If a high magnitude earthquake were to hit Mumbai, most schools will be unprepared to evacuate students safely, said principals.
Owing to space crunch, most schools are located in multi-storied buildings and do not have a playground or open spaces in their vicinity, where students can take refuge. Moreover, most schools do not conduct mock drills to familiarise students and staff about evacuation methods.
Although the education department — after the 2006 Kutch earthquake — had advised schools to conduct such drills on a regular basis, hardly any of them have taken these directives seriously.
“We have conducted only one mock drill in all these years,” said Milind Chindarkar, honorary secretary, Mahatma Gandhi Vidyamandir, Bandra. “There are no checks by the education department to see if schools are holding drills. Many schools claim to conduct drills, but there is no one to monitor its quality and frequency.”
Chindarkar added many schools have not even drawn out an emergency plan. “In most schools, the stairways and corridors are so narrow that it could lead to a stampede in such a situation.”
In the school curriculum of the state board, disaster management is only a module in the personality development subject for Class 9 and 10. “It is ridiculous that disaster management is given such a small space in the curriculum,” said Sucheta Bhawalkar, principal, Indian Education Society’s Raja Shivaji Vidyalaya, Dadar. “There is no hands-on training given to teachers or students to deal with emergency situations.”
However, the recent earthquakes have forced several schools to re-think their stance on students’ safety. “We need to find resource persons to conduct mock drills,” said Avnita Bir, principal, RN Podar School, Santacruz.
Similarly, Swami Vivekananda International School, Borivli and Gorai, has now decided to hold mock drills twice a year. “We held a mock drill after the Peshawar school attacks. Before that, we had never conducted them,” said Yogesh Patel, director of the group.
An informal group of prominent educationists have also recommended making safety audits a must for schools, at least twice a year.