GUWAHATI, Sept 19 – What is common to many schools, colleges and apartment blocks in Assam? The answer is a conspicuous absence of earthquake drills, considered by experts as a life-saving exercise, when buildings face severe tremor and cave in.
Although much of the State lies in a seismic zone, the flouting of building codes, ageing structures and ill-prepared public have all combined to create deathtraps in cities and smaller areas.
A teacher in an elite school here told The Assam Tribune that she has never taken part in any evacuation drill during her service period. “We don’t know which routes are best to come out of the classroom or where we should assemble for a headcount,” she said.
In Guwahati alone, there are dozens of schools functioning in old or dilapidated buildings where students face grave risks if a major earthquake strikes.
When contacted, sources in Cotton College confirmed that no earthquake drill or evacuation training has taken place on its premises for a long time. This comes as a surprise because the institution has a number of buildings which are old and have shown signs of wear and tear. College principal Prof IK Bhattacharyya, when contacted, said, “We need to have management plans which can save lives.”
Schools where vulnerable young people spend long hours with fewer adults should have regular earthquake and fire safety drills. Executive director of Don Bosco Institute, VM Thomas highlighted this and added that such exercises should take place in schools once or twice every year.
“It is urgent that mock drills take place in schools as in their absence, students are likely to panic,” he remarked.
Dr MM Deka, principal and Chief Superintendent of Gauhati Medical College Hospital, stated that there has not been a drill in recent times. But he added that people have been trained to tackle a disaster situation.
Some experts have pointed out that the hospital is not well designed, and it would be difficult to carry out evacuation because of its layout and pattern of patient accommodation.