While fire tenders and water tankers reached the site of Thursday’s blast at Probace Enterprises, Dombivli, within 10 minutes, experts are looking at whether the damage could have been mitigated by better preparedness. Simultaneously, officials too are looking at whether Mumbai is better prepared for such an incident.
At least four small-scale industries and three residential buildings in the vicinity of the factory were impacted by the blast.
A 215-page Disaster Management Plan prepared to minimise loss of life, damage to property and environment in case of a disaster is now reviewed and revised quarterly. It develops and evaluates procedures to deliver effective emergency management during all phases of disastrous events and emergencies.
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As recommended in the Disaster Management Plan for Greater Mumbai, during a disaster, the first call must be made to the Main Emergency Control Room (MECR) and the On-site Emergency Coordinator must take the first alert action. At the MECR, operations to handle the emergency are directed and coordinated. It thus needs first-rate communication equipment and facilities to plot the development of the incident and decide the course of action. The room should contain copies of the contingency plans of each of the factories covered under the plan, copies of the plan and copies of the “fact sheets” of factories.
Ishwarlal C Sisodia, former chief of Special Intelligence and Vigilance Cell at the BMC and former head of MECR, also a member of the Tinaikar Committee formed after the Bhopal gas tragedy to prepare a Disaster Management Plan, alleged that the Master Control Room in Mumbai was mostly a “call centre” with no coordination.
“The centre is run by security guards and there is no functional expertise there. It has been built in a very vulnerable spot in the basement of the headquarters on a busy street. As per laws, it should be away from the public eye,” said Sisodia, who was instrumental in establishing the Master Control Room.
According to the plan, the civic chief acts as the chief coordinating agent for executing the plan while the police assumes overall co-ordination of the activities of emergency services. The plan also says it is necessary to apprise the people living in the area of the chemical hazard and to give overall control of health management to the health officer in case of a disaster.
Sisodia said Mumbai’s approximately 900 industries, authorised and unauthorised, were involved in the manufacture, processing or storage of hazardous goods. Many of these storage rooms are located in close proximity to residential areas, thereby increasing the risk of fire and chemical explosions. A Disaster Management Handbook Sisodia wrote lists the preventive measures to be taken in areas of clustered chemical operating units.
In spite of his writing letters to the municipal commissioner over the years, citing the dysfunction of the systems proposed, there was no action taken by the civic body. “The problem is nobody wants to take any action. They are sitting on recommendations laid out by the National Disaster Management Authority guidelines,” he added.