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Friday, December 26, 2008

Schools step up disaster management

Crisis preparedness for students

Nirali Dixit-Hathi

Mumbai: While the debate of a mandatory military service for every Indian makes it to coffee-table discussions, the next best step being adopted in schools across Indian cities is setting up Disaster Management cells.
    Increasing incidents of natural calamities such as monsoon flooding, fire accidents, and now, terror strikes has lead to schools proactively training students and staff for such emergencies. Suggests Archana Tyagi, Additional Commissioner of Police (Mumbai Western Region), "After the 26 / 11 terror attacks, there was a spate of bomb hoaxes at educational institutes. Schools with disaster management in place are better equipped to avoid panic and control the situation till official security agencies and police reach. Schools must regularly conduct mock evacuation drills or even make disaster management a part of their curriculum, so that students can act quickly in an emergency.
    Be it CBSE centres across the country or the Council of the Boards of School Education, imparting formal training in disaster management to students of at least senior classes has now become the norm. Lectures on risk assessment and practicals on mock drills are in the syllabus in Ahmedabad schools under the Gujarat School Safety Initiative (GSSI) programme. Students learn first aid, fire safety, search and rescue operations too. In Chandigarh, basic lessons for junior classes, such as ducking for cover during a terror attack, not picking up any unidentified object and moving in a group in an emergency has been taken up. Going a step further, some school even teach students to be tolerant towards all religions and have feelings of national pride.
    States Joint Chief Fire Officer, Mumbai Fire Brigade, P D Karguppikar, "Installing public address systems, CCTVs and security systems in schools is a must, as is training staff to handle emergencies. Disaster management has to be integral into the educational system, with mock drills at least twice a month, if need be with assistance from the Fire Department or police."
    Several public schools, as well as government-aided and municipal schools in Mumbai are realising the need of being equipped for emergencies, especially after the 2005 deluge. Says Narendra Verma, Chairman, Jankidevi Public School, Mumbai, and President, International Schools Principal Management Foundation, "We had a bomb hoax call recently, and only because of our disaster management plan did we avoid panic among students. We took up a detailed disaster management plan after the July 26, 2005 flooding, when many schools had students stuck for almost three days without any facilities. Now, we have enabled a system to evacuate students and staff to safety."
    Adds Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Education), Mumbai, C B Rokde, "We are approaching Senior Police Inspectors to conduct mock evacuation drills in 1, 350 Mumbai schools for over four lakh students. Headmasters, teachers and other staff members will be trained for different emergencies, such as flooding and bomb hoaxes. We are also installing public address systems across schools in the coming week. Even disaster management workshops are planned from January 2009 onwards." Presently, in Maharashtra, a disaster preparedness project is also being formulated for schools. Says Suman Shinde, Education Inspector, South Mumbai region, "Deluge, riots and terror attacks have made students safety a priority. Thus the need for disaster management to be imbibed in curriculum has risen, and our project will take off in a fortnight."
    Sums up a child counsellor, "Training students for emergencies is necessary. However, schools must ensure they do not instil fear in students in any way. It should be done in a very matter-of-fact manner to avoid anxiety entering a child's mental framework."

Disaster management demonstration being carried out by Fire Brigade in a Mumbai school


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