In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans in the US. Many people died, several lost their homes and the entire state was thrown into chaos as there was an outbreak of epidemics and a breakdown of law and order, with gangs going around looting houses and shops.
Unfortunately the disaster management left much to be desired. If proper measures had been taken it would have considerably lessened the casualties and damage. In December 2004, many parts of Asia, including India, were devastated by a massive tsunami.
People taking their morning walks on the Marina beach in Chennai and those who had come for morning mass at the Velankanni shrine in Nagapattinam met a watery grave. It was totally unexpected and people were taken unawares. It was a disaster of unimaginable proportions. There were no mechanisms in place to foresee or tackle something of such magnitude. As a result, the damage inflicted was many times more than would have been the case if an effective disaster management plan had been worked out.
Disaster management involves preparing for disaster before it occurs, disaster response (e.g. emergency evacuation, quarantine, mass decontamination, etc.), as well as undertaking rehabilitation measures after natural or man- made disasters have occurred. India is prone to many natural disasters. These include earthquakes, cyclones, flooding, etc.
Man-made disasters mostly involve train accidents or gas leaks in factories (example, Union Carbide tragedy). Bioterrorism, pandemics, radiation emergencies and terrorist attacks like the recent Mumbai incidents also are man-made disasters. As the pressure to exploit marginal lands heightens and more people migrate to urban areas, the potential for future disasters only goes up.
The national policy for disaster management seeks to address concerns like preparedness for disaster, loss of lives, damage to property and economic disruption. In any disaster, arrangements have to be made to rescue people from the disaster area and move them to safe locations. They need shelter, food, clothes and medicines. If epidemics break out, sick people have to be quarantined. Later the affected people have to be rehabilitated. This may include providing new homes and alternate jobs for them (in case their livelihood has been affected).
In India, the role of disaster or emergency management is performed by the National Disaster Management of India, a government agency under the Ministry of Home affairs. Earlier there was a government-centered approach but now the focus is on decentralized community participation.
Recently, the Government has formed the Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI). This group is a public/private partnership, funded primarily by Satyam Computer Services. It seeks to improve the general response of communities to emergencies and disasters. It has provided emergency management training for first responders (a first in India), created a single emergency telephone number, and established standards for EMS staff, equipment and training. At present, it operates in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Assam, using a single 3-digit toll-free number 1-0-8.