26 May 2014

Earthquake & Natural Disaster Management : An Overview !

A huge earthquake of at least 6.5 on the Richter scale has shaken Greece and parts of Turkey today and few days back on 22nd May 2014, mild to moderate tremors of approx. 6.0 on the Richter scale were felt in northern and eastern India which were felt in places like Delhi, NCR, Kolkata, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi, Gaya, Chennai and few other places. These recent events push us to have an overview of earthquake.

An earthquake could be defined as the series of vibrations on the earth’s surface caused by the generation of elastic (or) seismic waves due to sudden deformation/rupture within the earth during the release of an accumulated strain energy.

Earthquakes result in large-scale human fatalities because they cause –
·         Structural damage (Collapse of man-made structures) - the collapse of structures like houses, schools, hospitals and public buildings , damage to public infrastructure like roads, dams and bridges, as well as public utilities like power and water supply installations ; floods from dam and levee failures , damage to nuclear sites , explosions at chemical sites , collapsing of mines etc.


    Resultant additional natural calamities – rise in sea level , tsunami waves in sea & coastal areas, Land and mud slides, Soil liquefaction ,Ground lurching, Avalanches , Fires etc.
 Several major earthquakes witnessed by India in the recent past -
1.   The Uttarkashi earthquake of 1991,
2.   The Latur earthquake of 1993,
3.   The Jabalpur earthquake of 1997,
4.   The Chamoli earthquake of1999.
5.   The Bhuj earthquake of 26 January 2001 ,and
6.   The Jammu & Kashmir earthquake of 8 October 2005.

India Power-Plants and Earthquake-Zones
(The analysis of the above listed major earthquakes has made it clear that the casualties were caused primarily due to the collapse of buildings.)

Indian mainland is highly vulnerable to earthquakes, (As per seismic zoning, as much as 59 per cent of India’s land area could face moderate to severe earthquakes).

Given the high seismic risk and earthquake vulnerability in India , a comprehensive ,  institutionalized and coordinated mechanism is required  for effective disaster management at the national, state, and district levels , which should include –

I.   Analyzing the risk:-

·  Carrying out the vulnerability mapping of earthquake-prone areas and creating inventory of resources for effective response;
·  An identification of the critical areas which require special attention;
·  Analyzing & documenting the lessons learnt  from previous earthquakes , and working over future strategy in coping similar emergencies in future ;
·   Strengthening of emergency response capability in earthquake prone areas;
·  Estimating  the extent of damage to life and property in the event of an earthquake ( so that suitable disaster management strategies can be evolved )

II.   Predicting the risk:-

Predicting the Earthquakes-
The short- or mid-term prediction of earthquakes is difficult; but use of animal behavior in predicting earthquakes can offer some help.

III. Preventive measures:-

1.   The pre-disaster preparedness based on scientific and technical principles (with special focus on building techniques). This forms an important cornerstone of earthquake disaster mitigation efforts -
·   Seismic safety of man-made structures such that it ensures the structures do not collapse;
·  Revision of town planning bye-laws and adoption of model bye-laws;
·   Assessing the seismic vulnerability of the existing buildings by carrying out structural safety audits;
·    Developing seismic strengthening & setting up standards and guidelines for existing upcoming critical lifeline structures & also of buildings of national importance;
·    Undertaking mandatory technical audits of structural designs of major projects like dams, bridges etc.
·   Incorporation of earthquake resistant design features in the new buildings.
·  Ensuring the compliance of earthquake-resistant building codes, town planning laws and other safety regulations.

2. Educating masses & the role of community      participation 
·  Introducing earthquake safety education in schools, colleges and universities;
·   Conducting mock drills for greater public awareness;
·  Participation of the community at the local level in the planning, implementation and monitoring processes;
·    Launching public awareness campaigns on seismic safety and risk reduction;
· Technical education following comprehensive curriculum related to earthquake management.

3.   Medical emergency & preparedness 
·  The emergency medical plan to be immediately put to work on receiving information from the earthquake affected areas;
· Prompt and efficient emergency medical response with effective reach to affected masses;
·  Resuscitation, triage and medical evacuation of victims who require hospitalization,
· Appropriate counseling will be provided to the victims suffering from pshyco-social trauma.

4. Setting up “Disaster Response Force” battalions in high seismic risk zones, training and equipping them.

5. A brief review of the status of earthquake management efforts periodically.

IV.   Response/ Emergency measures :-

1.   Emergency relief measures –
·   Planning and setting up emergency shelters, relief camps for people affected;
·   Distributing relief among the affected people,
·  Identifying missing people and launching search & rescue operations for them,
·   Addressing the needs like- health care, water supply and sanitation, food etc.,
·  Deployment of armed forces for post-earthquake response work,
· Establishing systems for proper identification of the deceased, recording the details of victims, and their DNA fingerprinting.

V.   Rehabilitation & Recovery:-
· Steps to be taken to ensure adequate nutrition, medical services , water & sanitation facilities,
·  Providing psychological care and social support,
·  Re-housing of those rendered shelter-less after-quake,
·   Rehabilitate amputees and other disabled,
·  Providing them with opportunities for earning living & settlement.

Thus we see that the Earthquakes pose unique challenges during each phase of the disaster management cycle (i.e., during preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response, rehabilitation and recovery). International experience has shown that the maximum gains from earthquake management efforts are secured by strengthening the pre-earthquake preparedness and mitigation efforts.

{Emergency management in India is being handled by the National Disaster Management Authority of India, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Indian Army also plays an important role in the rescue/recovery operations after a disaster.}

Challenges ahead
  • More R&D is needed on –“How to improve seismic safety?”
  • Inadequate numbers of trained and qualified civil engineers, structural engineers, architects and masons proficient in earthquake-resistant design and construction of structures.
  • Revising the curriculum in professional courses, incorporating disaster management in them.
  • Need of generating public awareness on seismic risk reduction features in non-engineered construction in earthquake-prone areas.

To sum up , we can say that , an increasing need is being felt for systematic, holistic and integrated effort to address the critical areas of concern responsible for the weak seismic safety measures ; & formulating an “Earthquake Management Plan” covering all aspects like earthquake preparedness, mitigation, public awareness, capacity building, training, education, Research and Development (R&D), documentation, earthquake response, rehabilitation and recovery with a minimal loss of lives and damage to property, assets and infrastructure.

What is your view about preparedness of India for such natural disaster like earthquake etc.?

How much efficient is our natural disaster management system throughout the country? How it can be made much stronger and systematic?

How a normal citizen can contribute during such natural disasters for the welfare of the people and country?

(Written by Dr. Jot Brar, a practicing Doctor)



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