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Saturday, November 8, 2008


Quantum Of Solace: City Can Handle Disaster But There's Much Room For Improvement

 It isn't usual for firemen to set off a blaze. But their effort on Saturday was part of a first-of-its kind initiative for the city. Fire officials carefully poured kerosene and set off firecrackers around three vehicles in a cordoned-off corner of Shivaji Park. The theatrics were part of a drill for the city's disaster management agencies, a fruitful exercise that went off without a hitch.
    The event marked the culmination of MEMEx or the Mumbai Emergency Management Exercise, a week-long programme undertaken by the BMC, Hinduja Hospital, and local and international organisations. The aim was to improve coordination among Mumbai's emergency response teams for natural and manmade disasters. The fire brigade and disaster manage
ment wing scored on team spirit. KEM Hospital handled "patients" well, but took a beating on the coordination front.
    The action began with loud explosions, as volunteer "bystanders'' in blue fell to the ground in a carefully orchestrated manner. The "victims'' were tagged. Those sporting badges saying "immediate attention'' feigned agony, others played dead. A nurse from Siddharth Hospital, who volunteered as "victim'', told TOI the role reversal was useful.
    The fire brigade rushed to the site within five minutes, and firemen contained the blaze efficiently. "The objective of such drills is that those in critical condition be evacuated first, so the death rate during disasters is reduced,'' explained deputy fire chief P D Karguppikar. He added that
this was the first time the fire brigade had coordinated with other agencies like this.
    Coordination was the watchword. Paramedics from Dial 1298 For An Ambulance and other ambulance providers worked in tandem with fire personnel to identify critical patients, resuscitate and transport them to the nearby KEM and Hinduja Hospitals.
    At KEM, "patients'' were promptly attended to, but chaos reigned as staffers refused to work in tandem with other agencies. Nearly one hour after "patients'' arrived, authorities were still unsure about how many victims had come in and what the death toll was. Deputy dean of KEM Hospital Dr N Bhonsale, however, said the hospital was used to such mass casualties. "We have our systems in place.
Managing patients is our area of expertise,'' he said.
    Things went more smoothly at Hinduja. The incident commander stood at the entrance, making it simpler for the medical commander to communicate with him faceto-face. "We never imagined this kind of system would work. In the US, the incident commander is always in another building, away from the emergency site,'' said Daniel Meisels, director of emergency management at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, an agency that participated.
    Hospital authorities agreed that a real situation would be different. Doctors also observed that triage (resuscitative efforts) in the hospital was done too quickly. The field action was being carefully scrutinised by evaluators.

The purpose of Saturday's exercise was to test the city's preparedness to handle large-scale accidents, floods, terror attacks, and so on. Administrators had failed miserably during the deluge of July 26, 2005. The BMC then set up a disaster management cell to coordinate information and disseminate it among various governmental agencies. Soon thereafter, bombs ripped across the trains on July 11, 2006. Mumbai managed, albeit amid confusion.

Teams from the Fire Brigade and Dial 1298 for Ambulance, as well as paramedical students from the Lifesupporters Institute for Health Sciences, gave a demonstration of the ability to reach the spot and evacuate survivors. Doctors from BMC-run KEM Hospital in Parel, and the trust-run Hinduja Hospital in Mahim, were assessed for their response in managing patients.

The response of the BMC (which runs Mumbai's fire service and civic hospitals), Hinduja Hospital, and 1298 ambulance service were assessed by emergency management experts from the New York-Presbyterian (the hospital of Columbia and Cornell universities), and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative of Harvard University. Experts from the New York Fire Services were also among the referees.


City authorities responded to a staged disaster at Shivaji Park on Saturday morning, as a mock explosion 'killed' ten people and 'injured' 200. Victims and survivors were tagged based on how critical their condition was, and evacuated to two hospitals. In the meantime, firefighters doused the flames.

8:50 am Fire breaks out around BMC dumper at Shivaji Park

8:54 am Fire brigade trucks arrive and screech to a halt

9:00 am Ambulances with stretchers whiz into Shivaji Park

9.05 am Victims are tagged to indicate degree of criticality. Evacuation begins

9.10 am Fire-fighting operations begin within minutes

10:00 am Victims are rushed to KEM and Hinduja Hospitals

1:00 pm After four hours, rescue work ceases


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