Designing for Emergencies


When I walk through the gate of my newly-constructed apartment building in Mumbai, I first have to walk around a dead tree.  Someone took the time to pave around—rather than cut down—the 10-foot-high tree stump that stands right in the middle of the main entrance.  Because of the tree’s position, only narrow vehicles have access to the building.  What would happen to an ambulance?

Unfortunately, this design flaw (or common sense flaw) is not confined to where I live.  This past weekend saw the running of the Mumbai Marathon, and the 1298 ambulance service provided ambulances for the race.  In the lead-up to the marathon, a 4-day “Health and Lifestyle Expo” took place at Mumbai’s World Trade Center.  The ambulance service shared a booth with the race’s medical sponsor, so I went to the Expo on the first day to help ensure that everything was set up for our marketing efforts.  As part of our presence at the Expo, we had one of our ambulances parked outside. 

The problem was that the ambulance was in danger of remaining outside of the complex.  The entry to the parking lot in front of the conference hall is blocked by a metal security arm that pivots up and down.  Unfortunately, it does not lift up high enough to allow an ambulance to pass underneath.  After a lot of discussion and negotiation, we convinced the parking lot attendant to allow us to drive the ambulance in through the exit, where the security bar lifted higher up.  If there were a real emergency at the conference hall, the time lost in getting an ambulance inside could have serious consequences.  And if there were a fire, well….

High quality ambulances can and do go a long way in ensuring that lives are saved in emergencies.  But other steps need to be taken to ensure that even more lives are saved.  Small design modifications could make a huge difference here.  Cutting down that tree or building a security arm that lifts higher does not take a lot of money or technology—just some foresight and attention to design. 

3 Responses to “Designing for Emergencies”

  1. John Tucker Says:

    Maybe finishing the building was an emergency.

  2. tophtucker Says:

    Haha… 🙂

  3. Anonymouse Says:

    That tree could be sitting where it is because of city legislation that prevents them from cutting down trees. Have you checked if the builder is awaiting municipal permission to cut it down?

    I agree that attention to detail and foresight is sometimes lacking in our country (I am Indian). But I doubt western nations were all that better when they were beginning to develop. To make matters worse, we are stymied by arcane laws and bureaucracy that we inherited from the British and just can’t seem to shake off.

    My point is that, it is very easy for a ‘foreign’ eye (me included) to come into a country like India and simply point out all the obvious flaws, forgetting that Indians, Indian society and Indian laws are just beginning on the journey that takes a while to get and even longer to codify into everyday practice. Remember, this is a society where an ambulance, apartment building, a marathon, an expo.. are all non-native concepts. How would the west struggle if it had to organize a village mela or build Indian-style housing?

    That “common sense flaw” may be closer home than you realize.

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