12:28 AM, May 01, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:22 AM, May 01, 2013

Rescue Operations

Equipment inadequate

Experts' suggestion for procurement ignored

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Tawfique Ali

The country lacks equipment and expertise required to conduct search and rescue operations in the event of massive buildings collapsing, experts say.
Despite experts' recommendations eight years ago, equipment like ground-penetrating radars (GPR), fiber-optic cameras and remote visual inspection devices -- crucial to saving the lives of those trapped in rubble – have not been procured yet.
The GPR is a remote sensing device that helps to locate the presence of a survivor stuck in the wreckage of a collapsed building. The camera captures images from inside the wreckage and helps make plans for an effective rescue operation.
These were badly needed during the search and rescue operations in the nine-storey Rana Plaza that collapsed on April 24, killing at least 388 garment workers and injuring scores.
Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury, a noted civil engineer who headed the search and rescue equipment selection committee, submitted the list of equipment to the then government in 2005.
It took the government five years to approve a Tk 69 crore scheme, procure the equipment, and hand over the equipment to Fire Service and Civil Defence, said Mohammad Abdul Wazed, director general of the Department of Disaster Management.
Multiple cutters, concrete cutters, power chain saws, rescue saws, air compressors, electric demolition hammers, portable electric generators, ladders, breathing apparatus, megaphones, airbags, search cameras, hydraulic jacks (used to expand the gap between two sandwiched floors), knee pads, lock cutters, safety vests and flash lights are among the equipment procured so far.
As to lack of some vital equipment, he said out of five contractors, one -- M/s Sohel Enterprise -- did not supply the equipment yet. The High Court ordered the supplier to deliver the goods by April 30, yesterday.
It, however, did not comply with the court order till yesterday, said the DG.
Wazed said they also handed over six high-power cranes and some other heavy equipment to the Armed Forces Division.
However, the rescuers were using three heavy cranes hired from private firms to remove huge concrete slabs at the Rana Plaza collapse site, he alleged.
Yesterday, the Planning Commission approved a Tk 260 crore second-phase scheme to procure mostly similar equipment.
Search and rescue operations in the case of a big structural collapse requires extensive training, knowledge, and an adequate number of equipment, which are not yet available in the country, he said.
Abu Sadeque, secretary general of Bangladesh Earthquake Society, said those equipment were not seen being used during search and rescue operations in Rana Plaza.
Refuting the allegation, Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Department, said the equipment was used to remove the debris from the collapsed building. But they would be extremely inadequate in the case of multiple collapses at a time.
Prof Mujibur Rahman, who teaches civil engineering at Buet, said mostly untrained local voluntary rescuers along with a few firemen took the risk of rescuing the trapped victims inside the crumbled Rana Plaza.
Though only professional rescuers were supposed to carry out such risky operations, one could not ignore the lesson learnt from the Rana Plaza rescue operations, he added.
According to a report of the UNDP-funded Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, some 72,000 buildings may collapse in Dhaka city in an earthquake of VII to VIII intensity scale (extent of jolt), as happened in 1897.

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