potential physical threats include building collapses (69 percent), terrorism (64 percent) and floods (33 percent).

The survey also shows that only 17 percent of Filipino homes have fire alarm systems, compared to 97 percent of commercial buildings. The survey was conducted among 500 people who were in malls, corporate offices, hotels, hospitals and airports.

“The low adoption of fire safety systems in Filipino homes is alarming,” said Vellat.  “Fire is one of the top threats people face, yet their homes are largely unprotected and there are no existing regulations to drive change.”

He said 3 percent of commercial buildings in the country were still without the required fire alarm systems, highlighting opportunity for better enforcement. “Building owners need to protect workers and consumers by complying with government regulation,” he said.

The survey reveals that 92 percent of the commercial buildings regularly test their fire systems to ensure the safety of their occupants and 83 percent conduct regular fire safety training. About 77 percent of respondents are aware of fire exit locations in their work place, and more than half had experience testing fire safety equipment.

Most respondents, however, cited the need for stronger regulations, better enforcement and the importance of increasing public awareness about safety.

Three in four respondents identified technology as the best way to reduce physical security risks.

Honeywell conducted the survey to determine public perceptions on fire hazards and security, and the adoption and efficacy of fire safety and security systems and technology. 

Vellat, an Indian national based in Kuala Lumpur, said Honeywell was willing to share the results of the survey with the government.  “If there is an opportunity for us to work closely with government agencies, in a way that we pass on the findings, we will certainly do that,” he said.

“The intention is not to try to counsel government agencies on what they should do.  Our intention is only to try and make this subject of how people understand it,” he said.

The survey findings were presented at a luncheon forum titled ‘Towards a Safe and Secure Philippines,’ co-organized by Honeywell and the American Chamber of Commerce on April 12.

The forum featured a panel discussion among representatives from the Bureau of Fire Protection, Department of the Interior and Local Government and Philippine National Police.

Honeywell, a Fortune 500 company that employs more than 127,000 people around the world with annual revenues of more than $40 billion, produces aerospace systems, automation and control solutions and performance materials and technologies.  Among its household products are fire alarm systems and smoke detection devices.

Leonardo Banago, regional director of Bureau of Fire Protection, said the government was strictly enforcing the Fire Code to provide the safety requirements.  “Every year, we are conducting inspection of establishments if they are equipped by fire safety equipment like sprinklers,” he said.

The Philippines follows the American standards on fire safety and prevention, but compliance in residential areas is low. Data from BFP show that 70 percent of fire incidents last year occurred at homes.

While commercial buildings have fire exits, smoke detectors, sprinklers and CCTVs, houses do not follow the same standards and protocols.

However, the rise of high-rise condominium buildings is making people aware of the need for fire protection and prevention, as developers are required to follow the Fire Code of the Philippines or Presidential Decree 1185, as amended by Republic Act No. 9514.

Vellat said the Philippines could also learn some lessons from its neighbors.  “If you look at Thailand, it is currently demanding that every condominium have a smoke or heat detector inside the apartment and that’s a good thing,” he said.  “Maybe there is something to learn there.”

Vellat said more people were now demanding a better quality of office environment.  “The moment you demand for it, everything else will follow,” he said.

“As we see more people demand better qualify of office environment...to be more secure and safer, there is an opportunity for more technologies such as these to be adopted,” he said.

Vellat said while multinational companies introduced these technologies, local companies subsequently followed, incorporating the quality fire standards and demanding a higher level of safety.

Steve Cutler, chief compliance officer of Omnipay and chairman of overseas security advisory council of American Chamber of Commerce said the chamber was regularly convening meetings to make people aware about the need for safety.

“We cannot change the world, but we can change the people around us,” Cutler said. 

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