Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tackling natural disasters - a checklist for District Administration preparedness

Based on my experience in being a part of the relief & restoration effort as a result of Hudhud Cyclone in Visakhapatnam (details can be seen in my blog), I have drawn a tentative checklist for District Officials on their preparedness to meet the challenges arising from such a natural disaster. The list is only indicative and is by no means exhaustive. This is meant to be a guide for the District Collector and all others concerned so that the administration is ready to meet the challenge.

Checklist of preparations before/during the Cyclone

1.      District Collector in consultation with police and revenue staff identify the vulnerable areas and prepare an action plan for the forces required from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). A requisition, based on District level requirements can be placed by the state government with the NDRF and forces can be positioned /kept in the state of readiness at the district level.

2.      The civil supplies stock under the targeted public distribution system is in place at the FPS point for the entire month.

3.      All the MLS points are full of stocks at least for an additional month. This will ensure that stocks are moved to FPS points at a short notice in case ex-gratia is announced.

4.      Civil Supply Department may consider providing the civil supplies stocks in pre-packed bags such as rice in 10 and 5 Kg bags, sugar in one kg bag and so on. This will ensure that stocks are distributed quickly, without wastage and without any complaints of under weighment. (to be taken up at the state level).

5.      Joint Collector should review with all retail shops and other such retails points such as Kendriya Bhandar outlets, Big-bazaar etc to ensure that sufficient stocks of other essentials such as dal, salt, edible oil, soaps, candles and milk (of longer duration variety such a week or 2-4 months) are available with them. A district level inventory can accordingly be prepared and kept ready. This can also be advertised so as to contain the speculative price rise.

6.      Pruning of trees to be taken up on a scientific basis. This should be an annual exercise and can be taken up immediately after the monsoon. The exercise should be carried out for all trees whether public or those located in private properties in the likely vulnerable areas and in thickly populated /congested areas. (ii) Pruning should necessarily be taken up of all trees located adjacent to electrical poles/sub-stations. (iii) a special exercise should be taken up for pruning of trees located on highways – district, State and national and branches which are hung close to the highway or are dangerous are pruned. The entire pruning exercise should be taken up scientifically to ensure that pruning is done only to the extent required and in a manner that the exercise is useful for renewal of plant growth. (DFO/State horticulture Dept/Forest Dept)

7.      A detailed review of all existing hoardings should be taken up immediately in the entire coastal belt and all such hoardings which are considered dangerous/risky should be taken off permanently. There should be no hoarding zone in all vulnerable areas such as beach roads, important cross-sections, congested roads and thickly populated areas.

8.      The town planning wing of municipal administration department should come out with the standards for putting up such hoardings. These will include the base structure, its design, thickness of material and each of such hoardings should necessarily be approved so that accountability can be fixed up.

9.      As a general precautionary measure, all hoardings along with their base structure should be taken down when the first warning signals are announced. This will prevent any such damage likely to arise due to falling of these hoardings.

10.  The town planning wing should take up inspection of all display boards and other such materials used in front of shops and should take down anything which is of flimsy material or is based on a weak structure. It was noticed that large number of such display boards fell down causing widespread damages and posed risk due to the material used such as glass & tin etc.

11.  Electricity Dept. should ensure that inventory of material such as poles, wires and other technical materials are available at various points within the district. The basic idea is to minimize the travel time from stock point to the point needed so that electricity can be restored in the minimum possible time. (Secy Power, CMD APPDCL, Dist level incharge)

12.  A joint exercise should be carried out by RTA and Insurance cos to ensure that all three wheelers, two wheelers, Government vehicles and other such vehicles are insured. This will, in the long run prevent losses to individuals owning these vehicles and will also help government save on the likely ex-gratia in case of damages of these vehicles. A similar exercise should also be carried out for all fisheries vehicles such as mechanized boats, trawlers etc. It should be made clear that no ex-gratia will be paid for vehicles and it is in owner’s interest to get his/her vehicle insured.

13.  The concerned municipality/panchayat should take up a massive exercise to ensure that all drains in the city/municipality/towns/panchayats are de-silted before/immediately after the monsoon. This will ensure that no water is clogged anywhere during such a disaster.

