LAHORE - The deadliest building collapse in Lahore’s Sundar Industrial Estate has forced the provincial hierarchy to think about the establishment of a separate “disaster management force” in the Punjab province.

A senior government official yesterday disclosed to The Nation that “a proposal is under serious consideration” to develop a well-trained disaster response force to deal with major tragedies in future.

The move comes just one week after a four-storey factory collapsed in the Sundar Industrial Estate. At least 45 workers, mostly teenage boys, were killed and 103 pulled alive out of the rubble as hundreds of rescuers took seven days to complete the operation.

The idea under-consideration suggests that the Punjab province was poorly prepared to deal with calamities, and experts say “authorities must learn lessons from the Sundar building collapse” by developing a mechanism for better response in the future.

“The personnel of DRF would be given proper training in disaster management,” said the official who is familiar with the development. “They will quickly respond to disasters in any district of the Punjab province”.

Sources in the Punjab Emergency Service claimed that the new force would work as a wing of the Rescue-1122 with its headquarters in Lahore.

“The government in principle has agreed to allocate billions of rupees for the establishment of disaster response force,” an official said requesting anonymity.

The project is aimed at ending dependence on other national institutions like Pakistan Army in cases of major tragedies, he said.

“The federal government also wants to build separate force for disaster management to enable the provinces deal with tragedies independently”.

The top officials are directed to speed up working for the first-ever disaster response force, a day after military commanders urged the civilian leaders to improve governance.

Another official said that the initiative had been discussed in different parleys last week but the final approval would be given by the Punjab Chief Minister.

According to insiders, the provincial government has noted in its observations that the Punjab emergency service (Rescue-1122) lacks the capability to deal with major tragedies. The rescue staff has no proper training in disaster management particularly in cases of major tragedies. “The provincial emergency service should be build up to dealt with major calamities. They need more equipment and more machinery”.

However, the Punjab Emergency Service officials state that they successfully completed the largest-ever rescue operation at the site.

“Rescue workers pulled 103 survivors out of the rubble apart from 45 bodies. The operation continued for more than 131 hours (about seven days),” an official insisted and requested his name not to be mentioned.

The official also explained that the “Urban Search and Rescue” teams” took part in the search and rescue operations as rescue workers from 15 other districts of the Punjab province were called in to join rescue efforts in the suburb of Lahore. The rescue workers were later joined by hundreds of Army men, civil defence officials, volunteers, and district administration officials.

The lack of coordination between government departments multiplied the miseries of the poor who had to sit on greenbelts and footpaths for several days to get information about their loved ones.

No government official was available outside the collapsed factory to comfort or take care of victims family members. Some charity workers were seen distributing food and water bottles among relative of the victims, who were sitting on footpaths in cold weather. Those officials who were working on the site had no information about the exact number of victims.

Rescuers were seen drilling concrete slabs and cutting steel-pipes to make a way to reach victims. They were removing heavy slabs of concrete with the help of cranes.

The “search and rescue operations” took seven days to compete because, authorities believe, the building was located on a four-canal piece of land that flattened.

Following the building collapse, Lahore Commissioner Abdullah Khan Sunbal stated that at least five heavy-cranes were sent to the site to remove the rubble. “Our first priority is to save the live of those trapped inside. The operation is underway and rescue teams are working very slowly and carefully.”

Rescue workers said they moved slowly since they had to follow the standard operating procedure when the operations were underway. “The rescuers tried to save maximum lives so seven-day time period doesn’t matter”.