Disaster Management Plans

Disaster Management Plans

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N. K. Jain

“We must move towards a safer world in the 21st century. A disaster mitigation plan is the strategy and the people are the key for an action plan.”

Jan 26, 2001 was the wake up call. As [email protected] put it on its editorial page February 2000,‘Earthquakes again. Will it wake us up this time?’ This time the quake was historic in nature. Though it may not set a world record for either deaths or material losses yet buildings as far as Delhi. Chennai and Bangalore have developed cracks.

The 1977 Andhra Pradesh Cyclone shook the conscience of India. Yet it needed a Latur earthquake to shake us up from deep slumber. At least this time the opportunity was grabbed. A World Bank grant loan of over 1000 crores rupees was sanctioned. However it was much later in 1996-97 that a consultant was appointed to develop a state Disaster Management Plan. It was indeed formulated and accepted by the world bank and Government of Maharashtra in late 1997.

I had the good fortune to visit one of the state level Central Room recently. It is gratifying to see the state of art equipment, use of GIS and satellite communication system. However, one is reminded of the fact that Maharashtra was the first state (and Haryana the second and the last one) to produce a Disaster Management Plan for the health sector. However, several years (indeed a decade) later, the plan was no where in sight when Latur was hit by an earthquake. Here was a system that seems, even today, to be the only markable model for Disaster Management. However for Haryana, when floods hit it in all its severity no one seemed to think that there was a plan. Daburali Fire was a stark reminder of our failure.

In 1999 two successive cyclones ripped Orissa to the core. Orissa state Disaster Mitigation Authority has been set up and state level Disaster Management plan is in the offing (if not already in place). Ask the nodal ministry for natural disaster the Ministry of Agriculture, there is a contingency plan but it in “SECRET”! Disaster Management is a serious business and cannot and should not be one of the many ‘ex officio functions’. On Feb. 1, 2001, in the wake of the earthquaking even in Delhi on Jan 26, newspaper reported that Lt Governor of Delhi confirmed that a Disaster Management plan will be in place within a month and that three control centres in Laxmi Nagar, Rohini and Nehru Place will become functional. These will be located in Fire stations and the Dy Commissioner of police will be incharge of each. Remember there are nine Dy. Commissioners, incharge of nine districts. This Dy Commissioner, by Environment Protection Act 1986, is the nodal officer for off-site Disaster plan and indeed Government of National Capital Territory had employed a consultant to formulate a state Disaster Plan and it was also approved and Government orders issued constituting State, District and Local Level Crisis Groups.

Following the 1965 Indo-Pak war, a comprehensive Civil Defence plan for Delhi was evolved. Now on the same date, as Lt Governor, the standing committee of the Municipal Corporation announced that Municipal Commissioner has been asked to formulate a Disaster plan within a month.

A year back Chief Minister and Mayor of Delhi were apprised about RADIUS project of the UN/IDNR for upgrading the status and reduce vulnerability of the city-New Delhi did not care. With a spate of Disaster Plans existing or coming up and all of them being kept away from public domain, the citizens will indeed be confused and chaos will be worsened. Should a disaster lead to cascading effect with gas pipelines, multistory complexes, lack of communication systems and Delhi Fire Service having just one Reserve Van for 1.4 crore Population and neighboring Gurgaon – boasting of skyscrapper commercial and residential complexes have inadequate fire services, that can only reach upto second floor level.

There is an urgent need to apply GIS technology to integrate all plans and available data. We need not be worried about secrecy, for those from whom we want to keep secrets, manage to get these anyway. Disaster Management Plans are good only if they are implementable and every one clearly knows his role, responsibility and authority. They should be revised and updated. A poor plan is better than NO plan at all.

After all despite a high-tech and comprehensive plan, the system totally collapsed in Mumbai under flood deluge in July 2000. Perhaps the plan was only for the earthquakes. While it may be true that nature of each type of disasters is different yet it is also true that there is a lot in common when mitigation is the need. The applied sciences may be different, but the management has common principles. “A plan” can become “the plan” when tested and updated overtime supported by a political will.

This ‘will’ is evident in an Indian Prime Minister presiding over a National Disaster Management Committee (as reported on Feb., 19, 2001) and earlier in August 1999, the PM constituting a High Powered Committee ( H. P. C.) to evolve a National Disaster Management Plan to combat natural disaster.

The plan will be really effective if there is a policy on which it builds. A fundamental principal of sound management is the SWOT analysis which is a clear analysis of strength, weakness, opportunity and threats. The H.P.C. is a historic opportunity and the threat is that we may end up in performing a cosmetic surgery on a system that has failed time and again. On this historic occasion it will be a test of political will and skill, that no one is allowed to hijack the Agenda of the PM. If needed, which indeed is the need, in view of the historic Gujarat Quake 2001, term of the H.P.C. should be extended beyond 31st of March, the committee proceedings made transparent and in public domain, so that a fair and frank debate precedes the formulation of the plan. Number, frequency and severity of disaster globally are still rising. The basic premise behind the IDNDR-much that is known is not universally applied in the context of disaster is still true. The message is loud and clear; we must move towards a safer world in 21st century with hope. Disaster Management Plan is the strategy and the People are the key-Action must follow. Finally as one spiritual master said, “Energy follows Thought”. We are as safe as we believe we are. This is only possible if we TRUST the system that will implement the PLAN.