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We receive about 90,000 emergency calls daily —LASEMA boss

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emergency, lasemaMATTHEW ASABOR in this interview gets the General Manager of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr Tiamiyu Adesina, to bare his mind on what it takes to handle emergencies in a state that is always on the edge.


LASEMA is generally perceived as active in responding to emergencies but reflexive when it comes to prevention of disasters. How do you see this?

I want to thank members of the public who have shown appreciation for our work. In emergency management, it saves you time, energy and a tough challenge if you prevent an incident rather than react to it. For me, as they say, prevention is better than cure. We want to focus more on preventive management in Lagos State.

I have a team called Monitoring and Surveillance. They go around the state with vehicles and motorbikes to search for impediments which could cause secondary accidents on the road. They do this mostly in the evening when visibility is poor, bearing in mind that there are lots of reckless drivers on the road.

They go around and search for bad buildings apart from when calls are made. Last week, a report came in about a plastic manufacturing company in Surulere operating under a high-tension wire. The company was reported to be dispensing diesel at the same time. The monitoring team went there and came back with a report and pictures. We then forwarded the report and the pictures to the Task Force for them to do the needful, because there is a law that says you cannot operate under a high-tension wire.

We are very tough in this country and we don’t take no for an answer easily but as an agency, we will not allow a bad thing to occur before we take action. If I prevent, I spend less money and time than to go for mitigation after a bad thing has happened.

The public said we do more of reaction than prevention because they are not aware of what we do because prevention is not in the public domain. We have bikes on the streets patrolling and when they submit their reports and we react, the public don’t see it. I told you about a plastic manufacturing company operating under a high-tension, we have gone there and the Task Force will do the needful but the public will not know that. If the company goes up in flames, of course, everybody in that area will say LASEMA has only come to react. But if reverse is the case, nobody will see what the agency has done to prevent such an incident from occurring.

It is bad news that spreads fast; the preventive aspect is not what we advertise in the media. If you do that, you will not be able to make much headway. Sometimes you persuade people to stop doing something that is wrong and explain to them the reasons why they should. If we begin to put all these in the newspapers, it is going to take the shine off our work. Whether we like it or not, accidents will occur, disasters will happen but there are things we can do to minimise them before they happen.

Look at the issue of weather, there are forecasts that tell the government that at a particular time, there is going to be a heavy downpour and then you see the government taking proactive measures like clearing drainages but people don’t know why that action has been taken. But when the rains finally come and there are flash floods, people don’t give credit to the government when the floods disappear under 30 minutes into the lagoon. It is a result of careful planning and work that has been done on the drainages. But when you have higher volumes of water pour into the streets, you see water go into people’s homes.

A lot of preventive things happen. If you see 10 accidents happen in Lagos, we have prevented 15, and that is the truth. You see LASTMA team and police on the road, all they are doing is prevention of occurrences and it must not be LASEMA all the time because we all work together as a team.

When a criminal is arrested, you have reduced the number of crime that would have happened that day. When you arrest a vehicle plying one-way road in reverse direction, you have prevented an accident from happening. People should look at all these and count them as part of the preventive measures we put in place to reduce the number of emergencies that occur in Lagos.


 What is your take on the building of gas plants in residential areas, buildings marked for demolition and indiscriminate building of fuel stations across the state?

Let me approach it this way, in every developing economy, we will continue to right many wrongs as we move on. Yes, in an effort to develop a society, a lot of things happen and everybody just allows them but after some time, the community begins to see the danger inherent in allowing some of those things they have allowed over time. I think this is where we are in the country today. A lot of things have to change about the way we do things.

