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'Wednesday's tsunami alert allowed us to assess our capabilities'

 

M Shashidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority explains to Sanjay Jog how his organisation responded to the potential catastrophe
Sanjay Jog / Apr 13, 2012, 12:41 IST

Withdrawal of Wednesday's tsunami alert gave a major relief to the people especially from coastal areas. In an interview with Sanjay Jog, National Disaster Management Authority vice chairman M Shashidhar Reddy explains preparedness to handle earthquake and tsunami.

How was the preparedness of various authorities after the initial alert was issued by NDMA on Wednesday ?
India has established the state-of-the-art Tsunami Early Warning Centre in 2007 at Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad. This has been done in the wake of 2004 Tsunami where the country was totally unprepared without any kind of early warning capability at that time. The initial bulletin contains preliminary information giving the magnitude, epicenter, depth at which the earthquake has occurred and give information if it could trigger a Tsunami. The same thing was done on Wednesday. The first bulletin was put out at 2.16 pm after the earthquake occurred at 2.08 pm.

At NDMA, we reacted immediately by contacting our National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) Battalions stationed in the Coastal States asking them to be on stand-by to be deployed as and when required by the State/District administration. Over 200 NDRF men were immediately kept in readiness at the Hindon airport near Delhi to be airlifted to Port Blair, Andaman. The Cabinet Secretariat and Ministry of Home Arrairs were very closely monitoring the situation. Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard were all alerted and some formations were kept in readiness in case of an eventuality.

 

After yesterday’s earthquake, it was clearly stated that it could possibly trigger a Tsunami. There were only some parts of the Andaman Nicobar Islands, which were given "warning" for a Tsunami with a travel time of 20-30 minutes. I would like to add here that it was only an "alert" for the east coast and some parts of west coast and a "watch" for the other parts of the west coast. However, there was no change in the sea level and no abnormal activity observed that would indicate a Tsunami. It was a great relief that after the expected time had lapsed, there was no trace of any developing Tsunami even around the Andaman Nicobar Islands and therefore we could communicate to the States that the Tsunami was not going to happen.

How was the response from tsunami affected States and Union Territories which were affected in 2004?
There is a system of communicating the information generated through bulletins by Indian Tsunami Early Warning System (ITEWS) Centre to all the Coastal States and Union Territories. Thereafter, the administration in all the coastal districts was immediately alerted. There is also a standard procedure which the States follow and be in a state of alertness and readiness.

How was the coordination between NDMA and different States and organisations?
By and large, there was excellent coordination between NDMA and all other agencies. NDMA has been in constant touch with the control rooms of most of the States. Tsunami Early Warning Centre, NDRF and other organizations including Army got direct feedback about the entire evolving situation. In fact, we got direct feedback from Control Room in Andaman and Army that the local authorities have swung into action.

What were the major shortcomings identified by NDMA yesterday? How they would be overcome?
But I feel that this has given us an opportunity, like a mock exercise to assess our capabilities to prepare for response and gaps/shortcomings could be identified. Giving us an opportunity to improve our state of preparedness. Besides, it has also been a great educations for the people in the country and the whole country was focused on this incident, thus, creating awareness about Tsunami in particular and disasters in general.

What were the major initiatives taken and implemented by NDMA, the Central and State Governments to tackle events such as earthquake and tsunami?

NDMA has initiated a lot of awareness programmes through electronic/print media and the radio and this needs to be done in much bigger way -- not only by NDMA but also by all the vulnerable states. People have to understand that they will pay very dearly, possibly, with their life, if they do not insist on earthquake resistant construction codes to be followed. It applies to individual owners as well as purchasers of group houses/apartments etc. I would also like to mention here that to ensure disaster resilient construction; RBI has issued advisory to all Banks for verifying the compliance to National Building code 2005 while approving loans for any building construction. In this regard. After due deliberations, they were issued for compliance on 12 May 2011. Besides, there are other initiatives which we are contemplating including formulation of National Retrofitting Policy and Guidelines, mitigation measures for safe-ground open-storeyed buildings.

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