‘We were earlier taught to plan for war, now we’re taught to fight nature’

Two major tremors — one on Saturday and again on Sunday — had shaken the capital.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Published: April 27, 2015 3:31 am
Civil defence personnel inspect a building in East Delhi. (Source: Express photo by Amit Mehra) Civil defence personnel inspect a building in East Delhi. (Source: Express photo by Amit Mehra)

On Saturday morning, Harish Balodi, in his mid-30s, was seeing a doctor at a private clinic. Minutes later, the doctor’s table started shaking and most patients like him rushed out. He quickly went home to don a bright yellow jacket.

Two major tremors — one on Saturday and again on Sunday — had shaken the capital. As he headed towards the Shakarpur zone in East Delhi, where he is the deputy division warden of the civil defence volunteer system, Balodi was already making calls to volunteers and other division in-charges.

A formal message, activating the civil defence machinery under the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) came around noon from the district magistrate of East Delhi.

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Balodi, who works in the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, and his volunteers went about checking buildings — residential, school buildings and hospitals — for cracks.

“Over the years, disasters have changed. We were earlier taught to plan for war, now we are taught to fight nature,” Balodi said. It took two hours for the volunteers to report on the field, which, as first responders to any disaster, must be reduced, he said.

“This is when our training and mock drills come in handy. I was reminded of the Lalita Park building collapse when volunteers in my division were the first responders and alerted the state machinery and police. We even cleared traffic for ambulances to come in,” he recalled.

East Delhi district magistrate Kunal said volunteers like Balodi were the “backbone of the disaster management system of the city”. “When we send out messages activating the disaster response mechanisms, as district and division in-charges, they are the first people we alert. On Saturday also, we sent messages asking them to look for any loss of life or property. The citizen volunteers have been active across the district and they have covered most of the areas under their jurisdiction already,” he said.

Balodi said his team had inspected lakhs of buildings. Initial reports suggested that two buildings — one each in Trilokpuri and Ramesh Park — had developed cracks. “We alerted the quick response system in the DM office and they sent civil engineers to both buildings. It turned out that these were old cracks,” he said.

Balodi joined the civil defence team as a volunteer in 1997 during his graduation days. “Back then, we were associated with the Home department, then we came to the Revenue department and now we are under different police stations. Every police station has 543 volunteers. In East Delhi, we have around 2,000 volunteers. This is a family in itself,” he said.

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