Mockery or mock drill?

Sonal Matharu wonders when nature strikes unannounced what is the point of pre-announced mock drills

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Tuesday 21 February 2012

At 11.30 am on February 15, Delhi was shaken by a hypothetical earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre at Moradabad, 275 kilometres from the national capital. The tremors felt in the city lasted up to 48 seconds and damaged the infrastructure, so said the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) that organised this mock drill along with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

The flyovers are on the verge of crashing, gas pipelines are leaking and major evacuation plan is on for the passengers travelling by the underground Delhi metro.

As mediapersons, new to these kinds of assignments, spread their tri-pods and video cameras at the AIIMS metro station entry gates, I saw there was not a single passenger at the station. There was no train on the tracks and no people at the ticket counter or at the security check. They had been evacuated before the drill could start!

People kept out

Before the emergency alarm rang, the stage was set. The deliberately cracked ceiling near the entry gate was dripping at exactly four points. The entry and exit gates were kept open for free movement of the rescue operators. The gate next to the customer care counter was unlocked and no luggage was stuffed on to the security checking counter. Shovels, torchlights and stretchers were out of the storeroom and the medical team was standing behind the wall waiting to play its part. And of course, there were no people to disturb the civil defence or the police teams performing the mock drill.

With the piercing alarm, all deployed members of the rescue team started performing their well-rehearsed parts. Two civil defence members lay near the entry gate, pretending to be unconscious. The police and private security personnel rushed to the platforms where two men and one woman lay “injured”. The rescue workers started moving the imaginary rubble aside with shovels. A little later, the injured were transferred on to a stretcher and taken only till the stairs; they were apparently too heavy to be carried out of the station.

More men ran their torchlights over the rail tracks to look for causalities. The already clear baggage x-ray machine corner was converted into the emergency medical aid corner and the doctors and nurses busily tied bandages to the injured persons. Different coloured ribbons, which are tied to the victims of the calamity, hung from their first-aid kit.

“Black indicates that the person is dead, red means the victim is seriously injured and needs immediate care at a hospital, yellow means the person has injuries that can be cured at a relief camp and green means that the person has minor injuries and doesn’t need more than first aid,” explains Mahvesh Yazdani, medical officer on duty at the mock drill.

At these stations where hundreds of people travel every day, there were a total of six people who acted injured at the mock drill. Three persons lay on the platform and the other three near the entry.

Once the injured were taken care of, a train with few passengers arrived at the platform. The clueless men and women travelling in the train were asked to de-board but before all could step out, the doors of the train closed and the train snaked to the next station. For quick evacuation, the escalators and elevators, that are not to be used at the time of an earthquake, were working.

Well, the drill shouldn’t let metro loose revenue. So the passengers who had emerged from the train reached the exit gates that were now shut and they had to use their smart cards and tokens for exiting. All this happened while the drill was still on and police guards were running from one end of the platform to the other holding shovels and torch lights.

Book approach to managing disaster

This well-rehearsed drill showed us the disaster management booklet-approach to disasters. But nature strikes unannounced, doesn’t it? What is the point of such pre-announced drills? Delhi cannot afford to have fleets of police and paramedics on guard at every building, flyover, mall or school waiting for the earth to shake.

Isn’t evacuation at mock drills supposed to happen when people are busy carrying on with their daily business? Whenever calamity, manmade or natural, strikes, the public places may be buzzing with people, of all ages and with all kinds of disabilities. So why conduct such drills while keeping the civilians out? Why make prior announcements of the exercise and present a polished well-rehearsed show for the TV cameras? The idea of such an exercise is to see how quickly various authorities coordinate and handle the assigned tasks when needed along with maintaining order when people run amok. Pre-disaster preparation serves no purpose.


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