disaster management

Though disaster management has been an indispensable part of regular curriculum in schools the world over for quite some time, it is only for the last few months that people all over the world have been talking about it, as the media across the world flashed news about several devastating incidents — both natural and man-engineered — one after another.

The June 2013 Uttarakhand disaster surpassed all in magnitude because 2,000 villages were devastated in varying degrees, 1,500 roads were washed away and 150 bridges were damaged. The heavy rains due to cloudbursts caught the people unawares and brought down innumerable buildings at several places and thousands of hapless pilgrims, tourists as well as local people had to lose their lives in holy land of centuries-old temples.

The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that after two weeks of the disaster, trucks carrying ration were parked afar off in Rishikesh, Dehradun, Haridwar and Haldwani for want of clearances and the administration’s failure to ensure distribution of food grains, biscuits, drinking water and oil among the starving in the flood-ravaged areas. Actually, floods had cut-off 600 villages from the outside world rendering all access impossible. The disaster witnessed the largest-ever rescue efforts, as 43.7 percent area of the State was affected due to 440 percent more rainfall than normal till June 18, 2013.

In fact, there is no part or country on this planet which is not susceptible to disaster, though vulnerability to disaster varies from place to place. Disaster management has been defined as the organisation or management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies, in particular, preparedness, response and recovery in order to lessen the impact of disasters.

Principles of Disaster Management

In 2007, the first attempt was made to define the all-acceptable principles of Disaster Management. The necessity of defining the principles was felt when a meeting was convened by Dr. Wayne Blanchard of the US’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Emergency Management Higher Education Project at the direction of Dr. Cortez Lawrence, Superintendent of FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.

To this meeting, a working group of emergency management practitioners and academics were invited to consider the principles of emergency management. In fact, this meeting was the result of the realization that while numerous books, a large number of papers and articles referred to principles of emergency management, nobody had ever tried to give an agreed-upon definition of what these principles were.

It is at this meeting that the working group agreed on eight principles that would guide the development of a doctrine of disaster management. The eight principles are as follows :

1. Comprehensive: Disaster managers consider and take into account all hazards, all phases, all stakeholders and all impacts relevant to disasters.

2. Progressive: Disaster manag&rs anticipate disasters, hence take preventive and preparatory measures to build disaster- resistant and disaster-resilient communities.

3. Risk-driven: Disaster managers use sound risk management principles (hazard identification, risk analysis, and impact analysis) in assigning priorities and resources.

4. Integrated: Disaster managers ensure unity of effort among all levels of
government and all elements of a community.

5. Collaborative: Disaster managers create and sustain broad and sincere relationships among individuals and organizations to encourage trust, advocate a team atmosphere, build consensus and facilitate communication.

6. Coordinated: Disaster managers synchronize the activities of all the stakeholders to achieve a common purpose.

7. Flexible: Disaster managers use creative and innovative approaches to solving disaster challenges.

8. Professional: Disaster managers value a science and knowledge-based approach, based on education, training, experience, ethical practice, public stewardship and continuous improvement.

World Conference on Disaster Reduction

The Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World were adopted at the Yokohama Conference on Disaster Reduction in May 1994. Ten years later, a major international event was planned to assess the progress made against the plan of action from Yokohama.

The event was a platform for the presentation and adoption of specific goals, activities and policy measures, based on a review of the progress since Yokohama. This conference was of particular importance, as the commitment to an understanding of disaster management had been moving forward internationally, impacts of disasters continued to rise and remained a major obstacle to development.

This recognition was of special resonance within the Disaster Management Plan (DMP), as it highlighted the connections between relief and development and the need to devise new strategies for addressing this gap. Based on its close partnership with United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), DMP/UN-HABITAT played a leading role in the conference in Kobe in 2005.

The International Recovery Platform

The International Recovery Platform (IRP) was conceived at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan in January 2005. As a thematic platform of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) system, IRP was a key pillar for the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005—2015.

At the WCDR in 2005, a global plan for disaster risk reduction for the decade was adopted by 168 governments, building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. Growing understanding and acceptance of the importance of disaster risk reduction depend on the subject’s embodiment in global commitments to sustainable development, most clearly expressed in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 1992, especially through its provisions on vulnerability, risk assessment, and disaster management.

United Nations

United Nations also responds to the disasters taking place worldwide and the responsibility for emergency response is delegated to the Resident Coordinator within the affected country. However, it has been the practice to coordinate the international response whenever the affected country’s government has requested. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) has been deploying a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team.

