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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sabah Earthquake - Lessons Learnt

The recent earthquake in Sabah has exposed once again the inadequacy of Malaysian government's approach to Search and Rescue operations.  However, contrary to the approach that many people took the last few days when it comes to criticizing the Malaysian government's response, I choose to look at this unfortunate event from a different perspective.

Inadequacy of Malaysian Government Response

First of all, this is not to denigrate the efforts displayed by men and women in the search and rescue teams.  However, it must be recognized that Malaysian government's response is wanting at best.

So far, I have identified 2 key areas of inadequacies.  First is pertaining to assets deployment to assist in the SAR.  And the second inadequacy is with regards of the way Malaysian government had communicated this to the public at large.

Lack of Suitable Assets

Due to the location of the worst affected areas are on Mount Kinabalu itself, this alone had limited the type of assets that could be deployed to the SAR operations.  Only helicopters capable of high altitude flight and operate in thin air could be deployed.  Of the helicopters within Malaysian government agencies inventory, only 3 helicopters were able to operate within this parameter.  These are the EC725 belonging to the Armed Forces, the Mi17-1V belonging to the Fire and Rescue Department, and the venerable S61A4 Nuri (which is also known as Sea King).

I had written about the EC725 here, then unaware that the Mi17-1V can also fly to the same height.  Why we didn't buy more Mi17-1V is worth an article itself for another time. Whereas for the venerable S61A4 Nuri, age has caught up with the iron bird that to fly it to the altitude would be a danger to the heli.  We definitely would not want to conduct another SAR for a missing SAR helicopter.

Lack of Communication from Malaysian Government

Malaysian government should seriously consider bucking up their communication department.  It is seriously wanting.  Not only there is lack of communication from the department on the progress of the rescue operations, the department's effort in previous major disasters are left wanting.

It took the social media to highlight how badly did the earthquake to have affected Mount Kinabalu and areas surrounding it.  In the past, specifically 20 years ago this was handled by Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia effectively.  No doubt, there were no social media back then.  But we do not even see an effort from the department to utilize the medium to update the public of the progress of the operation and the severity of the earthquake.

It is the lack of effort from Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia that further shaped Malaysians and foreigners' view that Malaysian government is incapable of conducting SAR and disaster recovery effort.

Criticism from Foreign Media and General Public

By and large, criticism on Malaysian government's response from foreign media and general public on this particular event were shaped by the criticism made by several climbers who were initially trapped on Mount Kinabalu.

While many Malaysians took this as a chance to bash the government for their perceived lack of government's response as this fits their view of Malaysian government (they will continue to have the same view as long as their choice of government could not be formed), some others (like myself and likes of Captain Seademon and Monkey King) took the challenge to explain the difficulties of SAR operations.  Well, probably not myself.

But it is unfortunate that some did not take kindly to the criticism thrown at our government and took these people to task.  How does that help?  It won't.  Rather it is counter-productive.

So were their criticism against the government justified?

Allow myself to be my own Devil's Advocate.

Criticism is Justified

Yes, the criticism is justified.  The delay in deploying troops to Mount Kinabalu is a clear evidence of the Government's inadequacy.
Voice of reasoning - The epicentre of the earthquake is in Ranau, which is just next to Mount Kinabalu.  We do not know the condition of the road to Mount Kinabalu.  Had these been badly affected, transportation would be an issue.  So does logistics to move men and supplies from one point to another.  

The way they dropped the food and packages show they do not care.  They could have landed their helicopter and brought us away down to safety.
Not all helicopters can land safely on the mountain.  And not all helicopters after landing could take off again.  Plus, there were 2 trails up Mount Kinabalu.  You probably took the easier trail up, so you could still go down.  Those who took the more difficult trail up, on the other hand, are missing.  Better for me to look for those missing people.  For all I know they could be badly injured and need immediate medical attention.  

When we reached the foot of the mountain with the help of the mountain guides, they had just waited down there waiting to claim credit.
How do you know they were there to claim credit?  For all you know, they could have just arrived.  And their unfamiliarity to the mountain trail could result it another search party to search for missing rescuers.  I don't shit you.  Shit happens. 

Criticism Not Justified

They only know how to criticize the government.  Why not let they themselves run the rescue operations?
Voice of reasoning - Why not? If they can do better, how would you answer?  Or if more deaths occurred, would you be willing to bear the conscience?  We are here to serve, not to play petty politics.  Let them criticize for all I care.

They are not patriotic.
They are patriotic.  They care for Malaysia.  It is just they do not see an eye to eye with you.  They may not understand what you know, or even know what you know.  So be patient with them.  

They are blindly accusing our servicemen.
Yes they are.  But do you know they had probably went through the most traumatic experience in their lives?  It is no joke to have boulders the size of buildings crushing down around them.  Some of them may have even seen people they know getting crushed by these boulders.  Might be good if the government should consider getting a few psychologists to meet up with all the survivors, in case if they are now suffering from PTSD (short for post traumatic stress disorder). 

So where do you stand?

Let's look in this holistically.  What happened on the 5th June 2015 in Sabah is something that we had never expected Malaysia would need to face.  While the efforts of the mountain guides are great examples of humanity's triumph in face of danger, the 'slow' reaction from the government doesn't mean they were just sitting still.

Have it this way.  Whenever you ordered your favourite KFC, you do not get to see the farmer who had grown the chicks from hatched eggs.  You do not see how the farmhand slaughtered the chicken and then cleans it.  You do not get to see how the chicken being transported to KFC.  And you do not get to see how the kitchen staff prepared and fried the chicken.  There is a whole load chain of events that lead to the nice juicy chicken thigh on your platter.

Likewise, you do not get to see how rescue op people get to arrange for logistics.  Getting their men from different location to return to their own home and then to the assembly point (some of the men may even have their families trapped somewhere, but duty calls).  You have people controlling traffic.  You have to get the Meteorological Department to check on the wind speed both located at the disaster site and the nearest field that could accommodate the helicopters.  You have people calling the ESSCOM to get the release of the helicopters from their patrol duty.  You have people calling up the quartermasters of the stores to inventorize what items had been taken out (lest you want to see one day in the Auditor General's report that there were misconducts in the inventories for the year.

So my stand is simple.  Take a step back and try to understand what each other is trying to do. Try to read more books on disaster recovery and try to understand the concept of first responder.  And most important thing of all, try not to watch too many Hollywood movies.

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