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A Failed Situation

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DQI Bureau
New Update

Natural disasters always force us to rethink our preparedness to meet calamitous situations. The Uttarakhand floods had a devastating effect on the country. Our response to the disaster was found wanting on all fronts.

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Leaving aside the shameful political wrangles that ensued, the episode exposed India's ‘classic' unpreparedness to manage the disaster, despite having the technical capability and capacity for it.

Why technical capability? For example, a well-defined understanding of fluid behavior using computational fluid dynamics, coupled with landscape features via digital terrain imaging, offers emergency managers and planners clear knowledge to address risks from dam breaks, storm surges, heavy rainfall floods, tsunamis and other extreme flow events. With so many scientific research organizations in the country, India is expected to have the capability to predict and mitigate floods.

The discipline of emergency management entails five phases: prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Interestingly, the Indian government does have frameworks for emergency management. The IDRN (India Disaster Resource Network), initiated by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in collaboration with United Nations

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Development Program (UNDP), is a nation-wide electronic inventory of essential and specialist resources for disaster response, covering specialist equipment, specialist manpower resources and critical supplies. In addition, there is a National Emergency Communication Plan, involving wired, wireless, satellite communications.

But there is no evidence that any of these things worked. Even if we discount the fact that we failed in the prevention, mitigation, and preparedness phase despite all the technology and frameworks, we were extremely shortsighted in the use of commercial technology in the recovery and response phases.

When numerous agencies worked in silos but failed to generate a coordinated response, the simple solution needed was a collaboration platform. Knowing that there is no dearth of collaboration platforms, this was clearly a lost opportunity. Communication and messaging could have been enhanced by the use of mobile technologies. Social media could have been used for updating information. These applications are very straight-laced and quick to implement.

A shining example is that of Google which stepped in with an online search tool, Person Finder, which helps people to trace their missing family members. Google Person Finder is available in both Hindi and English and one can request status through an SMS, too, by sending an SMS to 9 77 33 00 000 with the message Search person-name. Google Person Finder displays some crucial identification information of persons, including name, physical attributes, home address, description, along with name of the person who posted the information and notes on status of the person.

Much more could be done. It is sad that no one else from the legions of IT companies in India came forward to set up a technology-driven response and recovery mechanism to help the situation. Isn't that a clear lack of social responsibility?

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