There is a sound of siren. At the door of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital’s (JDWNRH) emergency department, an ambulance pulls over and ward boys run with stretchers. The cries of desperation fade as security guard shuts the door.

This is at the mass causality management drill conducted at JDWNRH. Here is the mock situation: an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 on Richter scale has hit Sikkim and the siren at 1:25 pm.

More than 1,000 health officials of JDWNRH and 100 students of Khesar Gyelpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan took part in the drill yesterday.

Medical superintendent at JDWNRH, Gosar Pemba, said that the drill involved all health officials of the hospital for the first time. “The drill is to see how the hospital would manage when large causalities are reported at the hospital because of a disaster.”

The hospital will conduct mock drills twice a year for disasters apart from earthquake.

JDWNRH’s director, Tshering Yangden, said that in 2012, based on three magnitudes, experts and engineers with the help of World Health Organisation conducted seismic assessment at the hospital and made 68 recommendations. “The hospital disaster management team has followed up on the recommendations. There are some that cannot be carried out, such as making horizontal exit from the fourth floor of the hospital.”

The recommendations rested on four overarching topics: strengthen backup utility systems, facilitate safe evacuation, proper communications, and staff preparedness and capabilities.

Tshering Yangden said that as per the Disaster Management Act 2013 and health policy 2011, JDWNRH started drafting the disaster management contingency plan.

At the debriefing after the mock drill, health officials said that the confusion on the emergency level of the injured, identification of the dead during the disaster, unmanaged crowd at the hospital and need for information desk were some of the improvement needed in the future.

Professor at Institute of Medicine at Nepal, Dr Pradeep Vaidya, said that the earthquake drill has been to identify the gaps and the areas, which need improvement. “Every drill is a learning process and one isn’t enough. The hospital has to be prepared and operationally I am sure that the hospital is ready.”

In 2009, eastern Bhutan experienced earthquake of magnitude 6.1 Richter scale.

In 2016, 6.7 magnitude earthquake at Manipur, about 415 km from Bhutan, affected 248 structures in the country.

Studies carried out by the Department of Geology and Mines pointed out that Bhutan has not faced a major earthquake for over three hundred years and that a major earthquake is imminent.

Phurpa Lhamo