Lessons # Chennai floods
I was brought up on the banks of the Adyar river, and some water logging is not a harrowing experience for me – flash floods ensured that there was 4 feet of water inside the house. This was thirty years ago, and my parents took it as part of a normal routine and cleaned up the mess.
I have moved out of the house subsequently, but my parents and brother have continued living in the same house in Ekaduthangal, Chennai. None of our family members took the continuous rains and water logging seriously, and when I received a call from my brother on Dec 2, 2015 that the water levels were rising dangerously, I was worried. Before they could even collect the important documents or papers, the water levels rose and they had to rush to the first floor to save themselves. The water had immersed their cars, and reached the roof of the ground floor.
The quantum of the rain seemed the same, but the water levels rose higher – was it because of narrowing of water bodies, or was it because of any climate change?
Social media and digital media were used so extensively subsequently for the relief work – but why was it not used to make warning announcements at least an hour earlier. If the families were given some warning by various agencies, they might have had the option of moving out to safety on their hands. They would have made some preparations – instead the information came in at 11 pm along with the water. And nobody had an idea as to the quantum and the extent of damage. Digital technology could have been used to predict the extent of damage and give some indicative data. But lack of the same caused mental and physical harassment to the affected families and their near and dear living far away from them – when communication channels broke down, the mental stress was indescribable.
Many of the affected families who had moved to the higher floors did not have power or communication, and their most pressing worry was if the water levels would rise further and cause more havoc. They had no idea if they were safe or not. When the mobile towers could not function due to water logging at the generator levels, all communication went zilch.
I could reach my parents’ place via motorbike and then a boat on December 3, 2015, and good friends helped me to bring my parents and brother’s family out of the waters to a safer place. There was no immediate transport available at the point, and I had to make my people sit on the platform while I scouted for some kind of transportation. Policemen were overwhelmed with so many things to take care, and the auto rickshaws were driving good bargains for shorter distances. I understood that my brother did a good thing to wait for me to arrive, or he would have had no clue as to how to take my parents to safety once they were dropped off the boat. It was safer to be on the top floor rather than coming to one safety point and searching for alternates to reach relatives homes. I found a share auto finally and took my people to the comfort zone.
I not only brought my parents to safety, but also had to move around the city and its peripheries to find out the well being of my friends’ parents and relatives; everyone was worried.
This entire exercise taught me a few things:
One of the first learning was that it is better to move out on two wheelers rather than sedans during a flood. Mechanical vehicles are better than electronic vehicles while driving .
I also understood that we had moved away from living closer to nature, and had not learnt the skill of surviving along with nature. Our landmarks are high-rise buildings, and we do not appreciate rivers, lakes, water bodies and gardens.
We enroll our children in dancing, skating, and other classes – and swimming is not a popular option amidst many of us. The skills most of us are equipped with are driving, using gadgets, and learning technology. We have moved away from our basics – the fundamentals of life.
Thinking back, I think some of the practices that were prevalent in the 70s and 80s have to be brought back. We need to be in touch with reality and not get carried away with virtual reality.
- Scouts and Guides in schools should be made compulsory till 8th This will help children to learn basic life skills and first aid.
- NCC should be minimum 2 years as part of curriculum – this provides essential exercise and toughens the child to cope with situations.
- Local command centers should become operational as soon as disaster strikes. First of all that should be in place. Community teams should be encouraged and disaster SOP should be in place for each of the community.
- Community phones to be grouped depending on where they live. It is a technology solution.
- The areas close rivers can have boats place in strategic locations.
- We can have a once in a quarter training given to groups of people in one locality – and the mock drills will promote community feeling and help in the event of a mishap.
- Awareness of the risks entailed in the community should be made aware to all living in the community, and the list of actions to be taken could be listed.
We human beings forget very soon, and it is imperative to build in a system before we forget the harrowing experience we have been through. Chennai came together and worked together in the past two weeks – why cant we make it a regular affair and promote community feeling and oneness. And by community, I mean people living in one locality (or) area. JJJ