Utter disregard for safety seems to be in our DNA. We wear safety helmets and seat belts only to escape the gaze of the traffic cop, we are not afraid to work at great heights without proper harnesses, we carry out electrical repairs on live wires without wearing the right insulated protection, we go down sewers with no breathing apparatus, without even giving it a second thought. Are we brave or are we simply stupid not to value our own lives? If we treat our lives cheaply, others will not value them any more! And, it takes many to die before the gravest of the issues get flagged.
Hundreds of thousands of commuters would have felt the Elphinstone bridge in Mumbai to be unsafe every day at peak hours, when they used it to cross over, but that did not compel them to raise their concerns, as moving along in pursuit of a livelihood was more important than stopping and doing something about it. Those, whose job it was to ensure commuter safety knew about the problem, but chose to either do nothing or to pass on the buck in the form of a ‘project upgradation file’ that probably only kept moving from one desk to another. This continued till a tragedy took place on September 29, 2017, on the overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations, when 23 people died and scores were injured in a stampede. Then the entire nation was woken up by a screaming media and politicians from the opposition howling about safety issues! Why is it that many have to die in our nation before we train our guns on aspects that, if handled routinely with common sense and substantiated with researched data, could avert similar mishaps? In this case, it was a known fact that the bridge was six decades old and when it was built it was designed to handle a certain volume of pedestrian traffic, but over the years the growing population and the commercialisation of that area attracted lakhs of office workers to use this bridge every day. Why did someone not realise the inadequacy of the bridge before people died? Such avoidable man-made disasters make us unique!
Far away in Las Vegas, a predictable tragedy occurred on October 1, when a lone gunman, perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, strafed the crowds gathered below for a music concert with automatic gunfire to claim 58 lives and wound another 546. The United States, with its liberal gun laws gives people easy access to deadly firearms. Stephen Paddock was found to have methodically ferried in weapons concealed in luggage until he had amassed 23 guns, including several rifles with high-capacity magazines, and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his hotel suite. If the hotel had a diligent procedure of X-raying all guest luggage, the unusual would have been discovered.
Undoubtedly, this scenario would have been imagined by someone, somewhere, but was not taken seriously by people who held the responsibility and the authority to do something about it, just as 9/11 was predicted by Rick Rescorla, the Chief Security Officer of Morgan Stanley, a man who saved 2700 lives that fateful day. He had predicted the risk that tall iconic buildings attracted from airplanes crashing into them, but the authorities did not take him seriously!
I am sure authorities in the US and elsewhere in the world are now busy mapping venues where people in large numbers gather, for rallies and protests, open air music concerts, and sporting events, that are bounded by tall buildings, so as not to have a repeat of the Vegas incident. On that note, I must confess that what looked to me an overkill and an unnecessary task till now, has become very relevant. Yes, I am referring to the shutting down and evacuation of all offices in high rise buildings in the Connaught Place area of New Delhi and other nearby areas a day before the Republic Day parade is to pass below them. Delhi Police even place snipers on top of these buildings to thwart any untoward happening. Security, it is said, is inconvenient and comes at a considerable price, as security forces have to be lucky all the time, whereas, the enemy only once!
Cheers, Stay Safe and Keep Others Safe. Happy Reading.
G B Singh
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