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Ferry Disaster Reminds Us of Need for Safety Policies

Ferry Disaster Reminds Us of Need for Safety Policies

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

At times, it might seem like the United States has a lot of safety rules and laws that create all sorts of problems for citizens. Some policies -- like public room capacity limits as mandated by the local fire marshal -- might appear excessive at times.

Nevertheless, these policies exist because they keep people safe. Overcrowding can cause serious emergencies and public safety agencies can be quickly overwhelmed by a sudden influx of victims.

Unfortunately, we are painfully reminded of the importance of safety policies when tragedy strikes elsewhere. These tragedies might have been avoided or at least mitigated if they happened in the United States.

Recently in Tanzania, for example, a ferry capsized on Lake Victoria because it was overloaded with heavy cargo and overcrowded by passengers. The death toll continues to rise as crews work to recover bodies from the water.

The BBC and local media reported that on the day of the sinking, the ferry was possibly carrying twice the number of people over the safety limit, which made the situation even more dangerous. It was not the first time that vessels had capsized in Lake Victoria due to overcrowding, the BBC noted.

Safety Policies versus Culture

Policies that prevent ferries and other vessels from overloading passengers are important because they set standards that operators generally follow. In the United States, most businesses abide by recommended safety guidelines rather than take the risk of violating safety laws and incurring stiff fines. Culturally, Americans are also concerned about lawsuits, which often ensures that organizations abide by safety laws.

Unfortunately, not all cultures are afraid of the implications of breaking safety laws and regulations. To enforce safety laws, there needs to be an infrastructure and an administration in place.

In Tanzania, safety laws are not always enforced. As a result, it is difficult to ensure that the country’s transportation organizations are not overloading vessels.

As the Lake Victoria disaster shows, just because a safety policy exists doesn’t mean that it will automatically be followed. Many other mechanisms need to be in place to motivate citizens to follow safety rules.

The incident in Tanzania is a painful reminder that safety policies regarding overcrowding are particularly important. Rules not only exist to keep people safe; they’re also designed to prevent emergencies from happening.

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four Master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, History, a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She is also trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard and a Lifeguard Instructor. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and also serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.