Event to highlight innovative solutions to counter disasters

Karachi:  A three-day hackathon was held recently at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development. The event gathered students, teachers, engineers and experts from a variety of fields to design cost-effective and locally-relevant solutions. The event aimed to enhance the ability of schools to manage natural and man-made disasters. The event was organised by AKU’s Institute for Educational Development and CCIT forum in collaboration with the University’s departments of emergency medicine, and safety and security.

Participants at the event noted that the rare nature of emergencies such as fires, floods and other safety hazards meant that public and private sector schools were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with such crises.

Experts noted that emergency response trainings, safety drills and other means of ensuring emergency preparedness need to be a regular part of a school’s strategic planning and processes. They added that mitigation measures were often taken in the aftermath of disasters as they called on schools to adopt a forward-thinking approach that considered all possible risks in their environment as well as the processes needed to effectively manage a disaster.

One of the three winning teams at the event, BVS School Team, highlighted the problem of fires caused by short circuits in computer labs, classrooms and staff rooms. They noted that the simple, preventive step of installing a carbon dioxide chamber inside electrical switchboards could stop a potential fire at its source and reduce the threat of loss of life and property.

Other teams at the event identified the way safety drills were conducted as being a problem. A high school student taking part in the hackathon, Ahsan, said: “The customary drills that happen in my school are casually planned. There is no seriousness exhibited on the part of student body or administration. It’s critical that the mindset changes before any calamity strikes again.”

Team Zords proposed the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to ensure active participation in safety drills. They stated that VR provided an immersive experience for trainees which enhanced the retention of key concepts. The team called on schools to prepare tailored sessions and a ‘safety curriculum’ that would enable them to impart safety drills in a more engaging manner.

The final winning team at the event, ER Tales, also selected the problem of a lack of attention during drills leading to ineffective response during emergencies and disaster situations. They suggested the use of pictorial storybooks as a supplement to drills. The use of stories centered on safety would build interest in the subject and drills could then be used to assess the level of knowledge and ability to effectively respond to a situation.

During the hackathon, Zara Qadir, a primary school teacher, shared an instance of the impact of effective security drills. She recalls hearing a siren in class and seeing her students spring into action to shut the windows and switch off the lights before they all hid under their desks.

Zara mistook the siren, which was for an intruder alert, for a fire alarm. When she asked students to leave the room to head for the fire assembly point, they responded that they were supposed to hide and stay invisible in order to stay safe.

“The purpose of our hackathons is not only to mobilise people within the organisation, but also to demonstrate the event’s ability to engage the external community in the innovation process,” said Dr Asad Mian, founder of AKU’s Critical Creative Innovative Thinking Forum (CCIT) and chair of emergency medicine at the University. “The school preparedness for emergencies hack is a classic example of that democratisation of the innovation process.”

One of the event’s co-organisers Azra Naseem, a faculty member at AKU’s Institute for Educational Development and associate director of the Blended Learning Network at AKU said: “We are thrilled to see the energy and creativity the participants have poured into this hackathon. Creating safe schools is not an afterthought now: it is a priority and the community is working together to design solutions to help schools prepare for emergencies.”

-Press Release

January 30, 2020

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