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Disaster management preparedness: A plan for action

S.K. Dheri
Chief Fire Officer, Delhi Fire Service

Risk in urban areas
The dynamics of change in urban settlements due to large scale migration has led to the evolution of high-rise structures, mixed land use, high population density, growth of cottage ad hazardous industries, cross country gas pipelines, bulk oil storage tank farms and thermal power stations. These increase losses during disasters. The recent earthquake in turkey caused rippling of electric poles. Collapse of buildings, refinery fires, and blocked roads of so that rescue teams from Switzerland, U.S.A Greece and Germany struggled to reach victims. More than 10,000 died. The situation would be the same in developing countries unless loss patterns are controlled through co-ordinated disaster management plans.

Concept of mitigation
Mitigation embraces all measures taken to reduce both the effect of the hazard itself and the vulnerable conditions to it, in order to reduce the scale of a future disaster and its impacts. Mitigation also includes measures aimed at reducing physical, economic and social vulnerability. Therefore mitigation may incorporate addressing community-related issued such as land ownership distribution, etc. Depending on their purpose, mitigation measures can be categorized as being 'structural' or non-structural.

Active preparedness measures
Both structural or non-structural mitigation measures may be termed either 'passive' or 'active'. Active measures are those which rely on providing incentives for disaster reduction. They are often more effective than passive measures which are based on laws and controls. For example, while codes and land use planning may provide a legal context for mitigation, they are ineffective unless rigorously enforced. Instead, measures which provide incentives such as government grants or subsidies, lessening of insurance premiums for safer construction and provision of government technical advice are more effective.

Preparedness efforts
Structural mitigation measures relate to those activities and decision making systems which provide the context within which disaster management and planning operates and is organised. They include measures such as preparation of preparedness plans, training and education, public education, evacuation planning, institution building, warning systems, and land use planning.

Disaster response
Coping with the effects of natural disasters is called Post Disaster Management. It deals with problems concerning law and order, evacuation and warnings, communications, search and rescue, fire-fighting, medical and psychiatric assistance, provision of relief and sheltering, etc. Once the initial trauma of the natural disaster is over, the phase of reconstruction and economic rehabilitation is taken up by the people themselves and by the government authorities. Thereafter, the occurrence of the disaster is relegated to historic memory until the next one occurs.

Preparedness plans the foremost step
The existence of a disaster-preparedness plan is blessing. Distraught officials have at hand, a set of instruction they can follow to issue direction tot heir subordinates and affected people. This speeds up the rescue and relief operations and boosts the morale of victims. Disaster plans are also useful pre-disaster operations, when warnings have been issued. Time, which might otherwise be lost in consultations with senior officers and getting formal approval, is saved.

Response plans are formulated by different agencies that need to co-ordinate during emergencies. For example, the electricity supplying authority would be responsible for preparing an action plan, which would be used following a disaster event to restore full services quickly. The contingency Action Plan (CAP) already exists at the national level that lists out in detail the actions to be taken at various levels of government at the time of calamity. There is, however, a need to carry out a comprehensive revision of CAP followed by clear cut operational guidelines. Recently, a high power committee has been established to prepare a disaster management plant ad Central/State and district levels.

National policy
The Natural Disaster Management Division in the department of agriculture and co-operation. Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India deals with the post disaster relief operations. a contingency plan has been prepared for dealing with the natural calamities as a part of the national policy for the subject. The important issued of the contingency plans are:

Types of Calamity
Natural Calamities, as contained in the plan, have been broadly grouped into major and minor types depending upon their potential to cause damage to human life and property. Earthquakes, droughts, floods, and cyclones have been identified as major type of while hailstorms, avalanches, landslides, fire accidents, etc. whose impact is localized and intensity of the damage being much less are categorized as minor calamities.

Role of the Central Government
In the federal set up of India, the responsibility to formulate the Government's response to a natural calamity major or minor is essentially that of the State Government concerned. The Center, however, supplements, to the extent possible, these efforts by way of providing financial and material assistance for effective management of the situation in accordance with the existing scheme of finance and relief expenditure depending upon the gravity of the calamity.

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