A stitch in time saves nine

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A stitch in time saves nine

Friday, 03 January 2020 | Sourajit Aiyer

Communities are strengthened if people are ready to handle any crisis. So disaster-prepared citizens form the foundation of a resilient society 

India is no stranger to natural calamities like cyclones, earthquakes and floods, particularly in recent years as the effects of climate change are being felt across the world. Add to these man-made catastrophes like fires, building collapses, industrial and transport accidents and the list of disasters that test the resilience of our communities is indeed a long one. Ideally, our citizens should be prepared to tackle any such mishap but the ground reality is very different as most people in the country don’t know even the basics where it comes to handling disasters.

The need to build our contingency preparedness becomes even more acute when one considers that a nation of India's scale still lacks the optimal level of institutionalised resources across the length and breadth of the country for efficient and effective disaster management. It is also worth noting that a significant number of fatalities occur post-event, during any disaster, due to mismanaged handling of the victims by the first-responders eager to help but who lack the basic knowledge of how to manage crisis situations.

Sometimes even institutional teams can need the help of citizens when they find themselves in a dangerous situation, like the one the Delhi Fire Service personnel found themselves in after a battery factory collapsed in northwest Delhi's Peera Garhi following an explosion due to a fire that broke out early in the morning. Even though 18 people were rescued from the building, one firefighter was killed and 14 others were hurt when the structure collapsed trapping them inside.

This is a gap which some non-profit organisations are filling by equipping our citizens with disaster management and crisis preparedness skills so that they can prevent unnecessary catastrophic situations from flaring up. They want to ensure that citizens are not a liability to the institutional teams if such a disaster does occur but are able to complement them and are able to help reduce the toll a disaster takes on the local population. They want to make our communities ready for all the activities that go behind disaster management.

One such example is a foundation in Maharashtra's earthquake-prone Palghar that targets schoolchildren, resident associations, factories and corporates to build their disaster management and crises response skills. Its founder, Bhupendra Mishra, left his job at the State Government's civil defence organisation to prepare people for a crisis as he had experienced first hand the disastrous results of an industrial accident in his childhood and later in life while helping a railway accident victim. These experiences made him realise the lack of preparedness and awareness about disasters in our communities and motivated him to turn into a social entrepreneur. Now communities are being trained by the foundation in numerous first aids, victim handling, tackling fires, basic rescue operations and evacuation techniques, managing mobs, imparting Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and so on.

 This discourse about building disaster management skills in our citizens to make our communities more resilient is picking up globally as well, including in the USA where successive hurricanes have wrought havoc across its south and south-east.

But the idea to talk of this need is not to make our communities excessively worried by colouring disasters as an impending doom or Armageddon but to make the citizens better aware and prepared in case any eventuality ever occurs. Since the resilience of our communities is only strengthened if our citizens are better prepared to handle any crises, it may be safe to opine that disaster-prepared citizens are the foundation of a resilient community.

Ironically, most human resource courses in MBA colleges, especially in India, are yet to imbibe disaster management in their curriculum, despite the fact the eventual growth in the manufacturing sector in fast-growing emerging markets could lead to industrial accidents, which in turn would mean lawsuits. Since prevention is better than cure, building better preparedness of the human resource executives to be deputed at such establishments would not only save the direct costs of the accident, but also the indirect legal costs. That alone is a significant economic opportunity to look at disaster management skills more seriously.

Top-down systematic funding would go a long way to institutionalise the system of disaster management training throughout the country. Currently, only a small handful of Corporate Social Responsibility funds and agencies are funding these efforts of the non-profits in India. This should be scaled up if a paradigm transformation of our citizens' level of preparedness is to be realised. Countries like ours need to relook at how we are building crisis preparedness in our communities. After all, everyone has a role to play during a disaster. However, making ourselves better prepared would go a long way to making our roles more effective and efficient.

(The writer is an author and consultant with a leading business insights portal)

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