Cries of 'aag lag gayee' (fire, fire) at a CNG filling station and a nearby petrol station in Mayur Vihar Extension rent the air. There is panic and within minutes, 'the injured' start collapsing; some are trapped and others run helter skelter. Tension gives way to relief as onlookers realise that it is part of a simulated situation of an earthquake that results in leakage of poisonous gas and triggers a fire.
Though this was part of a mega mock drill carried out across Delhi to test the city's disaster preparedeness, the exercise, marred by confusion and chaos, exposed crucial loopholes in the capital's ability to deal with such eventualities.
At Burari, where there was a 'fire' at a factory and a 'blast 'at a mall, the 'victims' were dropped just 400 metres away from the disaster site so that the ambulances could make another round quickly.
The emergency response to a simulated bomb blast at the Jhandewalan Metro Station was equally chaotic; here, eight of the blast victims never reached hospital. At the Mayur Vihar CNG filling station, the 'disaster' struck at 11.50 am but the second CATS van came at 12.16 pm. Like the previous one, it picked up only one "victim".
Glitches apart, the government said the basic purpose was to assess and improve the capacity of emergency response in disaster situations.
Observers will present their views when officials of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) meet on Wednesday to review the drill.
An audit report is likely to be out in a week.
"We will do a hotwash on the exercise tomorrow (Wednesday) where all agencies will give their inputs and prepare a report," said Dr George P Abraham, president, Indian Institute of Emergency Medical Services, the agency that helped DDMA conduct the mock drill.
"We tried to ascertain how the public reacts to disaster situations. There was and still is a need to train people. After this exercise, the DDMA will be better prepared to face disasters," he said. While people criticised the way the government made everyone know it was a mock drill, the government defended it.
"We have organised mock drills before where people were not told beforehand. There are experts who will tell us where are the loopholes so that we can plug the gaps. We will have more such mock drills," said Delhi revenue minister Arvinder Singh.
The mega mock drill was organised at 33 locations. It started at 11:38am at the Burari Urs ground and concluded around 1:20 pm.
Apart from the indifferent attitude of some government officials, many volunteers supposed to act as dead and injured did not turn up. Many of those who did, looked restless while getting up and running.
The DDMA had earlier organised a mega mock drill on February 15, - the first such exercise encompassing the entire Capital.
A similar drill will be organised on February 15, 2013, simultaneously in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal. The emergency management capability was assessed by more than 300 independent observers from the army and NDMA and other agencies.