In the months before the rains hit Mumbai, the city’s planning and disaster response agencies trained 250 locals to become first responders in the event of anticipated disasters. This group of BMC security guards became the City Disaster Response Force (CDRF) and were stationed in each of Mumbai’s 24 wards, forming the backbone of the city’s disaster response during the monsoon season.
Looking back at yet another year capped by multiple disasters and accidents, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has noted a marked improvement in its preparations this time around. Before a crucial pre-monsoon meeting of all agencies at Mantralaya each year, the NDRF was armed with data that would help pre-empt adverse situations.
“Over the summer, we carried out a survey with the BMC of critical water-logging and flooding spots and areas prone to landslides,” said Anupam Shrivastav, Commandant, 5th Battalion, NDRF.
The CDRF was accordingly split up and deployed across the city. “In our surveys we found a total of 284 flood-prone spots, of which the most were located in the L ward (Kurla West). The maximum number of dilapidated structures were also found in the same ward. So we deployed the CDRF there keeping those factors in mind,” said NDRF Assistant Commandant Ashish Kumar.
According to the NDRF, the BMC’s water management was also better this year, with rapid communication ensuring that assistance was rushed to areas that went under water. “We had a team specially stationed for two months in Parel because that is a critical and vulnerable area,” added Kumar.
While Mumbai did witness its annual share of water-logging of low lying areas, the NDRF says that reaching help to distressed areas was easier as a result of knowing what to be expect. “We knew all the high tide and timings beforehand and we were especially alert on those days. Apart from monitoring water-logging from the BMC’s central control room, we were also keeping a watch on CCTV cameras at its backup control room in Parel. In addition, the CDRF, who are all locals, kept relaying information,” said Kumar.
“When people see the NDRF on a site they fear that something very serious has happened when in fact the local authorities have the situation under their control. We stayed back on several occasions because our presence wasn’t always required,” explained Shrivastav.
While the NDRF was able to swiftly get to sites of disaster incidentally located closeby like the pedestrian bridge that collapsed on a rainy July morning at Andheri station, it relied on a green corridor provided by the Mumbai Traffic Police to rush to other sites. “When there was a landslide in the parking lot in Wadala, we reached there from Andheri in forty minutes and didn’t once have to stop on the way. The police’s green corridor was that efficient,” recalled Kumar.
During last week’s collapse of an under-construction building in Goregaon, the CDRF were the first responders, evacuating the injured to hospitals in a safe manner within the golden hour. “We came into the picture to rescue those who were trapped in the debris but with the assistance of other agencies we were able to call off the operation in three hours and leave the site at 1.30 pm,” said Kumar.
Shrivastav expressed satisfaction at the improved inter-agency co-ordination all through the year. “We cannot predict when and where a disaster will take place. All we can do is to save as many lives as possible and minimise casualties,” he said.
Apart from the Andheri bridge collapse, Shrivastav also singled out the rescue of passengers stranded onboard the Baroda Express in Virar in July as a challenging operation. “So much rainwater had filled the tracks that the ground wasn’t visible. The station platform was also far away. In that situation, no one wanted to take the risk of alighting and walking. It is only when we deployed boats and pulled passengers out of the train that they got some confidence. When they saw us walking in the water, they were sure that nothing would happen,” added Kumar. Close to 1,500 passengers were safely evacuated that day.
On the medical front, the triage, a system to give medical assistance to most critically injured first, has improved over the years.
In the Kamala Mills fire mishap last year, all bodies came in late at night. “Earlier, the initial concentration was on medical treatment of the injured and later forensic experts would be called in for the dead. This time, the response was equally quick for the deceased and survivors. By morning, all 14 post-mortems were complete,” said Dr Harish Pathak, head of the forensic department at KEM Hospital.
In addition, the Maharashtra Emergency Medical System introduced motorbike ambulances two years ago for swift transport of the injured to hospitals. In addition, it has 937 ambulances, of which 233 are advanced life support ones with specialised cardiac facilities. Dr Dnyaneshwar Shelke, Chief Operating Officer, MEMS, said, “During the fire at ESIC Hospital, it took seven minutes for the first ambulance to reach. The response time has significantly reduced.”
The coordination between BMC Disaster Management Cell and ambulance operations is more synchronised than it was previously, he added.