The compelling force of Subroto’s work lies in his ability to recognize the strengths of an apparently dysfunctional system and leverage what resources it has to create a new package of life-saving services. Rather than duplicating infrastructure and reinventing processes, he renews existing programs and brings them into harmonious collaboration.
His work falls into four main categories: networking existing programs to create a pool of resources; introducing professional standards of trauma protocol and revitalizing medical facilities; reaching out to the end-user via a 24-hour helpline; and connecting with influential stakeholders to keep the endeavor sustainable.
In the early stages of his project Subroto gathered a formidable group of allies. Knowing that highway construction was a high priority for the prime minister, he approached the prime minister’s Office directly for assistance. Rather than asking for money, he requested permission to put up helpline numbers, and begged their help in navigating the political and legal wrangles that cripple so many efforts in India. With no downside, and with only political gain to win from their association with his project, they quickly lent their support. In much the same manner, Subroto gained the help of major corporations. Preaching the benefits of corporate responsibility, he partnered with Hutch, a leading cellular phone company, to provide toll-free helpline numbers and networking facilities. He approached India’s leading steel company, TATA Steel, for signboards and a well-known paint company to help create signs for his 24-hour helpline.
Armed with permission from the National Highways Authority of India, Subroto set about mapping and networking existing facilities on the stretch of highways targeted for his pilot project. He mapped each milestone, recorded every landmark, and collated data on the nearest hospitals, ambulance services, villages, and police posts. To facilitate police handling, Subroto had to map the highway to exacting standards so that police jurisdiction was clear.
Subroto ensures that his network of services for highway rescue comes at no cost to the accident victim. He maintains a conglomerate of 20 major corporations, all stakeholders in some aspect of traffic safety, to fund the initiative. IOC, Birla Tyres, TATA Motors, Hutch, and State Bank of Saurashtra are key companies partnering the initiative in Gujarat. UTI Bank is picking up costs for victim evacuation in Maharashtra, while the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce in West Bengal and Ashok Leyland in Tamil Nadu are working on logistics to partner with Lifeline in their respective states. The sponsorship of roadside evacuations is crucial in that it guarantees payment to ambulance owners who were previously reluctant to release their fleets to unreliable emergency situations.
The helpline is well advertised on the highways at 5 kilometer intervals and offers a safe and anonymous forum for reporting accidents. A 24-hour control room responds to distress calls, directing 149 ambulances located at different points along the highway and coordinating the 68 hospitals on alert for the system. Subroto’s team developed a software program by which the control room can pinpoint the location of an accident site on a digital map down to the nearest 200 meters without using GPS. Thus, when a call comes through, hospitals, ambulance services, cranes and metal cutters, and the police are informed simultaneously.
To support the helpline Subroto has developed a network of disparate groups. Among the first he approached were ambulance drivers. Overworked and underpaid, ambulance drivers in India are provided with few safeguards, modest equipment and little to no paramedical training. Subroto brought the drivers into his network, building their self-esteem by drawing attention to the vital role they play in the life-saving operations of emergency rescue. He helps them gain the legal and medical knowledge they need to respond quickly to highway crises. He launched the Ambulance Association of India to improve and standardize ambulance services throughout the country.
His next step was to sensitize the police to their role in the burgeoning highway rescue system. He initiated training programs on the handling of trauma victims and disseminated information on state laws and jurisdictions. Subroto also works to raise awareness levels among the medical community and in hospitals on laws and techniques relating to emergency care. He is working to standardize trauma protocol in hospitals all over the country.
The general public plays a vital role in his network as well. His programs already train doctors and paramedics of rural health centers in first aid and emergency response in more than 25 districts of the state of Gujarat through the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Other programs target residents of villages along the highways, providing training in rescue and first aid and helping residents form village task forces to coordinate emergency care and support the District Development Officers of each district. Subroto is currently working with five thousand schoolchildren along the highways covered by his pilot project. His eventual aim is to make sure that even a fourth grade student will be able to provide the minimum first aid required to save a life.
Subroto’s model will soon expand to cover the nearly 15,000 kilometers of highway connecting the four major cities of India. He has recruited partnering organizations to help manage the funding and execution in their home districts while Lifeline provides the technical know-how, the necessary permissions, training of trainers, and other resources. To ensure quality control, partners have to be associates of Friends of Highways, a national-level body Subroto envisages, with uniform guidelines and standards for emergency medical services. Through this association Subroto hopes to establish a single nationwide helpline number covering all types of emergencies.