Riding the Tide – Crisis leadership in City Management during COVID 19


Riding the Tide – Crisis leadership in City Management during COVID 19

With the ongoing outbreak of the pandemic and the world coming close to a standstill, effective city management across 210countries around the globe has taken a huge hit. India is currently witnessing an ascend in the number of cases, with 15,757 (As on April 22nd) active cases, excluding the 4,072who have been cured and 653 recorded deaths. Having said that, currently, Government of India is taking necessary measures to combat the sudden surge in number of cases which includes issue of guidelines for quarantine facilities, implementation of Containment plan, etc.GOI’s recently announced stimulus package includes fund allotment of INR 17,000+ crores to State Governments. To monitor the outbreak and with the intent to contain the spread, majority of states have announced conversion of  stadiums, hotels, lodges and private hospitals into makeshift hospitals with mass quarantine centres and isolation wards. 

How are our cities coping?

A total of 427 districts are affected by this pandemic, with the more urbanized ones being heavily affected. An array of measures arebeing taken to address the need of the hour. Integrated Command Control Centres (ICCC) across 45 smart cities have diversified functions to monitor quarantine facilities, track health of suspected cases and carry out operations to contain the spread. The ICCCs are implementing initiativessuch as CCTV Surveillance of Public Places, GIS Mapping of COVID Positive cases, GPS Tracking of Healthcare workers, Predictive Analytics (Heat Maps) for virus containmentand Virtual Training to Doctors and Healthcare professionals.Beloware several initiatives launched by cities across India: 

The Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC)in Odisha is undertaking proactive measures to include conversion of hotels/lodges and utilization of government hospitals and colleges as isolation and treatment units to cater to exigencies of Cuttack city. Going that extra mile, JLL is working closely with local governments to implement conversion of feasible hospitality facilities into medical facilities for management of the pandemic. The firm is supporting CMC in identifying hotels, lodges, hospitals, colleges and public facilities for conversion into isolation units to augment the city’s preparedness capacity to over 5000 beds. 

While Mumbai city is currently witnessing the worst outbreak, quick measures including implementation of the ‘Cluster Containment’ approach to screen clusters in Dharavi and large scale house to house testing is being conducted.

The Capital city, Delhiis on war-mode too as it conducts ‘Operation SHIELD’ with focus on House to house testing, disinfection of areas, home delivery/supply of essential goods.  A 5 step plan formulated by the state includes South Korea style large scale testing, random sample tests along with 1,00,000 rapid tests and additional 50,000 tests planned, aggressive tracing and treatment with a plan to takeover 12,000 hotel rooms for conversion into quarantine and treatment rooms. Chennai has also converted university hostels, hotel rooms, and other government facilities into quarantine and isolation units expanding its capacity by 3000 additional beds.  

Several tier-II cities in Tamil Nadu likeThanjavur, Tiruppur, Erode and Trichy have installed disinfectant chambers at entry and exit points of market places and other public areas.  Temporary market zones and mobile vegetable vehicles have been made available to citizens. In addition to creating separate wards at hospitals, Kolkata has taken over almost-completed buildings, stadium, and few hotels for use as quarantine centres. Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) has deployed around 10,000 workers for cleaning of streets, hospitals and public places twice a day. 

As a first in the country, South Korea style walk-in testing kiosks have been set up at the Medical College campus of Ernakulam/Kochi. Foreseeing the situation, Ernakulam had already set up community kitchens, migrant worker camps, to ensure continuous availability of food for all. 

Bengaluru has turned its ICCC into Virus war room to carry out GIS based mapping of Covid-positive cases, tracking healthcare workers using GPS, and drawing up containment plans using heat map technology. All government and private hospitals have been equipped with ‘Flu corners’ to screen/identify Covid-suspects. Tirupati is actively following the Bhilwara model and carrying out home delivery of essential goods. 

Key measures

While substantial efforts are being taken by the States and cities to contain the pandemic, it is equally important to ensure action in terms of continued service and activities that play a significant role in helping citizens cope with the status quo and maintain a certain sense of normalcy in their lives. Several measures that the local bodies can put into motion at the localized levels to trigger a ‘part to whole’ trend in city management include the following:

• City Surveillance to become primary: Countries like Singapore, Israel, South Korea and China are using technology via digital barcodes on mobile phones, to track and stem the spread. Largescale installation of CCTV systems and drones could be used to monitor and restrict movement within cities and towns as well while ensuring, technological rights of the citizens. 

• Maintaining efficient delivery of essentials: A database of all grocery stores supplying essentials may be maintained by local bodies and a process for safe distribution of goods be developed, whereby a street-wise and area-wise roster is maintained, i.e. each store allots specific time slots for each street. This would substantially reduce the crowd, thereby creating a safer environment for the shoppers. This is now implemented in Trivandrum, Kerala. Many cities are working with GIS solution providers to develop a tool by which all affected areas are mapped to identify food partners and map delivery of basic supplies made at these locations.

• Solid Waste Management: With the aim of minimizing waste generated in each ward and keeping in mind the safety of the sanitary workers,suggestive guidelines likeoutlining the advantages of segregating waste, using the kitchen waste to generate compost, or feed stray cattle, dogs, and appropriate disposal of Masks, gloves, etc. should be prescribed.

• Identification of Govt buildings: City authorities could take a step further and convert feasible public buildings such as libraries, offices, secretariats, university hostels, medical colleges, etc. into quarantine/isolation units,camps for migrant workers, community kitchens, and small-scale mask-making units. Doing this could also generate a substantial amount of temporary jobs that could be taken up by migrant and daily wage workers. 

• Working with Private parties to augment level of preparedness: City authorities could also work closely with the private sector, especially the hospitality industry, to increase capacity of medical facilities in the town. Private factories could also be roped in for local production of sanitizers, masks post appropriate approvals. 

• Active citizen participation:This would also mean giving the citizens the onus of reporting a possible ‘case’ or a related issuewhich would help the local body better identify risk areas within wards, zones and the city.  A nodal point of contact could be identified from each RWA and maintain a structured process of gathering information, data,  w.r.t zone wise reporting of persons with travel history, residents showing symptoms, etc. 

Where do we stand?

It is imperative that the government agencies continue to provide core services to the citizens. Ensuring integration of critical services is important. Cities and their local bodies should embrace the benefits of technology and include technology as part of city budgets with the aim of integrating healthcare systems into the city management framework. As emergent leaders, the focus on technology and at the same time, building inclusive neighbourhoods and cities that provide economic opportunities for all may be translated into sustainable development strategies. Riding this tide gracefully, Indian cities have already displayed immense drive and ability to bounce back and it is evident that once the pandemic is under control, these cities will emerge as more citizen-friendly, sustainable and future-ready cities of tomorrow. 



 --By Shankar Arumugham, Chief Operating Officer (Strategic Consulting), JLL India

(Disclaimer: Views expressed are perosnal and does not represent that of the organisation)