All grasshoppers, no ants

Last week witnessed a very sad incident when a fire devastated 4 floors of the Mantralaya, with around half a dozen people and countless documents succumbing to it. A section of the office of the Home Ministry also went up in flames, just a couple of days after this incident.A newspaper reports revealed that another iconic building of the BMC is already sitting on a fire bomb.  There could be many other establishments , which GOD forbid, may meet with the same fate sooner or later. HereI don’t wish to focus on sabotage theories surrounding us at the moment, but more on our preparedness for such disasters or infact lack of it.

Every organisation has in place policies , guidelines for action in case of any unforeseen incident strikes. However, in most of them, it is merely on paper and at maximum is just included in induction programs. “Mock” drills are nothing more than a mockery. They are generally conducted on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings as the output & motivation levels  at these times are anyway less. In addition people once having once reached downstairs take their own sweet time to finish off their roadside tea, snacks, smoking a cigarette and go back to their desks to resume work. So, productivity loss resulting from such a drill exercise is minimized. The facts that everyone is well informed about the drill in advance and everyone casually makes it to the ground after the siren is sounded add to the futility of such exercises. The ideal drill is the one in which nobody is informed about the drill in advance and actually is conducted during peak business hours. Employees who take it casually by finishing off the work at hand, cause delay in leaving the desks,use the lifts, taking their own sweet time to come down amidst chit-chat should be taken to task. Care must also be taken to ensure that drills are not treated as shepherd boy’s false alarms.
One such unforgettable , invaluable benefit of regular mock drills lie in the heroics of late Rick Rescorla, security director at Morgan Stanley. See how he saved 2500+ lives in 9/11 tragedyThere is absolutely no harm in having a Rick Rescorla in every organisation so that the loss arising out of any unfortunate events can be minimised.

However, the main point is why do we tend to neglect the need to prepare ourselves against disasters ? There can be many plausible explanations. I will focus on our thinking and perceptions. Such incidents occur once in a blue moon. Say out of 1000 establishments with identified vulnerabilities of different severity, less than 10 actually meet such a fate over a period of say 5 years. Probability of any 1 establishment actually suffering in a single year is thus less than 0.02%. Adding the plausible improbability of any one particular individual being at the wrong place at the wrong time further subtracts the probability of that single individual actually being a victim in a fire or related disasters. Now arise 2 subbranches explaining  why the need for preparedness gets ignored:
1) The feeling, ” I cannot be that unlucky to fall in that unlucky 0.01% category. If I do actually have so much tough luck and actually fall in that 0.01% category, no matter what I do, the fate is registered. ” Complacency is the root cause of our ill preparedness. In normal days, arguably, we do have huge faith, unknown to us, in the Almighty, tend to rely on Him to bail us out and tend to live today to die another day.
2) We always have the tendency to focus on things which need immediate attention and put things not requiring immediate attention &/or having low probabilities of occurrence, at the back of priority list. Experience tells us that people get caught up so much in day to day operational level activities so much so that the things put at the back remain at the back. When they actually decide to come in the forefront, we need to fight fire with fire.

All have studied that presence of mind can go a long way in minimizing damage, be better safe than sorry, etc in our school books. Time to implement it in daily lives. Disaster management course has been made compulsory in some Universities. Need has come to have a comprehensive course providing sufficient practical training to all. Organisations must be communicated to have at least 5-10% of staff fully trained in disaster management skills and every employee having received atleast theoretical disaster management training . Mock drills need to go beyond mockery. Believe me, achieving these targets are not at all a Herculean task. History has told us that many battles have been lost not because of the might of the enemy outside, but because of foolishness and lack of presence of mind from the vanquished. Enemies in the form of natural and man-made disasters don’t seek our appointment while striking. There is definitely a limit to which we can defend ourselves. But by being prepared and applying a little presence of mind can go a long way in defeating the purpose of the enemy. We need to do something ourselves also apart from just relying on the Almighty !

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