This article aims to answer one simple question and that is,“How do I prepare my department or organisation to respond to the next natural disaster that will affect my country or community?”
Basically your organisation needs to follow some accepted protocols beginning NOW, it needs to develop a capacity to respond that is appropriate and flexible NOW, you need to reach out to those organisations that you will need to support you NOW. Don’t reinvent the wheel because you don’t need to. Don’t wait for the disaster to arrive to do these things because by then it will be too late.
Now, having answered the question that this article sets out to answer in only sixty-nine words, it seems appropriate that I take this opportunity to expand on the advice offered and share the benefits of my experience in the development of local and national capability, preparing organisations for the day that disaster strikes. Whether you decide to read on or not, the essential fact is that you need to start NOW. Don’t delay, start today.
For those readers who have decided to read on, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are many people and organisations in your position that have gone though this process in the past and the result is that there is plenty of experience and advice. Consequently, there is a wonderful methodology that you can adapt and use for your own organisation and situation. We will look at this methodology shortly, but first the bad news.
The bad news is that the world is changing and changing fast, what worked in the past may not work in the future, you and your organisation faces new threats, new challenges but also may benefit from new opportunities. Those of us involved in developing emergency response are facing a kind of double jeopardy. On one hand, the world is still firmly in the grip of a global depression with the world economy now predicted to contract by 1.7%. There are profound inequalities of income, with approximately half the world’s population living on less than 1% of its wealth. All these factors result in even more demand for humanitarian support, which in turn makes funding for any form of response development harder to obtain.
In direct contrast to increasingly limited resources, the disaster response community is facing unprecedented increases in demand for its services. The number of recorded disasters has doubled from approximately 200 to over 400 per year over the past two decades and in the past 18 years, 11,000 extreme events have claimed the lives of 600,000 people and cost 1.7 trillion dollars (US) across the globe.
Today, the global population is 6.8 billion and 80% of the world’s most populous cities are situated in fault zones. By 2025, the global population will reach about 8 billion and the world will add another eight mega cities to the current list of nineteen. Today, about 55% of the global population lives in rural areas and 45% in urban areas; by 2025 it will be 41% rural and 59% urban.
Therefore, we can see that factors such as increasing urbanisation of the planet, changes to our climate resulting in more extreme weather events coupled with an ongoing financial crisis will make the development of credible and effective response to natural disasters much more challenging that it has in the past. However, those of us working within the emergency response field are, by nature, adaptable, resilient and flexible, we have to be in our daily work lives and we need to bring these qualities to the longer-term process of developing a response that is capable of dealing with the next disaster, whatever that may be.
To help us achieve, what might seem at first glance impossible, a number of organisations, mechanisms and tools have been developed to help guide and support emergency disaster managers and developers through the necessary steps. Some of these are global, some more regional in their approach and some are specific to a particular risk or hazard. All these support mechanisms and tools can be linked into one integrated methodology termed the “Preparedness Development Cycle (PDC)”, allowing you as the manager to decide which tools, methodologies or supporting organisations are relevant for your organisation and can be used to help you navigate around the PDC.
The PDC has been developed from the five ‘Priorities for Action’ identified within the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). The HFA is a 10-year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards. The UN General Assembly endorsed the HFA following the 2005 World Disaster Reduction Conference (www.unisdr.org).
Develop Governance & Management
The cycle commences with the key task of developing a structure that will be responsible for disaster management and capability development, if one does not already exist. This entity, usually a state or regional government function, will need the legislative and financial powers to prepare and to respond. These organisations, your organisations, must capitalise on their relationship with government ministries to encourage the adoption and implementation of disaster plans, codes of practice, supporting legislation and guidelines. Once your management structure is in place, has a legal basis and is mandated and financed to prepare for disasters and to respond, you can move onto the next step.
