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Random Thoughts

Can London Cope in an Emergency Situation? Reflections on my Experience of the London Tube Strike


It was annoying that the Tube strikes happened on the few days in my life when I actually had to be in London. The experience of the strikes was therefore inevitable. I thought myself pretty safe from the trials and tribulations of the day. The 25 bus was supposed to take me straight into London and straight back to Ilford, from where I could catch another quick bus home. However, when we make our plans, there are always contingencies that affect us. It actually took me three or four hours into London and then the same back home, since the buses were on diversion and because of the massive amounts of people involved which meant that buses weren’t stopping at bus stops and that when they were, there was no way of avoiding the massive queues for places that had been building up.

As I waited in these very same massive queues for the buses, I pondered about the similarity of the situation to an emergency situation. All these people in the London rat race desperate to get home could easily be people evacuating the city. The over-reliance on the tube could prove disastrous in an evacuation situation since there were no other possibilities of quickly exiting the city. And how were the people behaving? There were policemen herding the flock of people, shouting at us not to push and helping the pregnant and those with children to the front of the queues. They were trying to organise who should get on what bus, depending on the length of their journey and where the buses were going to stop. A woman near me was shouting back at the policemen, since she didn’t like shouting, ironically enough. The figures of authority were a focus of dissent and not figures which inspired full confidence and co-operation.

In a time of high pressure, there was also more incidents involving the clash of personalities, as well as acts of altruism. The two combined together in an episode on the bus. Something happened involving a woman on the bus – maybe she was being pushed or something. Anyway, the Indian person sitting beside me intervened, asking the Eastern European man that had been involved in the incident to pay more attention to his effect on other people. He seemed to think it was his duty to help the woman, who was also Indian. The Eastern European man immediately flared up in anger. He said that the Indian man had a seat and should just sit down and not get involved in what was happening between those that were standing up. He complained that the Indian man thought he was some big hero, something that clearly irked him. As the long and pointless argument ensued, I wondered what would have happened in the old days when the bombs were falling over the city and there was crowding down below on the London Underground stations as people huddled together for safety. Would this incident have happened back then? Were we worse than our forebears, or were we just the same? Were modern-day Londoners ill-equipped to deal with an emergency situation, or had there always been the same problems?



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