Proper and effective use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can minimise the impact of disasters in many ways, feels Major General Anurag Gupta, Advisor (Operations & Communication), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India. Excerpts from an interaction with Souvik Goswami of Elets News Network (ENN)
Give us an overview of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
The Disaster Management Act (2005) provides setting up of a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister and a National Executive Committee (NEC) of Secretaries to assist the National Authority in the performance of functions like laying down policies on disaster management, approving the National Plan and plans prepared by the Ministries / Departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan, lay down guidelines to be followed by the State authorities in drawing up the State Plan, coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the policy and plans for disaster management, recommend provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation, etc.
What is the mandate of the Operations & Communication division in NDMA?
The mandate of the division can be described as following:
(a) For the country to handle disasters effectively, a dedicated continually operational and state-of-the-art communication system is a pre-requisite.
(b) The communication and IT support infrastructure must be capable of desired additionalities, up-gradation and reconfiguration along with Mobile Communication Platforms for last-mile connectivity at disaster sites.
(c) A dedicated skeleton organisation at NDMA will be required in the form of a Communication and IT Division for internal functioning of NDMA and for conceptualising the National Disaster Communication and IT Network.
(d) The key components of this division are Communication and IT Network and Disaster Management Information Systems with special reference to knowledge management and data fusion with emphasis on GISbased applications.
Shed some light on the role of Operations and Communication divisions in NDMA.
The Operations Division has an Operations Center to provide round-the-clock disaster-specific information and data input facility, and also guide the efforts during the subsequent stages of response. The Operations Center at the NDMA also helps provide redundancy and physical separation to the integrated Operations Center at the Ministry of Home Affairs. On the other hand, the Communications & IT divisions focus on the formulation and implementation of National Disaster Communication Networks, establishment and management of LAN, WAN and MAN, interaction with nodal ministries and forecasting and early warning agencies, interaction with the central and state governments and related departments on IT and communication matters.
How the use of ICT can be leveraged for better management of disaster situations or to have a better preparedness before a disaster occurs?
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can be used to minimise the impact of disasters in many ways. It is used in almost all phases of the disaster management process. In the disaster mitigation and preparedness process, ICT is widely used to create early warning systems. An early warning system (EWS) may use more than one ICT media in parallel and these can be either traditional (radio, television, telephone) or modern (SMS, cell broadcasting, internet). It is essential that ICT is given its due place in disaster management, but it should also not be taken as panacea for all ills. ICT, like any other tool, can deliver its best when the other necessary ingredients are in place. Disaster management (also called disaster risk management) is the discipline that involves preparing, warning, supporting and rebuilding societies when natural or man-made disasters occur. It is the continuous process by which all individuals, groups and communities manage hazards in an effort to avoid or minimise the impact of disasters resulting from hazards. Effective disaster management relies on thorough integration of emergency plans at all levels of government and non-government involvement.
ICT also plays a critical role in disaster preparedness. ICT is the means for communication of information. It is critical in disaster preparedness and reducing the loss of life and property.
Early warning systems, television and radio broadcasting, web portals, long-distance education and telecommunications have a role to play in disaster mitigation. Typhoons, hurricanes, forest fires, oil spills, tornadoes, tsunamis and other natural disasters that travel distances are by their very nature able to give advance notice to significant populations of potential victims that lie in their path. The need for good early warning systems and signals, and prompt and effective transmission to vulnerable populations is one of the actions that the global community needs to commit to and invest in. Investing in making such information available is a fraction of and is worth most of the money.
Brief us on the various IT initiatives being undertaken in your division in NDMA.
The projects under implementation are the National Disaster Management Services – Pilot Project, and Decision Support System for Handling Offsite Nuclear Emergencies. The salient features of the National Disaster Management Services – Pilot Project are:
(a) Integrated project of NDCN and NDMIS being implemented through NIC;
(b) To be implemented in 16 multi-hazard districts for provisioning of communication network, capacity development in emergency communication; and
(c) Integrated approach to provide failsafe communication infrastructure and ICT services in relief and rescue operations for decision makers, stakeholders and the community.
On the other hand, the salient features of the Decision Support System for Handling Offsite Nuclear Emergencies (DSSNOE) are:
(a) Project for 13 nuclear power plants in states/districts to ensure provisioning of communication network, capacity development in emergency communication being implemented through NIC
(b) Communication infrastructure development for decision makers, stakeholders and the community, and to assist local administration in rescue and relief operations on inputs from AERB, NPCIL and other agencies.
It is essential that ICT is given its due place in disaster management, but it should also not be taken as panacea for all ills. ICT, like any other tool, can deliver its best when the other necessary ingredients are in place
What according to you are the main challenges in a country like India in terms of disaster management?
Management of disaster is a state subject, so states shall have to play a proactive role in preparation, planning, prevention and mitigation rather than focusing on response and relief. Implementation of BIS codes and Bye Laws at various levels and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures need more focused approach.