Sunday, 24 June 2012

Gearing up for Safe Buildings and Safe Schools

The recent spate of natural disasters along with the large number of man-made disasters and terrorist strikes have made it mandatory for schools all over the country to adopt safety norms in order to prevent injury and harm to students. A few years back, Chechen terrorists struck at a school in Beslan in what became known as the Beslan School Massacre incident, held hostage students and some staff members who had just returned to school after the vacations. The incident ended with casualties after a rescue attempt by the Paramilitary forces. The St.Columbine school incident in the United States is still etched in the minds of many. In yet another incident, a student shot dead a bully with his father’s revolver in a school in Gurgaon. The question remains that while it might not be able to do a body-search of students, perhaps something could have been done to prevent outsiders from entering the Beslan school by perhaps installing metal detectors and perhaps alert security. The use of CCTV Cameras could perhaps alerted security staff preventing the St.Columbine incident. The recent incident in which terrorists attacked a school in Peshawar, killing many innocent students in Pakistan in the month of December, 2014 is a strong case for the need to secure schools buildings. It seems that besides considering natural calamities, the man-made calamity of terrorism needs to be addressed in very strong terms!
The  Tsunamis that struck the coast of Indonesia and Japan caused great loss to life and property. Earthquakes, landslides are more common to us in India. Out breaks of fires in important building have known to take place especially during summers. In the Uphar Cinema Hall tragedy in Delhi, a large number of cinema viewers panicked and were trampled by others or trampled others in their haste to reach the exit. In most of these cases the number of causalities could have been considerably less if there had been orderly evacuation, exits had been clearly marked, although the smoke would have clearly obscured the signs. It is clear, therefore that schools also should learn lessons from these incidents and adopt safety norms in the following order:
  1. There should be proper security personnel at the main gates and metal detectors should be installed along with a visitor’s book.
  2. Exit/egress points should be properly indicated. If the school building has more than one floor, then there should be a floor plan on every floor.
  3. Bottlenecks should be avoided at any cost, passages, corridors should be spacious, and most important of all, the building itself should have enough spacious  egress points so that students can be evacuated to the play-ground as quickly as possible.
  4. Schools with multi-storied buildings should also have multiple stair cases and ramps. Where there is only one staircase, it might become jammed in an eventuality and might even become a bottleneck.
  5. It goes without saying that schools should have an adequate number of Fire-Extinguishers and sand buckets placed at strategic points. Schools with multi-storied buildings should also have sprinklers and fire-hoses attached to dedicated water tanks.
  6. Buildings built in the shape of a square or a triangle with a central courtyard should have enough wide passages to allow fire engines and ambulances to enter the inner court-yard. Unfortunately, in the event of an earthquake, a whiplash movement could cause one or more of the sides of the building to fall into the inner courtyard blocking exit routes towards the play-ground.
  7. It makes good sense for schools to have a well-equipped dispensary and a qualified nurse.
  8. Play-grounds should be kept free from debris, construction material, and any other obstructions that might cause injuries.
  9. Regular safety drills are an important part of Disaster Management and all responsible school administrators should ensure that students and staff take part in safety drills, and training workshops.
  10. Over-crowding in any form is known to create its own set of problems. This can be seen in overcrowding of school buses, school vans, classrooms and corridors. The  tragedy that took place in Ambala in 2011, when an overloaded van turned turtle is a lesson for us. Overcrowding in any form should be avoided by all means!
  11. Excess use of plate glass in partitions can be both advantageous as well as disadvantageous. The advantage is that they might be easily broken, but on the flip-side is the fact that many more people are injured by shards of glass from shattering window panes in an earth-quake than from other falling objects!
    12. The advent of terrorism has meant that there should be well equipped and trained guards at the main
          entry and exit points in all schools.
    13. The formation of a central emergency response team in schools is a must.
    14. A chief security officer should be appointed, who will then appoint a committee from within the staff.
    15. It goes without saying that that teachers too need to be trained to tackle eventualities arising from
         terrorist strikes.
    16.While fire drills and earthquake drills are a must, the 'Lock Down' drill prepares students and teachers
         for eventualities arising out of terrorist attacks.

The C.B.S.E. has made an appreciable effort in taking out textbooks on Disaster Management Titled: Together Towards a Safer India. A brief look at the textbook for class ten of the C.B.S.E. shows that it is full of important information. The CENBOSEC Quarterly  Bulletin of The C.B.S.E.  Vol.48, April-June 2009 expresses a concern about safety in schools. Vineet Joshi, The   Chariman/Secretary of the C.B.C.E. says in his opening words,  ‘ “Prevention is better than cure’ is an adage that is oft repeated but seldom practiced.Increasingly the need for safe schools is becoming self evident.” ‘

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