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JKIA fire exposed our poor disaster control mechanisms

13 August 2013, 14:46 Paul Orodi

Kenya has been boasting of more than one international airports and this has made it rise as a giant in terms of international departures and arrivals. However the recent happenings at the major international airport; JKIA has forced us to reconsider our boasting attitude.

A day before the JKIA fire disaster, the airport had been forced to temporarily halt flights coming in and going out. This was due to the simple fact that there had been a leak in one of the oil pipes that are managed by the Kenya Pipeline Authority (KPA).

After the supposed leak was dealt with, the airport continued with its operations but the worst was yet to befall the mega infrastructure. On the morning of Wednesday August 7, 2013 the country woke up to some rude shock of a fire gutting down the international departures terminal. The news made it to the ‘Breaking News’ threshold but then the response to the whole situation has left Kenyans and foreigners in disbelief.

Upon sounding the alarm in the airport grounds, there was no immediate response structure set up and this forced the whole situation to go to the extremes. Fire trucks and ambulances arrived at the scene but there was no clear command structure to enable the rescue officers to coordinate and operate in a manner that contains the calamity.

As if not enough, the fire trucks arrived at the scene and were unable to create a conducive environment to start safeguarding any property that could be salvaged. Although, the former president presented a state of the art fire truck to the city council of Nairobi - now known as County of Nairobi - the firemen did not act like they had undergone training to place them in a position of confidence when using that first-of-a-kind truck in East and Central Africa.

Coming down to the manner in which the passengers and travelers were handled it left a lot to be desired. There was no kind of communication for hours on end and this created a vacuum between the consumers of travel service and the officers in charge of the facility. This is not to say that the situation should have been handled like in a first world country, but a cup of coffee and a brief announcement - like, “Passengers have been urged to assemble in different spots that are labeled with the flight numbers” - would suffice a great deal. This could have averted the delay and confusion within the airport premises.

The president made an impromptu trip to the facility to assess the damage but to many people's surprise, he did not seem to have a clue on how to handle the situation on hand. He seemed baffled by the amount of destruction that was before his eyes rather than gathering composure and immediately directing the airport authority to handle passengers efficiently as investigations into the matter commenced. The manner in which the president expressed himself also put Kenya’s leadership in question.

Various airlines in the airport facility were grounded from taking off while those that were still in the air were directed to other airports within the East Africa region mainly Tanzania and Uganda. Very few were allowed to land on our international airports yet we claim to have the best international airports in the region. It would have been proper if flights would have been directed to the Eldoret airport and others made to land at the Moi International airport. Domestic and regional flights would have been directed to the Malindi airport and other large airstrips like Wilson to facilitate smooth operations within the country.

However, all these are wishes and clearly if wishes were horses even beggars could ride. The JKIA tragedy painted a very negative image of Kenya with regard to disaster preparedness, disaster mitigation and disaster management as a whole. As a country, we have lost huge amounts of income related to parking fees of planes and landing fees as well as servicing fees and airspace fees. Should this happen again, the question is; will we have learnt from this humongous error?

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Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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