January 2012

ICT for Effective Disaster Management

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www.gsdma.org

Timely communication, multiple levels of redundancy and efficient warning and response  mechanisms are key components of an effective Disaster Management system

Dr Ranjit Bannerji, CEO, Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority

The importance of a robust and pervasive information system in minimising loss of life and  property in case of disasters can hardly be overemphasised. Information may not be the only  factor in effect in cutting down losses to life and property but it certainly is one of the most  important. To cite an example, consider the case of Bangladesh. The country was hit by a  supercyclone in 2007, which left around 5,000 people dead whereas in 1998, a cyclone of much lesser intensity had led to approximately 1,15,000 deaths. This dramatic change was  possible due to the systems and processes deployed in the intervening period.

ICT in DM

ICT usage spans different spectrums of Disaster Management. The most important is  preparedness – a proper plan is important in preparing for and responding to a disaster.  Unless a proper preparedness exercise has been carried out, effective response to disasters would be very difficult.

It is important to ensure that systems enable multiple users to talk to each other, at the design stage itself. We cannot have silo-bound systems where the police have their own  communications system, the emergency medical service has their own communication  system, fire brigade, ambulance and other first responders have their own systems, other  agencies have their own systems, none of which are talking to the other. All components must  mesh together seamlessly into a single communication system that works even under the most adverse situations.

Very large natural disasters are Black Swan events that happen probably once every few years. The emergency response centre should be flexible enough to normally run with a complement of 10-15 people but in case of an emergency, it must have the ability to ratchet up the manning to 90-100 people within minutes so that it can transition to operating under a state of emergency almost immediately.

Key components of GSDRS

The Gujarat State Disaster Response System has an integrated Incident Management System operated from a state-of-the art State Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) built at a cost of Rs  40 crore at Gandhinagar. Each of the 26 districts has its own EOC and 35 extremely sensitive  talukas have also been provided with dedicated EOCs. Villages particularly prone to cyclones  and earthquakes will also have their own EOCs.

The State EOC is a unified communication centre from where the Incident Commander would  be able to activate the Incident Management System. There will be integrated alert and warning systems that can be activated in real time from the EOC at the state or district level.

In Gujarat, the disaster response system has been developed with six levels of redundancy so    that communication lines stay open in the times of disaster. In addition, we are going to deploy emergency response vehicles that will be transmit information in text, visual, voice or any other form in real time from the scene of emergency, in case other infrastructure fails. In case disaster sites are not accessible to vehicles, they will be equipped with portable, suitcase-sized modules that can be deployed at the disaster site to ensure connectivity.

GSDMA has adopted the Build, Own, Operate and Transfer model for the DM System. At  present, we are in the process of awarding contracts to selected vendors and the entire system  should be in place in about six months’ time.

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