Now, let me narrow it down to buildings marked for demolition on the island and other places. LASEMA, as an agency, is responsible for prevention and assistance during crisis. We might receive a call that there is a building that is distressed and it might turn out that that is just a layman’s view of the caller – we might go there and check and science will prove otherwise. For LASEMA, our role is to notify relevant agencies of government and report concerns to them. As an agency, we cannot pull down a building. We don’t have such powers. All we can do is to declare such a building distressed. There are agencies of government that do that. If I have a report of a building that is distressed, all I can do is to send my men to, first of all, go and take a look at the building, bring me pictures and then we find out one or two things; because there are basic standard documents that every house must have. We find out from the owner if he or she has building plans and approval and if we notice that infractions have, indeed, taken place, we pass the case on to the relevant agencies like the Lagos Building Control Agency. We have handed over a lot of buildings to them. It is their job to go ahead and do what is called integrity test on those buildings. There are times you see a crack on the wall of a house and they will tell you it is not deep and only need plastering and the building goes through integrity test and passes, what will I do? But when LASBCA goes round, checks and discovers that, indeed, the building is a disaster waiting to happen, they come to us because we have the capacity to bring it down. At that point, if they do the necessary things like seek the consent of the authority to pull down the structure, as soon as I get that, I don’t look back, our team swing into action and bring down the structure. It has happened a lot of times but, like I said, people don’t know.

I will give you an example. At Anthony Village late last year, someone called and said there was a crack on an uncompleted building. It was around 9.30 p.m. I came to the office and personally led a team to the place. We shone light over the structure and we saw cracks all over it. Some men who were working there took off because parts of building were already falling off. The man who called was the one whose house was next to the building. Of course, he could not sleep and allow the tall building to fall on his head. In this case, we didn’t need anybody to tell us about integrity test because it was obvious. We invited the property owner and he came and saw things for himself. He gave immediate consent for us to bring down the structure. It was even in his interest that the building did not collapse on another building. So, what we did was controlled demolition to ensure that it did not fall on the buildings on either side, or even the one at the back. That was at Anthony Village. Nobody will know except those who live on that street. It took us two days because it was a two-storey structure. When we finished, the whole community came to us and told us there were other buildings that were showing signs of distress. I invited the General Manager of LASBCA to meet with them and he informed them about what to do next.

Now, gas plants in residential areas. After the incident at Second Coming gas plant in Magodo, a lot of people reported so many things to us. We have gone to Isheri and sealed off a gas plant there. We have also gone to Igando, close to the dump site, and sealed off another plant. We told them about the danger they were exposed to. They realised the danger because the dump site people burn dirt at night and if the fire escapes through a pipe connected to the gas plant, the entire area will go up in flames.

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The funniest thing is that LASEMA, as an agency, does not involve in approving gas plant. Even when we seal off, we still push the matter to the appropriate agencies of the government to do their bit. Investigation is still ongoing regarding the incident at Second Coming gas plant. I got a letter asking me to give my own view as a responder who was there on the day of the incident. I will forward my view to the team that will put all the views together, come out with a report and forward it to the government for necessary action. Since then, we have not allowed the plant to do any business there because the matter is still under investigation.

We have the Department of Petroleum Resources which issues licences and Lagos State has to harmonise its working relationship with the agency because in that investigation, we all have teamed up and it is the responsibility of Lagos State to ensure that such a disaster does not occur again within its space. So, we need information from the public when they notice any sign of possible disaster.


What measure is the government taking to prevent a repeat of what happened at Second Coming gas plant?

The truth is that for any gas plant to be set up in any part of the country, there are standards and guidelines. Gas plants are a necessary industrialisation process that must happen. After all, we are now talking about deforestation, the consequences and also discouraging people from using firewood. Of course, there must be gas plants that are close to settlements in order to ensure that people have access to gas. But then in any standard gas station, because accident can happen, safety measures must be put in place. I am sure that at the end of the day, when we all are on the same page, we will visit all gas stations and ensure they conform to standards.

For instance, there should be a safety bar so that when there is a gas leakage, one can press the button and the entire gas plant is shut down. Do we have it in all of our gas plants? It is a question for all of us to answer. I am not going to take the lead in that. There are agencies of government at both state and federal levels that should be responsible for that. We can give safety tips like ‘don’t put your cylinder in the kitchen, keep it outside,’ but we cannot say people should not operate gas plants. There are guidelines in establishing a gas plant and those involved should go out and ensure that the guidelines are strictly adhered to, and this will help emergency control in Lagos State.


