Operation Zindagi: A Saga of Grit, Courage And Creativity From Uttarakashi Tunnel Rescue!

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November 29, 2023

The Silkyara, Uttarakashi tunnel rescue operation: Operation Zindagi, is a great lesson for us all.

The 41 trapped workers are out under the sky now. Safe and secure. And the whole country has taken a deep sigh of relief.

Like everyone else, I was also following it closely. Here are some lessons that I culled out from this saga of perseverance, grit and creativity.

The challenges:

In total 86 meter of drilling was done. The rubble was problematic to drill through. And it wasn't clear how many days it might take to reach to the trapped workers.

The safety of the rescue workers was also important. What if they too get entrapped by another collapse?

Uncertainity loomed large. The possibility of losing them was as real. Because the situation was tricky.

Lesson Zero:

Emotional management is important

In any crisis of such a level, emotion management is the foundation for success.

The psychologists and doctors were were involved in the rescue operations. Vitamin supplements and anti-depressant were supplied to the workers from the very begining.

The rescuers communicated with the trapped workers at about every 30 minutes to say: You aren't alone, the whole nation is with you.

There was about 2 KM tunnel on the other side, so the trapped workers were told to take a regular walk. To perform yoga. And other exercises.

And most importantly to have encouraging conversations among them. To keep their morale high.

One of the older worker Gabbar Singh Negi had gone through such turmoil earlier and he guided others and helped them manage their emotions.

More stories and details will be shared , now that they are out.

The first lesson:

Rather than looking to the bleak side, look at available resources. Whatever the little you have can lead to success.

The tunnel collapsed, 200 meter from the entrance. So there was enough space for the trapped workers. 

Light facility were there. So, vision was not a problem. Even a natural source of water was available inside.

The workers used the available containers to fill water from the water source and store it for personal use.

They also designated an area for defacation about 1 km away from their area.

There was a 4 inch pipe already laid down in the tunnel. This pipe line became the life line for supplying dry food items to the workers and to esablish communication with them.

Lesson 2:

Don't try to solve the problem all by yourself. Ask experts.

When the problem is larger than us, our recources and skills don't suffice. Time to ask for help!

In Uttarakashi tunnel rescue case many government bodies came together. Apart from NDRF, DRDO, Indian military and other experts too came together in this giant operation.

Experts who were involved in Thai cave rescue operation were aso contacted.

International experts were asked to help. Underground expert Arnold Dix led the rescue operation.

Lesson 3:

There are always multiple solutions to a problem. If one doesn't work, try another.

Horizontol drilling was used to reach the trapped workers. But the blades of the augur machines broke. Vertical drilling was initiated.

And also at the same time, Rat Mining was initiated in the final part of the horizontol drilling.

(Rat mining is hand drilling. The driller use hand held machines to take away a part of the tunnel. Needs a lot of courage and patience. But it was worth it for those precious lives.)

Lesson 4:

Use the advanced technology to minimise risk, to speed up success

While it is good to start with whatever is available, we must engage the best of the technology to speed up the processes.

In the Uttarakashi tunnel rescue Augur machines helped in drilling a large part of the rescue operation. It is unimaginable what could happen without these machines.

In the narrow tunnels, visibility remains low and so drones were used to sense the rock formations and other details. Indian startup Squadrone played a vital part in this exercise.

Endoscopy camera was used to establish communication with the workers and monitoring their health conditions.

Final Lesson: Believe in higher forces, and do your best!

The Operation Zindagi was definitely a proof of human perseverance, grit and creativity. It demonstrates to us, what all can be achieved with collective work.
But one must be humble.

As the underground expert Prof. Arnold Dix went to a temple to say 'thank you' to the gods. As he puts it:

We all witnessed a sort of miracle in this rescue operation. Wasn't it.

Yes it was, Prof Dix!

About the author 

Puneet Bhatnagar

Puneet Bhatnagar, popularly known as Creative Punito--is a business innovator. An expert on SME business growth. He is a well-known creativity and innovation trainer, author, columnist and storyteller.

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