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Disaster mitigation comes a long way

Early warning systems, mitigation plans and community mobilisation strategies: Disaster management has assumed an importance few would have imagined before the tsunami in December 2004.

J Radhakrishnan, who spearheaded the rehabilitation programme in Nagapattinam district, worst hit by the tsunami, says every major disaster leads to a change in thinking. “We always had a disaster management contingency plan. But post this disaster, the Disaster Management Act was put in place…We need to focus on robust warning systems and disaster risk reduction strategies,” he said.

Experts say the Disaster Management Act and setting up of the National Institute of Disaster Management have led to better collaboration in this regard between various organisations. For instance, on any indication of a potential tsunami, a warning centre based in Hyderabad sends out an alert, instantly relayed to the areas at risk.

The Tamil Nadu government has set up a disaster management agency, a body of the state disaster management authority headed by the chief minister. Preparedness to face natural calamities is frequently reviewed.

The state government has also taken up a World Bank-sponsored coastal disaster risk reduction project, estimated at Rs 1,481 crore. Under this, it is proposed 14,000 houses, 145 evacuation routes and 121 evacuation centres in coastal areas will be set up. A sum of Rs 360 crore has been earmarked for laying underground electricity cables in vulnerable areas.

Also on the cards are 439 early-warning centres in remote villages, to be linked to the disaster management centre in Chennai. A pilot project in this regard is underway in Kanchipuram district.

Advancements in space technology are expected to help. The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)’s disaster management support (DMS) programme provides timely support and services from aerospace systems (imaging and communications). The programme addresses disasters such as floods, cyclones, droughts, forest fires, landslides and earthquakes. In the coming days Isro’s National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) and remote sensing satellites are likely to play an important role in early warning systems.

Another step forward is creation of a composite database through the National Database for Emergency Management (NDEM), a GIS-based repository of data. NDEM is envisaged to have core data, hazard-specific data and dynamic data.

Airborne ALTM-DC data acquisition is being carried out for flood-prone basins. The development of a flight model of the C-band DMSAR is nearing completion. To provide emergency communication for disaster management activities, Isro has set up a satellite-based virtual private network, linking the Ministry of Home Affairs’ national control room with NRSC, important national agencies, key government offices in Delhi and the control rooms of 22 hazard-prone states. Isro has also developed and deployed INSAT type-D terminals (portable satellite phones), and distress alert transmitters for fishermen, etc.

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