By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
The students, teachers, engineers and experts from different walks of life gathered to design cost-effective and locally-relevant solutions to enhance the ability of schools to manage natural and man-made disasters, during a three-day hackathon at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development.
Unfortunately, such one-off events can have a disproportionate, and often catastrophic, impact on a school’s operations and stakeholders. That’s why emergency response trainings, safety drills and other means of ensuring emergency preparedness need to be a regular part of a school’s strategic planning and processes, the speakers pointed out.
The experts added that mitigation measures were often taken in the aftermath of disasters as they called on schools to adopt a forward-thinking approach that considered all possible risks in their environment as well as the processes needed to effectively manage a disaster.
They noted that the simple, preventive step of installing a carbon dioxide chamber inside electrical switchboards could stop a potential fire at its source and reduce the threat of loss of life and property. Other teams at the event identified the way safety drills were conducted as being a problem.
“The customary drills that happen in my school are casually planned. There is no seriousness exhibited on the part of student body or administration. It’s critical that the mindset changes before any calamity strikes again,” Ahsan, a high school student taking part in the hackathon, remarked.
The final winning team at the event, ER Tales, also selected the problem of a lack of attention during drills leading to ineffective response during emergencies and disaster situations.
They suggested the use of pictorial storybooks as a supplement to drills. The use of stories centered on safety would build interest in the subject and drills could then be used to assess the level of knowledge and ability to effectively respond to a situation.
She recalled hearing a siren in class and seeing her students spring into action to shut the windows and switch off the lights before they all hid under their desks. Zara mistook the siren, which was for an intruder alert, for a fire alarm.
When she asked students to leave the room to head for the fire assembly point, they responded that they were supposed to hide and stay invisible in order to stay safe.
"We are thrilled to see the energy and creativity the participants have poured into this hackathon. Creating safe schools is not an afterthought now: it is a priority and the community is working together to design solutions to help schools prepare for emergencies,” Azra Naseem, one of the event’s co-organizers, a faculty member at AKU’s Institute for Educational Development and associate director of the Blended Learning Network at AKU, added.
The event was organized by AKU's Institute for Educational Development and CCIT forum in collaboration with the University’s departments of emergency medicine, and safety and security.