There has been an upsurge in suicides and suicide attempts. Is there a special call centre for this?

There are no special call centres for any purpose. What we have are 112 and 767 for all manner of emergencies and they are toll-free.


For somebody trying to commit suicide, what is the first thing you do?

The first step is not to take the person to court but to debrief him on why he wants to kill himself, then invite a psychologist to talk to him and give him proper medical attention.


 Have you received any call about suicide attempt so far?

Yes. A pastor reported to us that a church member texted him that he was going to commit suicide on the Ikoyi link bridge; that he was tired [of life] and wanted to die. We immediately informed the police and they shut down the bridge to pedestrians in order to ensure the man did not carry out the act. We kept our eyes on all the bridges on the Island and after some time, a call came in that the man had been sighted on Falomo Bridge. To God be the glory, we brought the man to our office, fed him and asked him why he wanted to kill himself. He explained that he was frustrated – no job or support from anybody. We called his pastor who preached and prayed for him. Also, our medical personnel kept him for proper checkup. We could not allow him to go like that because the thought might come again and he might not inform anyone before committing the act. This is one of the reasons we have policemen monitoring the bridges and questioning anyone found wandering on them. I mean, it is unthinkable that someone would decide to trek from Adeniji to Iyana-Oworo on the highway which does not have a walkway.

In the last two months, we have had people stuck in the mud at Iyana-Oworo where the water has been sand-filled and we wonder why. The last one we attended to was just two weeks ago and we wondered how the person found himself there.


 How many suicide calls have you received in the last three months?

I don’t think we have received up to 10. All we had were people stuck in the mud at the sand filled area in Iyana Oworo. We advise Nigerians to be their brother’s keeper and support anyone that does not have anything doing in order to have zero suicide attempts in the state.


How was the LASEMA you met?

Incidentally, the crop of workers who were there when things appeared not to be going well is the same set of people doing these wonders.


What have you done differently?

I have only provided leadership. I changed my clothes shortly before you came in. I had been with my staff all morning practising how to use the new equipment we just acquired. You must be fit, willing, passionate and ready to drive your men. You must show leadership by example. When they are there in the thick of the night, I am with them. With that, I have encouraged them.  This is a General Manager that does not stay in the office. I am always on the street. I don’t have time receiving people in the office. There is no place I don’t know in Lagos. This job has taken me round Lagos, even unimaginable places – the thick bushes in the city. I have taken rides on boats to Ilashe, Epe and Majidun. When they were doing the cleaning up of Owutu Agric, the Ishawo creek, I was there.

Let’s give it to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. He has provided uncommon leadership, passion and total support for this agency. That is the driving force. A few minutes before you came in, all workers who have been ad hoc for many years, the governor said I should regularize their appointments. Is that not an encouragement? They were not sure of what was in store for them but now they are sure. They are now bona fide workers of the Lagos State government. His Excellency just approved some money to cushion the hazards they had faced in the process of doing this job. We have increased the staff capacity, bought new equipment, vehicles, bikes and personal protective equipment, so that the staff can do their work with comfort. Why wouldn’t people want to work when the tools are there? We should give it to the government which has invested billions of naira into the project and that is the result we are seeing today.


 When did you come on board as LASEMA boss?

I joined the agency on 14 September, 2016 and hit the ground running. I had been in the sector before becoming the General Manager. I worked with a consultancy outfit that is working with the agency to ensure that a style is evolved to help Lagosians. I was pulled from there to work for the state and our relationship with the stakeholders now is fantastic. As soon as I came on board, I met with the boards of all the agencies that are responsible for emergency management to introduce myself and for them to see my vision and key into it. RRS, LASA, LASAMBUS, Task Force, Fire Service, FRSC, NSCDC, TRACE in Ogun State, we all resolved to ensure that wherever our services are needed, we will be there.


What are the challenges inherent in responding to emergencies in a cosmopolis like Lagos?

The major challenge is navigating through Lagos roads when responding to emergencies. There are periods when the traffic is heavy, especially resumption time in the morning and at the close of work, and you have to drive to respond to an emergency. For instance, you are on the Mainland and an emergency occurs on the Island in the morning. You have to drive through traffic because that is the time everybody is going to work and the problem is that a lot of us don’t respect the blaring  of the siren of an emergency vehicle.

