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Prioritising preparedness

Learning from the lessons and heeding to warnings, Bhutan is far better prepared than when we were, say a decade ago, to face disasters, natural or manmade.

We have legislations, frameworks and contingency plans in place. We have trained and sensitised people of the impending dangers. We conducted simulations, demonstrations, drill and many other activities. Studies were done and results shared to guide our decision-making.

The vulnerable groups like the monastic body and schools were targeted for specific preparedness risk management and training. Primary school children teach their parents how to duck under the table in case of an earthquake. The awareness is good.

The problem with disaster is that no level of preparedness is good preparation. So is with managing and recovery post disasters.  There are still shortcomings. Experts are now pointing out the need for effective communication system with adequate infrastructure.

In times of disaster, dissemination of timely and credible information is crucial in minimising the loss of life and injury. For responders – rescue teams, it will help them make instant decisions and act after understanding the situation. Information is key in minimising the overall impact of the disaster.

When communication systems fail, everything comes to a halt. This results in panic and distress. We have experienced this in the past. When the tremors of the 2015 Nepal earthquake shook Bhutan, telecommunication network collapsed. The cellular network got clogged with everyone calling everyone to find out the status. These impeded people who needed to disseminate information.

In our case, instant command systems would be activated followed by mobilising of rapid assessment, medical relief and rescue teams. Their job will be hindered when communication networks fail.

The importance of communication is recognised. A lot has been done, but there are problems. If equipment are out-dated or cannot be used, as found through simulations, we need to update. Emergency communications systems are expensive, so is life and property.

There is another form of communication that is missing in preparing for disaster – the communication that could convince ourselves to be prepared. We are shaken in the aftermath of a disaster. We talk about it and it is quickly forgotten until the next one hits. When we talk of disaster, many cannot think beyond earthquakes or floods. Some disasters are our own making. How many of our offices are equipped to minimise risks? How many of our people are trained? More importantly, how many think such strategies as priority.

At a recent training to develop disaster management and contingency plan, some of the participants were sent just for attendance. This is not helping anyone. We are not even being psychologically ready.

It might sound like a cliché, but it is true, our fragile ecosystem has made us vulnerable to disasters. We have seem natural calamities all over the country in the recent past.

We expect more disasters, both natural and man-made, to hit us again. We are most vulnerable if we are not convinced how vulnerable we are.

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