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Safety in the warning

Pardeep C Lal
Friday, February 08, 2013

PEOPLE depend on warning systems to guide them on movement protocols for their safety during disasters. An early warning system is a short-term vulnerability reduction strategy.

Some warning systems warn people in advance so they are able to quickly move to safety without incurring huge losses. Some warnings come late. Early warning systems reduce damage and losses to some extent that could not be reduced in the absence of such warnings, unless people precisely know the timing of the event or its impact.

Some warning systems prove very helpful to people and the nation. But early warnings alone are not good enough. People need to firstly heed such warnings with seriousness and act decisively.

They need to clearly kn­ow specified routes to take, places to reach, time taken for disasters to strike, among many other factors.

A tsunami warning for a town in the middle of the night could cause chaos and panic if evacuation plans are not clearly defined and followed.

Hence it is important that with such warning systems, proper evacuation plans are put in place and made known to people. This requires various departments such as the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) the successor of DISMAC, National Fire Authority, law enforcement agencies including mobilisation of military forces in case of an extremely severe disaster, traffic and emergency department of the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross and other departments to work together.

Evidence around the world suggest that failure of any well co-ordinated evacuation plan has led to high casualties and mayhem.

What would be the situation if an imminent tsunami warning is issued for the Capital City at 2am? How would the residents of Nasese, Laucala Bay, Lami, Nadawa, Laucala Beach move? Which route would they take? How much time would they have to move? What about the sick, the pregnant and the old members in a family? What about those who do not have own transport to evacuate? These are some questions that need to be answered if any early warning system is to make sense. The success of any evacuation plan depends on how well people are aware of evacuation procedures and how swiftly they are able to move with the assistance of authorities. The military may look at acquiring helicopters and life rafts for evacuation purposes.

Evacuation procedures and education

World Bank (2010), stated that "Prevention through early warning would be economical if the event was more frequent, the damage greater or the prevention cheaper". But lives are more important than monetary value and planning must include shifting population if it comes to that.

Warning systems must be timely. They must follow clear cut guideline void of any bureaucratic procedures. The following must happen extremely fast in the event of a tsunami or else all would be a wasteful exercise which would turn from "search and rescue" mode to "search" mode only after the event is over.

This is usually a sign of poor governance often heard and felt in less developed nations. Developed nations sometimes too are caught in such situation during sudden extreme disasters. In short, the following must take place within a short time span; not exceeding 30 minutes from the time a warning is issued. In the event of a tsunami warning, depending on its location, even 30 minutes may be sometimes too long to evacuate.

* To be continued tomorrow.

* Pardeep C Lal is a lecturer at the Fiji National University, Labasa campus. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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