Let's learn a lesson or two | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 12, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 12, 2007

Let's learn a lesson or two


One the evening the Phoenix factory building fell in a heap at its Tejgaon premises, it was 25th February 2006, a private television channel hastily scooped me to the place of occurrence for an on-site comment. While rescuers searched frantically for survivors and demolishing equipment brought down what remained of the buckled building behind me, standing on a pile of rubble I looked at the flickering red light of the video camera and remarked (a) that there could possibly be several more such buildings awaiting a similar fate in that very vicinity and beyond, (b) that all building owners factory, office, school, hospital, residence, hostel, entertainment should immediately inspect their respective buildings to determine any possible risk due to ageing, structural indiscipline, misuse and lack of maintenance, (c) that efforts should be undertaken to rectify any error that could be hazardous to life and property. Amidst the eerie din I remember having to shout no one heard my voice.
It is our inherent national character to make hue and cry when a catastrophe strikes, drown the situation with all our emotions for the following couple of days, commit some financial compensation (as if life can be compensated) to the family of victims, some building/factory owners pay only a fraction of it, and then forget about the whole thing, loss of life and all. No lesson is ever learnt.
In many ways, we always await a disaster, little knowing that many of them can be avoided by careful planning and methodical attack. We are that shabbily aware. Every accident, each collapse demands a thorough inquiry and a follow-up such that there is no repetition by intent or inadvertence. There should be wide publicity of the causes leading to a mishap, so that lessons can be learnt.
The recurring failure of buildings in the recent past Sakhari Bazaar (June 9, 2004; 19 dead), Spectrum factory, Phoenix factory calls for building up a specialised force of emergency medical technicians (EMT) as well as services (EMS) to tackle future catastrophes. Clark Staten in the second part of his article today on building collapse rescue continues to explain how.
This week we also feature the second and concluding part of the investigation report on the Savar Spectrum sweater factory failure prepared by an Institute of Engineers Bangladesh (IEB) expert team led by BUET Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. A.M.M. Safiullah.
Let every fallen building be a source of learning for every owner, architect, engineer, builder and authorising officer. For when a building fails, when lives are lost, when property is reduced to dust, none involved in the building, can rest in peace ever after.
The author is Professor, Dept of Architecture, BUET and Consultant to the Editor on Urban Issues.

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