No one had anticipated the large scale devastation in the landslides caused by the cloudbursts in the hilly region of Uttarakhand ( a state in North India) on 17th June 2013. Nor was there a Disaster Relief Plan in place to activate in case of any natural calamity like this. To complicate matters, the area which was affected, is a pilgrimage place for Hindus and many thousands had flocked to the area from across India, to take advantage of the School vacations which coincides with the Summer when the roads to the many shrines become motorable. (The places are snowbound for rest of the year).
In the aftermath of the 2 day cloudburst, when the scale of destruction became known, it was evident that helicopters would be needed since most of the mountain roads had been washed away by the floods and landslides.
Today’s article in the Economic Times gives a detailed description of how the Indian Air Force innovated under the circumstances. It is worth reading the full article. But the key choke points were – There was no Air Traffic Control; Hardly any Navigational aids; No Weather Radar system in place; No Fuel stations for their Helicopters; No airfields or Helipads.
From a Knowledge Management point of view to use the words of the Air Vice Marshal Nair “in such situations, we have to plan, innovate, improvise and think out of the box”. What I gathered from the article is something any organization can apply when faced with a fast paced situation they are not envisaged earlier:
Emphasize the Basics: Since there was no Navigation aids and visibility was hampered due to cloud cover, the Air Force fell back on the basic rule- follow the river and hug the right hand bank of the valley while flying. This avoided accidental collisions with other aircraft.
Use what is available: They used Google Maps, a commonplace application now-a- days to identify potential helipads and large clearings for the Hercules Aircraft. The pilots spoke to each other directly on a common channel in the absence of Air Traffic Control.
Apply principles from other contextual situations: They transported fuel to a forward makeshift airfield, as they would in a war situation, so the helicopters could increase their reach.
Learning During the Operations: with each passing situation they kept learning and put the learnings into practice. The helicopters carried rescued pilgrims to the airfield when they came to refuel and the Hercules aircraft carried them out when returning to their base in the plains.
Learning After: It is important after an operation of this magnitude, the Government, agencies involved and the Airforce all capture their learnings and recommendations in a proper actionable format so that the expensive Lessons Learned will not have to be relearned in the next situation. It would be good for those involved to sit together a do a ‘retrospect’ session for a few days and create an implementable plan.
What do you suggest could be done to ensure that the valuable lessons learned are not lost?