One of the main obstacles that the police faced during the rescue operations at St. Augustine’s Church, Aroor, on Monday night was crowd management. As it is with all accident sites, onlookers and those trying to get into the television shots for a brief moment’s fame outnumbered those who were genuinely helping the victims. In fact, local residents said that six of the victims were saved from the debris and shifted to the hospital before the police and Fire and Rescue Services personnel arrived on the spot.

“The unhealthy trend of crowds trying to capture images on the mobile phone is rampant. In such a situation, we cannot use force to cordon off the area too, as it will involve the Good Samaritans as well,” said K. Padmakumar, Inspector General of Police, Kochi Range.

On the other hand, what the police did was to ensure that there were no traffic hold-ups. The available police personnel with Kochi City Police were mobilised and moved to Aroor. “One group was entrusted with the task of streamlining the traffic. Since the accident occurred right along the National Highway, it helped ambulances and hydraulic cranes to reach there on time. Another group was asked to coordinate what happened at hospitals,” said Mr. Padmakumar.

But all these took sometime to fall into place. During the initial hours, nothing worked and only chaos prevailed. “This was mostly because there is no Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) ready to deal with crises like this. The police are not trained for rescue operations, especially during a disaster of this scale. Without a protocol on who is in command, the initial phase was bound to be chaotic,” said Thomson Jose, Superintendent of Police, Alappuzha. Police officers, who were engaged in the rescue work at Aroor on Monday, said almost half of the crowd that thronged the church premises were drunk and refused to respond to requests to move out of the site. Despite repeated attempts to move them away, they returned, at times stepping over the debris even when the workers were trapped inside.

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