Sunday, September 28, 2008

Surviving the crossfire

I spent most of Saturday evening sending out text messages to friends, ranting and railing against the inhuman cowardice of the bombers and the pathetic ineptitude of the government in a bid to vent my frustrations and fears. Come Sunday, my sense of anger and disbelief, perhaps much like yours, had waned to pity and a sense of sympathy that was withering by the hour; by Monday, I was back at my desk, sifting through more ‘regular’ concerns like page lay-outs and lead stories… my life, much like rest of Delhi’s had returned to ‘normal’. The possibility that it could be “me” next time, or “a loved one” is not lost on any of us, but in a nation of fatalists, who has the time to compute probabilities...

And what can one do? Is there a way to stop these terrorists or these bombs from going off? We know that terrorists, whether those burning churches or those planting bombs in the name of God at the hour of ifthaar, represent neither a community nor a faith and are merely serving their own twisted agendas. We know that our politicians don’t give two hoots about what happens to you or me as long as their chairs aren’t rocking. Even their rhetoric has lost fizz (perhaps the attacks are so frequent that their speech writers haven’t had the time to innovate). We know our security agencies have been desperately understaffed for more than a decade (an intelligence report had assessed that the Intelligence Bureau needs ten times its current strength in terms of personnel if it is to meet the nation’s needs. Of the 3,000 posts that should’ve been filled up since 2001, merely a thousand have so far been sanctioned.

On the other hand, against the international norm of a minimum of 250 policemen per 100, 000 citizens, with many countries investing in twice that number, India, across states ranges between 25-100 policemen per 100,000 citizens). So can we do more than just hope and pray before the blasts and follow up with tears and empty rhetoric? This time, I was bothered enough to find out, and therefore, sought out a security consultant who has been training security forces for years and has had training experience in red-flag battle zones in the Middle-East. We’ll know him as VK.

“We’re a nation under siege and we refuse to recognise that”, said the hulking giant, who reminded me of a comic book character called Juggernaut, who could walk unscathed through walls and explosions. VK looked every inch the kind of man you’d want on your side when ‘under seige’. A shaven head, a nose reshaped by flying shrapnel, meaty arms adorned by burns and scars, and quick, intelligent eyes that didn’t miss a thing, VK had been through enough mayhem around the world to know how to get out alive. “You wonder why terrorists had to plan the strike of the century to hurt the United States and without an encore, in spite of the US being on the radar of nearly every jehadi outfit in the world, while Indian cities seem to get bombed at will? Well there’s obviously a difference in levels of surveillance technology available, but most of all there is a difference in the levels of commitment and application at all levels of the security set-up. Don’t waste time thinking about it though because there’s nothing we can do about it. In that sense we’re not a nation but individuals, practically on our own.”

I asked him about his time in Israel… “There’s a lot we can learn from others, be they friends or enemies. And Israel can teach us a lot. They might seem heavy handed but no one attacks them with impunity and hopes to get away with it. Every Israeli, even a child, is aware that there are threats in their environment and they’re trained to identify and react accordingly. For instance, if the 12 year old balloon seller had been trained like his Israeli counter parts, he would’ve alerted relevant agencies well before the explosions and a tragedy could’ve been averted. The success of the ‘Eyes and Ears’ programme of the Delhi Police which led to two of the bombs being diffused and the security drill in a market-place are steps in the right direction but it can’t just stop at training rag pickers and traders. This programme has to extend to you and me, to schools, offices and colleges, to housing complexes and welfare associations. Bombs don’t discriminate between class, age or creed. A community civilian defence programme that prepares us for appropriate and prompt reactions is important because not only would it remind us not to settle into a false sense of short-lived normalcy and complacency but also builds a sense of unity of purpose which is essential in such times.”

Finally, I asked VK if there was anything one could do to survive an explosion in one’s vicinity. He nodded, “Duck! Hit the floor on your stomach, head down, ears covered; cross your ankles, clench your buttocks and close your anus.” I was a little intrigued by the last bit. “Pressurised air can enter any open orifice and rip the body apart…so close all orifices and lie low”, he explained (see slip stream for other precautions).

VK left with a parting shot. “The terrorists are one of us. And we’ve gone wrong somewhere… we need to rebuild… the rest are all temporary measures”. I couldn’t agree more. Maybe we could start undoing some of our wrongs as part of the silent moderate majority, across faiths, by insisting, forcefully if necessary, that those who assume our representation have to stop pretending to win people’s souls by burning their bodies, be it Orissa, Ayodhya, Ahmedabad or Delhi.

The slip stream

Prepare for the worst

It’s a sad but true fact of our modern lives that we’re increasingly likely to be directly affected by a bomb blast. With terrorist activities growing everyday and bombs being planted in crowded markets, it’s wise and prudent to at least know basic do’s and don’ts and be prepared for the day (may it never come)... just in case...

Ok, first things first, remain calm. Too often a stampede breaks out immediately after a bomb blast (caused by people panicking), resulting in more deaths than caused by the actual blast. Secondly, take cover under something sturdy, like a table or a low ledge to protect yourself from any follow up explosions. Thirdly, make sure that you’re safely away from anything that could fall on you, like electric poles, fans, glass, etc.

And lastly, remain where you are and wait for evacuation for there could be more bombs planted in the exit routes (a favourite terrorist trick) but this rule doesn’t apply if the explosion has caused a fire or some other hazard which threatens your life (naturally). Follow these rules and it’s a guarantee that you will have more than an average chance of making it through your worst nightmare, alive.


1 comment:

  1. my blog on strategy for homeland security.