India's crisis response – pathetic

I don’t deny that there was great bravery shown on all fronts against the terrorists. Yet, as we move on from the tragedy, the urgency is blurring. At this time, I want to take a moment to look at things that could have been better.

Equipment and training: I put these together, since it would be even more embarrassing to have an armed hawaldar disarmed by a criminal and his weapon used to create further harm. I think it is not enough to just arm our cops, but to instill in them certain standards of professionalism and pride in their roles. This needs to be backed up with adequate training. Not a small task, but necessary. Cops waving lathis chasing terrorists armed with AK47s is an image that doesn’t instill respect, no matter how brave they are. And it isn’t only about terrorism. In a world where every self respecting criminal has fancy arms, its about the cops feeling empowered enough to be a difference.

Emergency responses:
Our emergency response needs designing. Note that I’m not speaking of updating or overhauling. If it takes over half an hour for the local cops to respond, its not a design worth keeping. Scrap it, work from scratch, and come up with something that allows the police response to be as near to the travelling time from the nearest presence as possible. This basically means that cops being trained to respond ASAP and their routines planned to accommodate at least one quick response team at any given time from any station.

Media: This has two sides. One is the media – there needs to be a plan about covering emergencies like this. This plan needs to include boundaries of what is not to be broadcast to the public. It wouldn’t even harm to continue with regular programmes with regular updates instead of creating a live test match out of a sensitive situation and compounding it with unconfirmed, contradictory information, rumours and speculation, which perhaps was a blessing if the terrorists were indeed following it. The other side of this is PR people for the cops/armed forces if their representatives can’t resist giving out information. Obviously the people of the country want information, but how much information is necessary to give immediately and what can wait till the end of the operation? What kind of information will help the country more in the situation? I imagine that I’d have preferred a blank screen rather than live telecast of commandoes rappelling to the top of the Nariman house for example. A simple statement like the army has been involved would be far better than details of which commandos, how many, and shots where their equipment is clearly seen. Go ahead, shoot it, and edit it into a breathtaking special after its all over, but not at a time when the criminals can get tactical information directly. There was a hue and cry over twitter which is full of rumours and tough to decipher with over 80 messages a second, yet clear shots of the commandos and their weapons continued, including direct statements like “bodies being carried out of the back entrance of the Taj”. No one is going to blame an official for refusing to share potentially sensitive information in the middle of a situation and no one is going to blame the media person who refuses to air it till safe.

Intelligence: We need to figure out a system for wading through all the information we get and working with it. Too much information was wasted that turns up now likehints of this plot coming up from terrorist captures in Lucknow, Kashmir, fishermen….. Nothing seems to have been done out of it. Ignoring intelligence defeats the entire purpose of gathering it in the first place.

Citizens: We have a concerned community alive to the dangers of terrorism. Is there a way that we can harness the helpless frustration of those camping out on twitter (for example). Can we engage volunteers to find out information, report things, sift through reports to remove the random chatter from the potential information, spread awareness, work on social integration objectives……?

Politics: Is there a way that we can bring parties together quickly in an emergency and work in collaboration to reassure, organize and manage the country by working with their audiences that support them?

There is so much potential for efficiency without even creating new structures. Can we try and ensure that things work as they should?

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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