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Indian Cos Can't Withstand Japan-like Disaster, Says NIDM

Added 17th Mar 2011

In the aftermath of the mega earthquake and tsunami that pulverized Japan, there has been a spirited debate over the disaster preparedness of India. India after all has lesser technological sophistication to efficiently manage a disaster of such enormous proportion. Hence there is widespread skepticism about India’s disaster management capability.

Chandan Ghosh, Professor and Head, Geo Hazards and Hydro Meterological department at National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) is quite skeptical about the disaster mitigation and preparedness measures being undertaken by Indian corporates.

He believes that in the event of a mega disaster like the one unfolding in Japan the channels of communication in India will be severely disrupted. Communication, connectivity and mobility will tumble if a calamity of such magnitude were to hit India. 

"The buildings and infrastructure in India have been designed with short term goals. Over the past five years there has been a scorching growth in the telecom sector. The number of mobile connections have proliferated with communication towers being erected in various places. These towers are the arteries of communication. But, they are designed in a way that renders them vulnerable to calamities. They cannot withstand the rigours of a natural calamity," he says.

He highlights that the service providers are either oblivious of this glaring loophole or they chose to be blissfully unaware of the fact that these communication towers need to be checked for disaster safety and vulnerability reduction on a periodic basis. The telecom service providers have not taken any steps in this regard.

The NIDM has not received any directives from the government to share any guidelines with the corporates to equip them for such disasters, he maintains. The semi government and government organizations are sensitized to some extent but the private enterprises remains largely unconcerned. “From time to time we receive some proposals to check the facility of disaster safety at semi government and government organizations. Sometimes they call us to make a safety audit of their facility. Only government and semi government organizations have come up with these proposals. The private organizations have not shown any interest in this regard,” Ghosh acknowledges.

The concerted efforts to prop up the safety posture of Indian economy against the unforeseen disasters are yet to bear fruits. Ghosh’s confidence in them is tinged with pessimism.  “Over the last five years we have invested considerable amount of time and effort in  imparting training in incident command. We are imparting this training to SAARC countries. This week the incident command training is going on in Sri Lanka. But the theoretical knowledge has not been translated into execution. It remains confined to the class room. The implementation or practical application is the real challenge and we can do precious little in this area. It leaves much to be desired for,” he confesses.

However, he concurs that there is a sliver of hope amid all the despondency. Some states in India can be held up as shinning examples of disaster management. Gujrat and Maharahtra have set the benchmark for effective disaster management. After the mega earthquake of Bhuj and Latur, these two states undertook the Herculean task of earthquake reconstruction, he points out. 

Ghosh highlights that the private sector organizations are quite inadequately prepared for such crises, "What’s worse, they are even complacent about their unsatisfactory disaster safety measures. Private corporations in India need to outline and fine tune their mitigation and preparedness measures to the satisfactory levels. With a massive awareness generation campaigns among employees they can  build up their capabilities against natural disasters." He recommends a well conceived business continuity plan. Corporate should have a periodic disaster safety check for which there are some guidelines given by Indian government. There should be a mandatory mock drill, crises communication and a hazard hunt exercise among their staffers every two to three months. 

Forewarned is forearmed and taking a cue from this adage the Government of India has initiated a project through the Ministry of Earth Sciences. This promising project is called the Seismic Microzonation. Shedding light on the project Dr. O. P. Mishra, Head, Geological Disaster Division, SAARC Disaster Management Centre, New Delhi revealed that under this project seismotectonic map for microzonation area can be developed to detect which area will be hit by an earthquake. This is a predictive process and can augment the preparedness by several notches. Such studies can help organizations arrive at a decision as to where they should be setting up their DR sites.