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An Institute under ‘lockdown’: Inquisition of a DRR Researcher

Updated: Apr 27

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Efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 through the implementation of ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ and preventive measures such as social-distancing and self-quarantine prompted the widespread closure of primary, secondary, and higher educational institutions in over 100 countries. India's response to COVID-19 has been pre-emptive, pro-active and graded, or so it is being said.

The same, without any iota of doubt, can be said to be true for the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IITR). Let us take a look at the timeline as the events unfolded through various notices, advisories etc.

If I am to think as a DRR professional, I would want to investigate the various dimensions of interventions that addresses the core fundamentals of disaster risk management. The first and foremost of which is putting in place an effective system of risk communication. ​ Risk Communication

  • Informative e-mails and advisories were sent to all students and employees regularly starting from the 6th  of March, 2020.

  • Such e-mails not only contained notices, advisories etc., but also the basic Dos and Don’ts of COVID-19.

  • Informative posters including that of guidelines issued by the Government of India were widely circulated and displayed in hostels, quarters and other areas.

Use of an authorised channel of communication steered away the chances of spreading ‘infodemic’. Health Infrastructure (Institute Hospital) The next important thing is to assess the efficiency of the health infrastructure, especially when the issue is of a raging pandemic, and, just because the case is so, ensuring an effective system of ‘tracing’ is also important. Staffs (academic and non-academic) / students who returned from abroad after the 14th of February 2020, were to report to the Duty Medical Officer of the Institute Hospital. In fact, every student who had travelled out of state were to report to a specially constituted Medical Unit at the Institute Hospital and their travel histories were documented in a special register. The Medical Unit was equipped with adequate number of masks as well as other PPEs for healthcare personnel.

  • A dedicated fever / flu OPD was started in both the shifts in two specific rooms especially for patients exhibiting symptoms of or suffering from fever, cold, cough, throat pain, sore throat. The entry route for all such patients were also defined.

  • Persons with domestic travel (within India) history were urged to to self-quarantine themselves for 14 days and report to the Institute Hospital immediately in case of any symptoms like fever, cold, cough, throat pain etc.

Facilities for students in campus The next issue that requires introspection is the arrangements made for the students. As classes were suspended, some students were able to return home but some simply couldn’t afford it. Therefore, students who were unable to travel were allowed to remain in campus.

  • Mess workers were instructed to wear masks and hand gloves and only mess staffs are allowed to serve food to avoid touching of utensils by students.

  • Sitting arrangements were changed in order to enforce the physical distancing norms.

  • Biometric attendance protocol was suspended

Education Continuity Given the prevailing uncertainty, the Institute decided to adopt internet based e-learning modes for continuing the academic engagement.

  • IIT Roorkee launched a Virtual Classroom Application.

  • A system was put in place to provide requested online resources (journals) to students outside the campus, i.e., the existing intranet accessibility was extended beyond the physical boundaries of the campus.

In times such as these, it is very essential to exercise an over-arching management of the entire campus. Let us take a look at the following, Implementation of screening protocol

  • A screening mechanism of persons entering the institute campus was put in place. For this purpose, the security personnel at the main gate have been equipped with Thermal Scanners as well as masks.

Sanitisation

  • Sanitisation of different hostels, apartments, department, bank, temple, security room and public toilets were done and the schedule was circulated well in advance.

Continuation of essential services

  • Hospital, Security services, inter / intranet services, telephone, electricity & water supply, messes, civil & electrical work, media cell (IDC) is operational adhering to the social distancing norms.

  • Commercial establishments in the campus will be operational within strict time schedules.

  • Counselor cells have been kept operational and can be contacted via email and/or phone for an online counseling session. 

While we bask in the glory of having responded adequately and effectively, the challenges have also been evident.

  • Lean and agile transition to an online learning environment. The problems are not just on the part of the educators, it is also on part of the students. Are the facilities adequate? Do we have an environment conducive to such an online learning regime or were we just following the global herd?

  • Are there similar procedures for conducting practical classes too? Think about practical classes on Automatic Weather Station (AWS); you can always YouTube it, but can you actually learn it without using it?

  • Last but not the least, what if this was to continue for a long term? Do we have a well-thought out plan?

Looking behind, I feel that we really need to take the aspect of disaster risk management more seriously; do we understand such risks? Can we guarantee that we would respond better if such a situation, God forbid, is to happen again? We may have guidelines, action plans, response plans etc., but were they effective? Think of smaller units, an educational institution for example, shouldn’t we have continuity plans? We happily project ourselves as a resilient civilisation, but are we? This ‘pandemic’ is a lesson and we better learn! Or else! On a happier note, some innovations by IIT Roorkee:

  • A refilling station for alcohol-based herbal hand sanitizer/hand rub (courtesy of M/s Heal Agnostic Innovations Pvt. Ltd. - venture promoted by our faculty colleagues and incubated in TIDES) has been put up at the Security Control Room in James Thomason Building.

  • The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Roorkee, in collaboration with All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), Rishikesh, has developed a low-cost ventilator. A presentation was made before 450 industry representatives for early mass production.

  • Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee has developed a low-cost 3D printed face shield to protect medical practitioners from coronavirus infection while they are busy treating patients

  • IIT Roorkee has developed a mobile tracking application endowed with state-of-the-art features to boost government efforts for the surveillance of coronavirus suspects. The application can track the COVID-19 suspects who have been quarantined through the geo referencing technology, which marks a virtual geographic area and triggers a response if an individual exits or enters the boundary.

To add more to such a kind of inquisition, we (CRRP) would like to know more about the practices and interventions that have been undertaken in different other institutions during this period. We would be circulating a survey form shortly, please do join in and let us plan for a better future together, a resilient and sustainable future!




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