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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Preparedness could reduce casualties

New Delhi: If there is a silver lining in the grim foreboding of a monster storm, it's the realization that lives aren't that cheap in India any longer. For, the measures taken by the administration in the run-up to Cyclone Phailin to reducecasualties and minimize losses doesn't have parallels. 

    The superior preparedness and response this time for disaster is in sharp contrast to previous disastrous storms like the 1999 super cyclone. They are also in contrast with the Uttarakhand disaster when the state authoritieswerecaughtflat -footed. This time disaster management authorities are confident of meeting the challenge with minimal casualty. 
    The Odisha coastline has been dotted with cyclone shelters, none of them more than 2.5 km from habitation. This has ensured that over 5 lakh people could be evacuated in the last two days. Otherwise, moving such large numbers could have been impossible. 
    Nothing has helped more than an early and accurate warning of the impending natural disaster. The Doppler radar has gone a long way in enabling this. 
Over 5 lakh shifted ahead of Phailin landfall 
NewDelhi:Advancementsin technologyhavehelped in the evacuation efforts immensely by giving accurate alertswellbeforetheincident.ThoughtheMetdepartment did issue cyclone alerts even in 1999 based on satellite images, these were mostly too close to the landfall and not pinpointed in terms of location. 
    Today, there is a Doppler radar in place at Bhubaneswar, giving out precisecoordinatesin termsof geographical spread, intensity and timing of cyclones. This enables early alerts to the local authorities and wider dissemination of cyclone warnings in the vulnerable areas,facilitating timely evacuation of people likely to be affected. 
    The electronic media boom and 24x7 news coverage further ensured that Phailin became a household name well before its landfall. 
    Evacuations play akey partin disaster mitigation. Unlike 1999, when the super cyclone caught the victims as well as government authorities by surprise, around 5.25 

lakh evacuations were already complete by the first half of Saturday. 
    The cyclone shelters have been built under the Centre and NDMA's NationalCycloneRiskMitigation Project, a World Bank-assisted initiative. 
    These two-storey structures can withstand wind speed up to 300km per hour and moderate earthquakes. The massive evacuation may not have been possible but for the relentless 
effortsof thelocal administration.Alocalofficialsaid when some of the villagers refused to leave their houses, the authorities even went to the extent of threatening them withdetention and arrest,ensuring immediate compliance. The creation of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in 2006 ensured that there were around 2,300 personnel, specially trained in disaster mitigation and response, available for deployment, along with equipment like inflatable boats, lifebuoys and power saws. 
    Incidentally, Odisha had set up its own Odisha StateDisaster ManagementAuthority andOdisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) soon after the 1999 disaster, muchbeforetheNDMA andNDRFcame into being. Last but not the least, the coordination between thecentral andstate agenciesthistimewas "remarkably good", as an NDMA member put it, with IMD religiously relaying cyclone updates to NDMA, MHA and the state government. 
    The national executive council, which was almost non-functional until the Uttarakhand disaster, has been very active, with the Union home secretary taking daily meetings over the last couple of days, coordinating mitigation and relief preparedness with various nodal ministries, armed forces, NDRF and state authorities.

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