Is Pakistan ready for mock drills in malls and hospitals?
Imagine you are a cardiac patient lying on a hospital bed, waiting for a specialist to decide whether you are fit enough to undergo triple bypass surgery. All of a sudden there’s commotion and you see people running around and someone shouts,
“Bomb, bomb! Run outside!”
There is pandemonium everywhere. You see patients being taken away by hospital attendants, and you almost have a heart attack, waiting for someone to carry you to safety. You pass out and when you come back to your senses, you find out it was just a mock drill, carried out by “experts” to find out how the hospital staff would respond in an emergency situation.
Such a mock drill was conducted at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital last week. Twelve people were injured during the drill, and according to hospital staff, it was a miracle that no patient died of shock. Those who were responsible for the drill claimed that it was necessary, but they forgot to take into account that our hospital staff members are almost always overworked and underpaid and in most cases, not sufficiently trained to handle emergencies. There should, in fact, be training institutions for such people.
Another mock drill was held at a large shopping mall in Karachi. After the drill, rumours about a terrorist incident were rampant, until the Ocean Mall management repeatedly took to social media to reassure customers that it was safe to visit the mall. This drill could have also caused many injuries if not deaths.
I have been in panic situations before, once during Hajj and the other when an earthquake struck Karachi. The Hajj incident resulted in a stampede with several pilgrims being killed, whereas during the earthquake, I was almost killed by flustered residents pushing me as I hurried down the stairs carrying one child and holding the hand of another. In a mock drill, when panic-stricken men and women rush towards the exits, the chances of deaths occurring are very high. For this reason alone, it does not make sense to hold mock drills (at least in hospitals and malls).
Mock drills are also held throughout the world, particularly to train school children and teachers to remain calm in the event of a fire or other emergencies. But there is a difference between school children and hospital patients, and a fire drill and ‘bomb drill’. Most children tend to remain calm and quiet during the drill, unlike hospital patients, some of whom could likely die of shock.
Considering that there have been accidental deaths during mock drills in other countries, is it advisable to have such drills in Pakistan, especially in hospitals and malls? In India, a 22-year-old woman died during a fire drill at a factory. She panicked and hurriedly slid down using a rope which broke, resulting in her falling to her death. Furthermore, a senior police officer in Kerala was killed during a mock drill in 2011.
I do not mean to imply that mock drills are entirely useless. These drills (also known as disaster drills) allow people to physically rehearse what will happen when disaster strikes. They will therefore not be stunned when an actual disaster does take place. Moreover, they will be able to spring into action immediately and take necessary precautions.
The most important benefit of these drills is to determine whether the emergency equipment actually works and if even beneficial or not. In our country, there are a few to zero regulatory bodies that monitor and keep a check on safety measures being followed by hotels, hospitals, malls, restaurants, or other public places; case in point, the recent fire at The Regent Plaza, where exits were non-functional, fire alarm systems were out of order and the hotel management was completely unaware of any fire emergency drills. Reinstating my point, mock drills would allow managers to create new safety procedures and incorporate said procedures or changes into their emergency programs accordingly.
That being said, in a highly illiterate society such as ours, the time is not yet ripe to hold regular mock drills in hospitals and shopping malls.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.