World Bank

The World Bank has played a significant role, so far as disaster management is concerned and carried out a large number of operations related to this area. Its operations have included both post-disaster reconstruction projects and projects with components aimed at preventing and mitigating disaster impacts.

It has done a significant job in Argentina, Colombia, Bangladesh, Haiti, India, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam among other countries. Its common areas for focus for prevention and mitigation projects include forest fire prevention measures like early warning measures and education campaigns to dissuade farmers from engaging in slash-and-burn agriculture that ignites forest fires; early warning system for hurricanes; flood prevention mechanisms, ranging from shore protection and terracing in rural areas to adaptation of production and earthquake-resistant construction.

A Global Risk Analysis of Natural Disaster Hotspots has also been established by the World Bank in collaboration with Columbia University under the umbrella of ProVention Consortium.

In June 2006, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) was established by the World Bank in collaboration with other aid donors to reduce disaster losses by mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in development, in support of the Hyogo Framework of Action.

It is now accepted by all that disasters of all types—natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcano eruptions; environmental disasters which include technological industrial accidents, usually involving hazardous material; complex disasters involving a breakdown of authority, looting and attacks on strategic-locations during conflict situations and war; and pandemic disasters involving a sudden onset of a contagious or infectious disease that affects not only health, but also disrupts services and businesses—result in colossal economic and social loss.

Local regional, national and international organizations are showing great concern about disasters and try to act whenever and wherever a disaster takes place. For example, since 2001, the European Union (EU) has adopted Community Mechanism for Civil Protection, which has started to play a significant role on the global scene.

It gives countries access to a platform, to a one-stop-shop of civil protection means available amongst all the participating states. Any country inside or outside the Union affected by a major disaster can make an appeal for assistance through the MIC.

It acts as a communication hub at headquarters level between participating states, the affected country and despatched field experts. It also provides useful and updated information on the actual status of an ongoing emergency. Besides, every nation has its own mechanism to deal with disasters.

For example, we can take Australia. Natural disasters are part of life in Australia. Drought occurs on average every 3 out of 10 years and associated heatwaves have killed more Australians than any other type of natural disaster in the 20th century. Australia’s emergency management processes embrace the concept of the prepared community. The principal government agency in achieving this is Emergency Management Australia.

In Canada, Public Safety Canada is national emergency management agency. Each province is required to have legislation in place for dealing with emergencies, as well as establish their own emergency management agencies, typically called an “Emergency Measures Organisation” (EMO), which functions as the primary liaison with the municipal and federal level. Public Safety Canada coordinates and supports the efforts of federal organizations ensuring national security and the safety of Canadians. They also work with other levels of government, first responders, community groups, the private sector (operators of critical infrastructure) and other nations. Public Safety Canada’s work is based on a wide range of policies and legislation through the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Act which defines the powers, duties, and functions of PS are outlined.

Likewise, in Germany, the Federal Government controls the German Katastrophenschutz (disaster relief) and Zivilschutz (civil protection) programmes. The local units of German fire department and the Technisches Hilfswerk (Federal Agency for Technical Relief, THW) are part of these programmes & the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr), the German Federal Police and the 16 state police forces (Landerpolizei) all have been deployed for disaster relief operations. Besides the German Red Cross, humanitarian help is dispensed by the Johanniter-Unfallhilfe, the German equivalent of the St. John Ambulance, the Malteser-V Hllfsdienst, the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, and other private organization, to cite the largest relief organizations that are equipped for large-scale emergencies.

In the Netherlands, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is responsible for emergency preparedness and emergency management on the national level and operates a National Crisis Centre (NCC). The country is divided into 25 safety regions (veiligheidsregio). Each safety region is covered by three emergency services: police, fire and ambulance. All regions operate according to the Coordinated Regional Incident Management System. Other services, such as the Ministry of Defence, water board(s) and Rijkswaterstaat, can have an active role in the emergency management process.

In New Zealand, however, responsibility for disaster management moves from local to national depending on the nature of the emergency or risk reduction programme. A severe storm may be manageable within a particular area, whereas a public education campaign will be directed by the central government. Within each region, local governments are unified into 15 Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups (CDEMGs). Every CDEMG is responsible for ensuring that the emergency management is as robust as possible. As local governments are overwhelmed by an emergency, pre-existing mechanism. Central government has the authority to coordinate the response through the National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC), operated by the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM). These structures are defined by regulation and best explained in The Guide to the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan, roughly equivalent to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Framework. In Russia, the Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) is engaged in firefighting, Civil Defence, Search and Rescue, including rescue services after natural and human-made disasters.

