Security officials gather as emergency and rescue personnel tend to volunteer victims at Karkarduma metro station platform during a mock drill conducted by the Delhi Police and Delhi metro authorities in New Delhi. HT Photo/Sonu Mehta
By Brigitte Leoni
BANGKOK, 16 February 2012 - More than 40,000 people took part in a mass earthquake drill in Delhi yesterday to check the alertness and preparedness of the 16.7 million people living in the Indian capital in the event of a high intensity earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale.
Experts have long questioned Delhi's ability to withstand a major earthquake due to lack of safety standards, illegal buildings and poor enforcement of building codes despite its classification as a high-risk seismic zone, ranking four on a five-point scale by the US Geological Survey.
The head of the UN's Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, welcomed the initiative by the National Disaster Management Authority and the Delhi Disaster Management Authority which was the culmination of the country's first-ever State-wide earthquake preparedness exercise which got underway last December.
"I encourage all high risk seismic cities to follow the example of Delhi and to be better prepared against any catastrophic event. Mock drills are a good opportunity to identify gaps in preparedness planning. More than 370 million people live in earthquake-prone cities around the world and there are mass casualties on a regular basis from earthquakes," she said.
Delhi Chief Minister, Ms. Sheila Dikshit, said: "It was perhaps the biggest exercise ever organized in the country to check disaster preparedness. It involved 15,000 officials of various departments and agencies."
The exercise was conducted across 218 government and 24 private schools, 31 colleges, 11 government and 11 private hospitals, four cinemas, 19 resident welfare associations, 13 government office buildings, eight markets, and two petrol pumps. A total of 276 "deaths" were enacted; around 828 people were assumed to have suffered major injuries, and 1,897 people with minor injuries.
The two-hour disaster simulation brought together the police, fire officers, ambulances and volunteers. Six metro stations were closed for over half-an-hour and road traffic in many areas in Central, South and North Delhi was diverted as part of the exercise, causing huge traffic interruption.
The Delhi government estimates that nine out of every 10 buildings in the city are at risk of moderate or significant quake damage. Every year, tens of thousands of housing units are built without any earthquake safety checks.
Secretary of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, Vijay Dev, said more than 300,000 SMS messages had been sent out over the last week to sensitise the public and ensure their participation in yesterday's exercise.
He told reporters: "The exercise was also publicized with the help of FM channels and the media. I will not say there was zero public participation but the turnout was less than expected. However, this is just the beginning." There were 300 Army observers present during the exercise and they are drawing up a report on the exercise.
The Times of India passed the following verdict on the exercise: "The mega mock drill was an excellent idea. However, its execution has shown that the national capital is far from being in good shape in terms of disaster preparedness. The worst way for the government to react to this would be to get defensive about the many lacunae. After all, apart from raising awareness, an important role such an event serves is to bring the shortcomings to our notice.
"As for citizens, it is apparent now that most of us couldn't be bothered to participate in something of this nature. That is an unfortunate attitude. If and when calamity strikes, we will need both citizens and authorities working in unison to minimize the damage. It is best to be prepared in time."
16 Feb 2012
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific (UNISDR AP)