Another challenge is crowd control. In a city where they will not allow you to do your work because people want to see the magic you want to perform. They want to see how we operate our equipment. Our towing van is not the usual one that clamps vehicle and destroys the vender and the bumper. Our own towing van picks vehicles from the tyres without damaging the vehicle. Even the driver doesn’t need to come down. Many people want to take pictures and be the first to put them on the internet. But we keep telling them that an emergency scene is a potentially dangerous situation. Even as responders, we do our job with caution because we know the danger but members of the public don’t know. It is good for them to give us our space and that is why we always create a cordon, which means only emergency responders are allowed to enter. Today, we go about with policemen in order to keep belongings from a collapsed property from looters.

Again, there is road culture. People drive against traffic and do not respect the right of way of others. Thankfully, LAMATA allows us to drive within the BRT corridor when we have an emergency to respond to. That solves a bit of our problems because there are areas where there are no BRT corridors. We will keep educating Lagosians on the need to allow emergency responders to have their way.


 In a week, how many emergency calls do you receive?

Let me tell you the number of calls we receive in a day and allow you to do the calculation yourself. On the average, we receive nothing less than 90,000 calls per day. Mark you, not all these calls are actionable. There are some we classify as hoax calls. They tell you something is happening somewhere. We get there and nothing is happening. There are also ones we call link calls. An accident occurred on Ikorodu Road. Maybe 100 people saw it and they called 121 or 767. A hundred calls to an accident, those are link calls. There are also ones we refer to as non-emergency calls. These are calls we refer to our sister agencies to handle. For instance, someone reporting domestic violence, a gang-up to commit crime, all these are non-emergency calls.


 Besides responding to emergencies, do you have measures to preempt them?

We have the Surveillance and Monitoring Unit whose sole responsibility is to move round the state and call for prompt action before a disaster happens.


Your vision states, ‘…for prompt, effective/efficient response to emergency or disaster’ in the state, how far have you gone in achieving this vision?

We don’t delay; as soon as calls come in, they go straight to the call centre and from there, in less than one minute, they are transmitted to the control room. The control room activates dispatch centre to quickly move. For us, the golden hour is taken seriously and we continually train our men. We tell those who receive calls not to ask too many questions; they should pick the key ones, put the answer in the system and pass it on and the next person picks and forwards. While we are in transit, we can call the caller back for more information and we assure them that help is on the way.

For us, time is of the essence and we take training and capacity building seriously. A lot of in-house trainings are ongoing and very soon, we will be sending our staff out for formal training at safety institutes.


 Your goal says, ‘to manage and mitigate emergency/disaster’ in the state. Currently, at what stage are you?

We want members of the public to score us but we believe we are doing our best and there is still room for improvement, and we are ready. Today, we have four centres. There were two when I took over and now we have two more. We plan to have four more by the end of the year – in Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu and Costain, to serve Apapa and Island – making eight altogether. The goal is to take emergency services to all nooks and crannies of Lagos State and where we don’t have an office, our monitoring will be there to serve as support.


 What are the constraints in achieving this goal?

Like any other thing, it cannot be enough even though we thank His Excellency. We know that as soon as more centres are built, more equipment will be needed. We look forward to improving the quality of the equipment that we have, as well as the quantity, because as much as possible, we are going to improve on the dispatch bases that we have today, and it means that we will need more workers.

One of the major challenges is taking our emergency management to the remotest part of Lagos State. It is challenging but we believe this governor will do it for us.


 In case of an emergency, what are things to take note of?

The first thing that should come to one’s mind is the numbers of the emergency worker, 121 and 767. There is no harm in calling and for us to get there and see that the case has been sorted out. But it is worse when a disaster happened and no call was made. For instance, if a house is on fire and you think you can handle the situation, call us first. But if the fire escalates, escape to safety, and we will definitely be there.

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The post We receive about 90,000 emergency calls daily —LASEMA boss appeared first on Tribune.

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