iconimg Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Vinod Kumar, Hindustan Times
Chandigarh, February 15, 2013
A day after the mega disaster management mock drill in the tricity, which was punctuated with goof-ups, Thursday was the day to come clean.
Top officials acknowledged serious shortcomings during the drill, vowing to plug the holes in the future.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) held a review meeting at the Tagore Theatre in Sector 18 where senior officials from Chandigarh, Panchkula and SAS Nagar mulled over the glaring shortcomings.

UT deputy commissioner Mohammed Shayin, Panchkula sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Sarandeep Kaur Brar and SAS Nagar deputy commissioner Varun Roojam - in-charges of the drill in their areas -- put forth their problems.

Confusion marred drill in Chandigarh
UT officials were in a fix right from the start. The sudden flux of messages led to jamming of the communication system, which eventually collapsed, resulting in chaos.

The administration was caught off-guard as the NDMA had changed the scenario on the drill day; earlier, the officials were told to prepare for disposing of 5,000 dead bodies, but just before the drill, they were asked to deal with 24,000 deaths, leaving the teams baffled. The UT deputy commissioner acceded to have failed to react to the situation.

During the discussions, the stolid approach of the elected councillors was also taken up. Citing an example where a peon of the Panjab University asked the drill officer not to conduct the drill at the library, as it would damage furniture and windowpanes, NDMA officials acknowledged the need for greater awareness among the public.

Problem of `complacency'
At the outset itself, authorities in Panchkula had to counsel officials for the latter termed the whole exercise as mere waste of time. SDM Brar said they did not have the basic equipment - steel-cutters, glasscutters, sufficient number of ambulances and fire tenders.

The civil defence room was manned just by a peon; it had a trunk with a few caps, gloves and helmets. The NDMA had later chipped in and helped in setting up the emergency centre. The SDM called for more funds and proper training to the staff, a majority of whom could not handle a wireless set.

The sarpanches of villages under Panchkula's jurisdiction expressed their displeasure for conducting the drill only at urban centres.

Infrastructural glitches
SAS Nagar faced infrastructural problems, which led to the drill's derailment. The communication system did not respond, while the emergency centre was not adequately equipped. Besides, there was little participation of the people.

Suggestions offered
Senior NDMA member JK Sinha urged the participating states to learn from the mistakes and follow the guidelines. He also advised them to utilise funds provided by Centre. He further revealed that no state had availed the funds.