The United Kingdom focussed on disaster management following the 2000 UK fuel protests, severe flooding in the same year and the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth crisis. This resulted in the creation of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA) which defined some organizations as Category 1 and 2 Responders. These responders have responsibilities under the legislation regarding emergency preparedness and response. The CCA is managed by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat through Regional Resilience Forums and at the local authority level. Disaster Management training is generally conducted at the local level by the organizations involved in any response. This is consolidated through professional courses that can be undertaken at the Emergency Planning College.

Furthermore, diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications can be gained throughout the country—the first course of this type was carried out by Coventry University in 1994. The Institute of Emergency Management is a charity, established in 1996, providing consulting services for the government, media and commercial sectors. The Professional Society of Emergency Planners is the Emergency Planning Society.

In the United States, Disaster and Catastrophe Planning have utilised the functional all-hazard approach for over 20 years, in which emergency managers develop processes (such as communication & warning or sheltering) rather than developing single-hazard/threat focussed plans (e.g., a tornado plan). Processes then are mapped to the hazards/threats, with the emergency manager looking for gaps, overlaps, and conflicts between processes. This has the advantage of creating a plan more resilient to novel events (because all common processes are defined), encourages planning done by the process owners who are the subject matter experts (e.g., the traffic management plan written by public works director, rather than the emergency manager), and focuses on processes (which are real, can be measured, ranked in importance, and are under our control)..

In the US, most disasters do not exceed the capacity of the local jurisdiction or the capacity that they have put in place to compensate such as memoranda of understanding (MoU) with adjacent localities. However, if the event becomes overwhelming local government, state emergency management (the primary government structure of the United States) becomes the controlling emergency management agency under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is lead federal agency emergency management and supports in the US, but does not override the state authority.

The United States and its territories are covered by one of ten regions for FEMA’s emergency management purposes. If, during mitigation, it is determined that a disaster or emergency is terror-related or if declared an “Incident of National Significance”, the Secretary of Homeland Security will initiate the National Response Framework (NRF). Under this plan, the involvement of federal resources will be made possible, integrating with the local, county, state, or tribal entities. Management will continue to be handled at the lowest possible level utilizing the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

So far as India is concerned, the approach to disaster management had been confined to only responding fast and providing relief to the victims of a disaster till not long ago. A holistic approach to disaster management had been missing.

Now, as every part of the world has been treating itself as a part of the global society, an integrated approach has been adopted in India too. The relief-centric syndrome has been replaced by a holistic approach with emphasis on prevention, mitigation, and preparedness at least in principle. India has started making efforts with an aim to conserve developmental gains and to minimise losses to lives, livelihood, and property.

It has adopted a plan comprising six elements, i.e. Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness in Pre-Disaster Phase and Response, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in Post-Disaster Phase. Of the six elements, the first three comprise the Pre-Disaster exercises which were found non-existent during the Uttarakhand disaster. Advanced communication technology, though available with the Government, was not deployed either for preparing for it or for a quick response. There were no early warning systems, and once disaster struck, communication systems were paralyzed for several days as mobile networks collapsed.

A recent Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) report provide the appalling cue to it. It says that a series of half-completed projects and bungled attempts have resulted in systems that are defunct. We should, however, not remain aloof from the fact that the Uttarakhand tragedy can be repeated anywhere in the country, as 60 percent of India is prone to earthquakes of moderate to high intensity and 40 million hectares of land area is prone to floods.

Besides, no regard for law and environment in most part of the country makes the situation worse from the prevention point of view. Despite the Allahabad High Court order of 1998 regarding the prohibition of construction on 200 metres of land on either side of river banks across Uttarakhand, unlawful construction has been going on ever since. In addition, in this flood-prone area, there has been no restriction on the number of tourists, which flouts environment laws.

Uttarakhand’s population was one crore in 2011 whereas the number of tourists was 2.5 crore. Even today, most of the people have no knowledge regarding earthquake survivability and their ignorance leads to the mass casualty. People should be taught how to reduce the impact of a disaster and its long-term effects. They should be trained to indulge in relief activities in disasters like floods and earthquakes.

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