ER SHEIKH AAQIB
On 22nd of May 2021 I got a call from my senior at NICMAR Pune about an urgent requirement. After the formal interview I embarked on the next flight from Srinagar, as I was told that the project is a fast-track project of a COVID hospital.
Despite the family opposition I opted to join because I felt this is the time where I am required for the noble cause and the project could help save lives. There were restrictions in the city and it was a task to reach the airport which is barely 6 kilometers from my home. I landed in Bhubaneshwar, the cab driver requested for my boarding card and curfew pass to be allowed from the airport. Early next morning I reached the small town of Deogarh, about 250 kilometers from Bhubaneswar.
After freshening up in the hotel room I went to the site location, Kalamathi which is 9 kilometers from the town in a remote location surrounded by trees all around. Seeing vicious reptiles and simians around is a common thing.
The first thing I noticed on the site was this is an isolated place from the population and there is no drainage channel where we can connect sewage from our facility. The existing sewage was going into the open woodland which is such an environmental hazard plus this time it would be COVID infected water. On informing the reporting honcho about it he said that they have already proposed a sewage collection tank for the facility and told me to identify a spot for it and design the vital.
I met the staff from the contractor’s side which were absolutely unexposed into this kind of project and all of them were from non-technical backgrounds. After assessing the situation, I understood that this isn’t going to be a cake walk. Being the site in-charge I had to ensure that their inexperience doesn’t become a handicap.
There was no drinking water available, so we had to get packaged drinking water and stock it for the labor. There was no food available, the eateries nearby were closed because of the lockdown and the laborers had to nimble fire and cook their own food.
It was quite a challenge to find accommodation here because COVID19 second wave was at its very peak. People were consecrated and were not renting their houses and when they used to hear ‘COVID Hospital’ they used to run away.
Bruce Tuckman suggests Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing are the stages of team development. But we had no time for the first three stages, we had to only perform to complete the timely completion. The project was so fast-track that it was a time and materials contract without an escalation clause and no acquisition order was provided to the contractor. The only goal was to finish the project on time.
Agile and fast-track project type is a rare and dangerous combination in which scope changes are expected and the project risk escalates. Our client’s representative was in touch with the district administration to brainstorm the requirement due to which the scope altered a number of times initially.
The most challenging thing was to make the doctors who had to manage this facility understand that it is an emergency facility. They were asking for things like a mortuary freezer, personal wash basins etc. which was puzzling the client’s representative about the requirement. They were also suggesting possible alternatives in design. Our manager had to explain to the client why the design is like this and why something could not be incorporated which did waste some precious time but it also made everybody clear why it is the best possible design.
We hardly had much idea about what was coming to us. Like the size of the donning and doffing portable toilets was much bigger than expected. We had to redo the podium size and it was really a hectic task for the hydra crane to adjust a bigger compartment in the same space because all pagodas were already set up.
But we didn’t let this knock down our morale. Power cuts were frequent here, the concerned AEE who I had met during the discrete electric transformer installation for the hospital used to text me one day in advance whenever there was a scheduled long power cut. We used to do a full night shift the night prior, to make best possible use of resources.
It was a difficult task for the contractor to arrange men and material on a site this distant. Diesel Generators were sent from Mumbai, Pagodas team came from Delhi, MGPS team was from Kerala. Because of the unavailability locally even small things like furniture, PVC tanks and electric sockets were acquired from Sambalpur which is about 100 kilometers away. Even procurement of basic items was a challenge in lockdown.
Apart from such a diversity of the workmen in culture and language we worked like a team with a missionary zeal round the clock. There were various activities going on in parallel but we didn’t compromise on quality. Apart from the project being so fast-track there was no injury reported during the entire execution phase. Generally medical gas pipeline systems (MGPS) are tested at 4 bar (which is the pressure at which medical gas is supplied), we tested ours at 6 bars and it delivered successfully.
In those two weeks of execution we faced a lot of challenges which we handled with our motivation. Because of the team work and determination, it was possible, and now I believe anything is possible. All we need is the right goal and the correct path to accomplish the same. Our hospital is ready and is awaiting patients in the small town of Deogarh with a total of 80 beds with 12 ICUs, 33 HDUs and 35 general oxygenated beds. The hospital has a special pediatric ICU ward too.
Hosmac is the Project Management Consultant (PMC) of 10 ‘Vedanta Cares Covid Hospitals’ all over the country. My reporting manager used to call me daily after work from his home just to know how I am doing and if there is any issue. I could hear the sound of his children in the background, this was the private time he was giving to the projects. I had to bother the project architect on Sundays, she never made me realize that I am crossing the line. When I ponder about it now, I feel that our team has been exceptionally phenomenal who gave everything possible at the need of the hour when the country was going through its roughest time.
The author is an advanced construction management engineer and an alumni of PGP-ACM (NICMAR Pune)