The second step in the cycle and the starting point for reducing disaster risk and for developing an appropriate response lies in the knowledge of the hazards that the communities you are seeking to protect actually face. There is little point in educating, reducing risks and preparing to respond to a potential earthquake when the communities you are seeking to protect are subject to regular flooding. Once the hazards are known and the risks analysed then priorities for action can be determined.
Education & Awareness
The impact of disasters on communities can be substantially reduced if people are well informed and motivated towards a culture of disaster prevention and resilience, which is the next stage in the Preparedness Development Cycle. Disaster education requires the collection and dissemination of knowledge and information on hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities. However, there is often a considerable time lag between major disasters and this makes building and sustaining awareness amongst the population particularly challenging. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) publish a useful guide for public education and public awareness for disaster risk reduction (www.ifrc.org) that suggests four approaches to increasing awareness of disaster risks across various stakeholders, namely:
- Participatory Learning
- Informal Education
- Formal School-based Learning
At first glance, it may be questionable that a response organisation should spend time and resources on education and awareness. However, it has been shown that better educating the population about disasters both reduces the number of people actually requiring help following a disaster and increases the cooperation and goodwill towards the rescuers as they work within the disaster zone.
Address Underlying Risks
“Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do,” said Charles Richter, inventor of the Richter scale of earthquake magnitude measurement. It is well known that buildings, the objects within them and the infrastructure surrounding them are the major factors of death due to earthquakes. Similarly with other disasters, risks related to changing social, economic, environmental conditions and land use impact directly on the casualty numbers. As with education, time and resources employed by response organisations to address and reduce the underlying risks will result in fewer people trapped and injured, thus reducing the impact of the disaster on the responders and making the response more effective and sustainable.
One example of reducing underlying risks is the advocacy of national building codes by response organisations. National building codes exist in most countries, but the problems lie largely at the implementation level and so construction follows no regulations or standards. This is the reason that a large earthquake in the developed world may barely destroy any buildings, but a similar one in a developing country leads to large-scale collapse and loss of life.
Strengthen Response Capability
At times of disaster, impacts and losses can be substantially reduced if authorities, individuals and communities in hazard-prone areas are well-prepared and ready to act and are equipped for effective disaster response. This is the core responsibility for your organisation and there is a range of options available to you, ranging from the development of first responder networks, improving the capability of the local emergency services, up to the creation of specialist rescue/response teams. No single response option will meet all needs and the generally accepted principle is to develop a tiered response to any disaster or emergency.
Experiences in the past have shown that members of the affected communities play a critical role in rescuing and providing first aid to the injured and are far more effective in doing so than national and international teams that reach an affected community much later. Therefore, it is important that your disaster response has, as it’s base tier, some form of first responder or citizen’s response capability.
The International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) has developed some excellent guidance material focused around a diagrammatic representation of all levels of response. Termed the “USAR Response Framework”, it starts with spontaneous community actions immediately following the disaster, which are supplemented initially by the local emergency services and then by national rescue teams. Finally, there is the response of international USAR teams, supporting national rescue efforts. Each new level of response increases the rescue capability and overall capacity but has to integrate with and support the response already working at the disaster.
In order to ensure inter-operability between the levels of response, it is vital that working practices, technical language and information are common and shared across the whole response framework and this is a key task for your organisation. Great information and advice can be found within the INSARAG Guidelines (www.insarag.org) and the new Guidelines, being ratified in February 2015 will contain enhanced guidance supporting capacity building projects and response preparedness. The INSARAG Guidelines also contain useful advice and information regarding the final part of the Preparedness Development Cycle (PDC). This is the important process of reviewing and improving your disaster response capability, once it has been developed. Exercising, auditing, ‘lessons learned’ reports and peer review are all useful mechanisms for reviewing your capability but it is vital that these mechanisms actually result in improvements to your response capability.
In summary, when developing a response to natural disasters, it is important to follow a clear methodology such as the Preparedness Development Cycle and to use the vast amount of information, advice and experience available to your organisation. Learn from the mistakes of others and you will be ready for when disaster strikes.
For more information, go to www.civilience.com