Negligence is a crime

In the winter of 1988 I was deputed to attend a course of study in Indiana, USA with the United States Air Force

My family and I found accommodation outside the Village of Rantoul, fourteen miles north of Champagne-Urbana where many Pakistanis have gone to university

If ever there was a prairie it surrounded my small apartment complex

A vast grassland surrounded it with not even a tree to break the sight

It snowed heavy and piled pathways, roads and parked cars

The first chore of the day was to clear the path and the car off the piled snow before taking it out

Else the police was always at hand to signal you off the road — a lesson I learnt in the first few days

Snow trucks belonging to the village ploughed day in and day out

Some were always parked nearer to the apartment complex which was itself a few miles out of the village

This vast prairie had two climatic peculiarities: blizzards in winters and tornadoes in summers

The prairies lend themselves to such a phenomenon which builds on momentum as it moves

Without an obstruction — man-made or natural — it simply multiplies in intensity

Pertinently thus there was a daily safety briefing for the entire school — all seminars together — when one officer would be deputed to give a ten to fifteen minute talk to the participants on an aspect of occupational, operational, recreational, sports or traffic safety

In my first turn I was tasked to speak on driving in snow and its safety aspects

Right out of Sargodha, where most of my life and work had spanned, it was a herculean undertaking

But I learnt

By law, which is strictly adhered to, every office, apartment or a workplace must prominently display the safety instructions including an escape plan in case of fire, earthquake or a tornado

These drills are routinely practised

All buildings must by law have multiple exits

Firefighters and first responders are committed service-providers and deeply respected in the society

The sense of human, occupational and recreational safety is widespread and pervasively enabled to tackle with an emergency

Children are taught and practise in school actions in case of any emergency including if terror threatens

That is how a society takes shape where human life has a value

The communication system including television services in an area are tuned to deliver instant warnings of a flash flood, fire or a tornado and will broadcast safety steps for the residents

If a runaway criminal is suspected in the area, his details and those of the vehicle are instantly shared suspending normal transmissions

That is when human life has a value

Trek to Murree between Sunny Bank, Jhika Galli, Kuldana and Barian — the enclosed real estate on the edge of Murree main and a very frequent path into and out of Murree and other popular sites

This entire stretch has four military garrisons located astride with numerous private holdings in between

Call it the hub in Murree where spokes connect centrally

This is where I would keep most of my snow clearing machines because of its centrality and connectivity

This is what got bombed by snow on January 7th

And this is where at least twenty-three people died, if not more, to freezing in their vehicles, possibly asphyxia and to simple callousness of those who were meant to keep them alive

These deaths also betrayed an absence of a safety system meant to provide immediate response to humans facing death

Possibly, bits and pieces of a safety network existed but these weren’t woven into a system

We are devoid of the intellect to form one, of any kind

What came later was hogwash

The twenty-three or more who died showed us our real face and our real worth as people and as a society

What’s a weather warning? How many understand it or even care to know this seeming inanity from the Met Department? With the technology at hand weather forecasts are the closest to reality in prediction

Yet, who did it make it to? NDMA? Usman Buzdar or his Staff Officer or the chief secretary? It was all over the news

Did the PM take note or bother to ask his staff or the minister for tourism to enquire how was Punjab coping up with what was meant to be emergent and intense? Did the army begin to prepare for it? They usually do bringing their own into safety

Did they check with the Murree administration if it needed help or initiated to offer support? What were the Assistant Commissioner Bahadur Sahab and the municipal authorities up to in the hours leading to the imminent catastrophe? Hunkering down for it to pass? Leaving people in their cars to freeze to death or simply be asphyxiated in the next twenty hours? So what does the NDMA or its subordinate PDMAs do? These are surely not parking spots

These are provided for out of public funds

Relief and rescue? After the event? Not at all

Their portfolio of responsibility also includes prevention and preparation

How were these complied with? Why did so many cars enter Murree beyond its capacity? National Highways, the FWO, and the Interior Ministry celebrated the collected toll even as they enhanced PM’s vision of internal tourism at the cost of the lives they were putting at risk

Where were the Police? They have since the Wazirabad TLP event found an escape in dismay and thus their lack of commitment to their duty

They haven’t stopped drawing salaries though from public money

So this lot stranded along the stretch in Murree had only God to look to

And God had already ordered a deluge for the night and death at the hands of their fellow beings

In each of His doings He leaves a lesson which if unlearnt will only multiply into a greatly devastating tragedy

So what should have ideally happened? The CMs and the provincial PDMAs should have woken up to what was coming

Orders should have gone to all related Commissioners, DCOs and ACs and the police and Fire and Rescue Departments to gear up for an imminent emergency

The AC Murree should have set up a 24/7 control room — they must have one regardless of the season working through at all times — who would have then coordinated with all federal and provincial support departments to assign respective areas of responsibility for relief and rescue and traffic coordination

It would have saved the lives lost on the hills

Alongside, educate people

Issue them safety instructions and control the numbers on the roads per the capacity of these spaces to manage

Someone please teach humanity to these mountain dwellers

Societies are not meant to be rapacious and predatory

Some of us may have killed some of us that day for being exactly that

A simple shove to move a vehicle out of snow cost Rs1,500 per person that day

Conceive, organise, implement with integrity, honesty and duty

It saves lives

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2022

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Date:15-Jan-2022 Reference:View Original Link