Improving disaster management practices

Feb 2013 | No Comment

Major issues, best practices and way forward

Dr Srikanth Venkatesan

Victoria University,
Melbourne, Australia

Disaster management is a widely discussed topic around the world and more so in recent years because of large scale disasters experienced around the globe. Most discussions appear to be siloed to a particular field of expertise although it is well recognised that a coordinated effort is required amongst various stakeholders and an integration of multi-disciplinary skills. In this context a recent workshop (The Australia India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) Workshop on improving disaster management practice through a spatially enabled framework, 21 – 24 January 2013) held at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) and organised by the University of Madras and The University of Melbourne made an effort to bring in various stakeholders from India and Australia in one forum. This included government officials who were at the forefront of recent major disasters and recovery situations along with non-government agencies who were involved in relief situations along with academic experts in geomatics, earthquake engineering, food modelling, fire and cyclone hazard. Views on the role of media were also included into the programme. The presentations from government and non-government officials centered on current practice with the view to identifying real challenges; presentations from academics centered on high level engineering inputs for the bene?? t of decision makers and the discussions centered on the way forward for improving current practice.

Figure 1: Measuring resilience – Dr Lam Pham, AISRF Workshop, 2013

Major issues

Dr J Radhakrishnan, IAS presented a very direct account of the challenges faced during the 2004 tsunami. He highlighted that the challenges in connecting with the community at the grass root level are quite significant. He also stressed the need for implementable plans and the need for capacity development. Commodore S Shekar (Retd), in his presentation mentioned that the initial understanding phase of a disaster is highly crucial to the activities and decisions that follow. He also highlighted the need for specific disaster management professionals qualified through multi-disciplinary education programs. Dr V Thiruppugazh, IAS officer who was directly involved in the restoration works in the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake presented a different dimension to disasters noting that each disaster is an opportunity to rebuild better. He also acknowledged the conflict between building back better versus the community expectation of returning to pre-disaster norms. Dr. Manu Gupta from SEEDS India noted that resilience should be developed not only against shocks but also against stresses. Interestingly he noted that the communities should be intergrally incorporatrd as part of the solution. Dr Lam Pham from CSIRO presented on the Disaster Resilient Framework from an Australian Perspective and pointed out that disaster resilience should be considered before emergency resilience. He flagged the difficulties in enforcing change especially in codes of practice and policy implementations. In addition to the above key points, all these presentations brought out the commonly known ground realities and challenges to be addressed in disaster management in both nations.

Best practices

Mr Ged Griffin from Victoria Police presented recent advancements in emergency response that can be achieved through a network centric model enhanced by contemporary information technologies. He emphasised the power of mobile phones and social media in reaching out to the community during emergency response and also for receiving information from those affected. Dr Lam Pham also presented a resilience model in terms of ‘magnitude of disturbance’ versus ‘effort required for recovery’ noting that resilience would be inversely proportional to the effort required. Mr Bal Krishna, Editor of Coordinates magazine provided a different perspective of the media noting that it can be used for effectively lobbying both upstream and downstream between governments and people. Dr V Thiruppugazh presented some of the community engagement models adopted in Gujarat such as training masons and involving women folk in the Participatory Rural Activity appraisal that are being explored at a national level. These presentations provided a general insight into means of improving current disaster management practice in addition to those presented at the technical sessions.

In terms of engineering input into disaster management practice, Dr Srikanth Venkatesan from Victoria University emphasised the power of simulation technologies drawn from case studies involving modelling of complex seismic source zones, flood modelling and blast damage. It was noted that simulation technologies would be useful in the planning phase of disaster management and also provide a basis for developing a common language or the ‘single voice’ commonly mentioned during real time disaster. A/ Prof Nelson Lam from The University of Melbourne presented fast track methods of estimating structural damage induced by earthquake hazard based on the estimation of peak displacement demand and drift angle of the building which would be highly useful for rapid assessments. Dr S T G Raghu Kanth from IITM stated the challenges in arriving at a consensus decision amongst seismologists, engineers and policy makers in developing a seismic hazard map for the whole country and presented an in-depth view of the current map of India. Prof A Boominathan from IITM presented a comprehensive assessment of regional seismic hazard of Chennai city based on geotechnical considerations. The concept of site period mapping was presented as a useful tool in estimating the peak displacements induced on the structures by local soil conditions.

A/Prof Helen Goldsworthy from The University of Melbourne noted that current seismic designs focussed only on individual buildings but there is a necessity to consider the whole of region approach as evident from the Christchurch earthquake. She noted that it is buildings that kill people during earthquakes and therefore a community based approach to seismic design should also be considered. Following these presentations technical discussions focussed on the appropriateness of the seismological models for seismic hazard estimations and the appropriate return periods for seismic design and capacity based design approaches.

Figure 2. Network centric model –Mr Ged Griffi n, AISRF Workshop, 2013

Engineering sessions were further complemented by the presentations of Dr M Ramalingam from Anna University depicting the recent advancements in aerial food mapping derived from airborne laser technology for Chennai city and the implementation of real time weather stations providing direct information to local municipal authorities. Prof R R Krishnamurthy presented his work on disasters induced due to climate change and the erosion of the coastal area in recent years. He also provided a Climate Change Disaster Index which had been used to identify vulnerable areas within Chennai. Prof Subhash Yaragal pointed out that extreme value theory would provide a compromise between the requirements of earthquake resistant design and wind resistant design besides pointing out that cyclone induced disasters have nearly accounted for 1/3rd of total losses from major disasters.

Way forward

Prof Abbas Rajabifard from The University of Melbourne presenting a keynote highlighted the use of location to manage and deliver information as a viable fourth element of decision making. In depth view into data sharing protocols and improving data quality through AAA rating, were also noted. Signi?? cance of the spatial platform in empowering government, industries and citizens were clearly brought out in his presentation. Dr Murali Mohan from the Department of Science and Technology echoed similar views in his presentation and presented case studies where spatial enablement has helped in reviving the eco system and digital reconstruction of Hampi. In particular, the development of a spatial platform was seen as the major difference portrayed by this group as the key ingredient for improving practice. Based on further discussions, Dr Srikanth Venkatesan presented a holistic conceptual framework that could encompass three major drivers: Information grid, Sustenance grid and Community grid. All these grids can exist in a spatially enabled platform as presented by Prof Emad Gad from Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. This proved to be the firsttcut approach of developing a metaintegrative framework that can cater for multi-disaster resilient society that connected people, governments and organisations. It was also noted that various work packages and projects can be drilled out of this integrative framework that will be useful for governmental considerations.

All participants agreed that government investment at a very basic level of funding into research, community engagement programs would provide vital gains during and post disasters.

Another significant highlight of the workshop was a site visit to one of the rural areas affected by the 2004 tsunami to gain a first-hand feedback from the restored community followed by a visit to the local government college in Nemmeli, Tamil Nadu.

My Coordinates
Mark your calendar
March 2013 To August 2013

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