Lessons to be Learned on Urban Indian Rescue Operations Share and be aware, educated, and knowledgeable citizens. 0-72 hours is critical in any rescue operation; 99% disaster aftermath casualties occur during these hours. The massive floods in Chennai, brought around the reality of disasters in dense Indian urban grids, and the lessons we must learn. This article is technical in nature and does not endorse, support, oppose, nor criticize any political views - nor is this an expose of any strengths and weaknesses of our disaster response frameworks or a release of any classified military information. The seven (7) lessons: 1 - Rescue Operation Bases must be Distributed, not Centralized. The drainage structure of Chennai, with the rivers overflowing effectively create three discriminate land bodies, and impossible to navigate by any land based transportation systems. Moving resources between these water locked land bodies required massive air and amphibious operations 2 - Coastal Deployment of Rescue Operations may be the Least Practical. Moving resources from the mouth of a river basin (like Adyar river) to any operational area (like the Chennai airport) was herculean considering heavy the flow of the river and the debris. Several hundreds of small sized rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) were damaged in such upstream operations due to collision with debris, endangering lives of hundreds of rescue operatives. 3 - Common Sense solutions have Practical Difficulties. Boats used for fishing cannot be easily deployed deep inland for rescue because 99% of them do not have trailer mechanisms for upcountry deployments. 4 - Redundancy of Facilities is Key. Its not just the Chennai International Airport that was inundated. The Tambaram Air Force station 15 kilometers south suffered the same fate. This limited air support for the entire city, for several hours. 5 - 24/7 Operational Capability has to be tested through Simulations. Despite wartime drainage efforts at the Tambaram Air Force Station, majority helicopters at this airbase are not equipped for night time operations. Many of the Mil Mi17 helicopters that run rescue sorties had to deployed from Yelahanka Air Force Station (Bangalore) 300 km east of Chennai. This although a one hour flight has impracticalities as the fuel range of Mi17 is less than 500 km. Even if the forward operating base is setup in INS Rajali (Naval Air Station at Arakkonam, 70Km east of Chennai) refueling and logistics capabilities for continuous operations have to be built through joint simulation operations between land, air and naval rescue operatives. 6 - Rescue Vessels must be Distributed Locally in Urban Areas. Boats (rigid hull inflatable boats) that have to be deployed into each of Chennai’s water locked land bodies have to be flown from distant bases into INS Rajali using transport aircrafts such as the Lockheed Martin C-130s. It is close to impossible to deploy small rescue vessels from INS Adyar (middle of Chennai city) into any rescue areas, if Chennai urban area is draining into the bay of bengal. 7 - Amphibious operations in a Disaster Zone is not the same as in a War Zone. Our armed forces have amphibious vehicles. However, operating amphibious capabilities in an urban disaster area (just like in a war zone) is challenging due to possibility of collateral damage to life and property in densely populated areas. After all, its not pleasant to watch or withstand a column of army cavalry (tanks and ATVs with amphibious capabilities) pass through your neighborhood - be it during a disaster simulation or actual disaster’s aftermath. The following article was authored by Anoop Madhavan, a tactical operations expert on various international disaster rescue missions of varying complexity. He is the founder of Survival Instincts, a registered NGO working on various safety initiatives. Survival Instincts is India’s first and only authorized provider of American National Red Cross health and safety programs. Survival Instincts’ extensive background in safety and emergency management stems from several years of experience working for the US Government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief programs along with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Survival Instincts has provided disaster / emergency training for various units of National Security Guards (Black Cats), Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, Central Paramilitary forces, Officers Training Academy, TN State Police Commando Units, British Deputy High Commission, Russian Diplomatic Missions, National Cadet Corps, Indian Red Cross, and all major manufacturers, industries and corporate houses.
Urban Indian rescue operations can teach us many lessons. Firstly, it is important to share information about the situation with those who may be able to help or provide support in some way. Secondly, citizens must remain aware and educated on how best they can respond if such an event were ever to occur again. Thirdly, time is of the essence 72 hours are critical for any successful rescue operation so fast action needs to be taken when needed most. Finally, having a plan ready before hand will ensure that everyone knows what their role entails during this difficult period and allows resources available at our disposal for optimum efficiency use..
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