14.  At the time of initial alert of any impending disaster, the concerned municipality/panchayat should ensure sufficient water supply and wide publicity advising people to store water which can last at least for a week/fortnight. It should also be advised that drinking water shouldn’t be used for washing purpose etc. All overhead tanks in the apartments also should be filled up during this period. Special tankers, if needed, should be pressed into operation in congested areas/vulnerable/slums so that people can store water in sufficient quantity.

15.  Municipality/Gram Panchayat (GP) should ensure that all garbage collection points are cleaned off all the garbage/debris when the initial alert is sounded. This will prevent their spilling over on the roads/nearby areas after the disaster when cleaning exercise can’t be taken up immediately.

16.  Material required for sanitizing the areas and for maintaining hygiene such as bleaching powder is available and is stocked at ward level points.

17.  People should be advised to buy and store candles, torches & batteries and preferably solar powered lights so that they have some arrangements when the power supply can’t be restored for some time after the disaster. While it’s not for the government to advertise, the private manufacturers can take up selling of inverters/generators in such areas. Installation of generators was especially useful in apartments.

18.  Municipality/GP should ensure that all houses in its jurisdiction are numbered and that a proper inventory of all residential and other properties is updated and maintained. This comes in very handy when an enumeration exercise is taken up after the disaster for inventorying the damages and also, acts against fraudulent claims. 

19.  People should also buy diesel needed for running of such generators at least for the week’s requirement and store them safely.

20.  Road & Building Department (R&B) as well as NHAI should take up an exercise for a detailed inspection of their roads in the vulnerable areas and take up repairs wherever needed before the disaster. It is observed that cutting of roads during the disaster becomes a major bottleneck in restoring normalcy. (Secy R&B and SE R&B)

21.  An inventory of JCBs, water tankers, dozers and lorries should be prepared by RTO of the District and this list should also be shared with the neighboring districts. This will help their requisition at short notice.

22.  All PHCs, sub-centers, dispensaries and hospitals are stocked of all necessary medicines and other materials which may be required for taking up relief work in case of injuries. The DMHO should certify to that extent.

23.  The existing cyclone relief centers should be inspected by a joint team of tehsildar and CI/SHO and additional places which are safe, located at higher safe location and are permanent structures such as schools should be identified and a detailed action plan, mandal-wise for carrying out necessary evacuation is made and kept ready. This should be reviewed by the District Collector in May/June and necessary repairs, if any, based on the inspection report should be carried out. The action plan will also include arrangements envisaged for the electricity/generators and availability of drinking water and sanitation facilities in such relief centers.

24.  District administration should also be ready with a plan for food, water and milk arrangements in such relief camps. A detailed exercise should be taken up to assess the food requirement (cooked) in such relief camps and the arrangements are in place beforehand.

25.  District administration (and likewise with the State heads at the state level) should hold an interactive session with NGOs/philanthropical agencies/corporates and other religious bodies to try and engage them in relief work in a manner they can contribute maximum. This might include their assistance in looking after relief camps in their respective areas, providing food packets, providing man-power to manage relief camps or any other such assistance. A proper plan in place beforehand engaging all such agencies is extremely useful.

26.  One of the immediate negative fallout of such a disaster is the breakdown of telecommunication facilities mainly due to the damages to their relay towers. Surprisingly, BSNL couldn’t operate for a while due to shortage of diesel. This is something totally avoidable. A meeting should be convened at the district level (also at the state level with all state heads of various tele-communication companies) to assess their state of readiness and whether they have sufficient inventory of material required for restoration of services immediately.

27.  A short film can be made by I&PR dept. meant for general public which will highlight the precautions people should take whenever such a disaster strikes. This will enable dissemination of information in time. This should be played in all cinema theaters during May-Oct period and also be shown in local channels. Similar advisory should also be made for radio and used widely during the May-Oct period. (I&PR Dept, DPRO)

28.  All vacancies esp. at the top and second and third level are filled up in all line departments in vulnerable districts by April so that all such staff/officers are positioned and are well aware of their area/duties by the time cyclone strikes. Absence of top district level officers due to vacancies proved to be a major hindrance in carrying out relief and restoration.  (Dist Collector to take up with the concerned HoD immediately)

29.  The district administration should prepare a detailed action plan to carry out (i) enumeration work to assess agriculture and property damages (ii) to receive and distribute civil supplies material, over and above, what’s already stocked in case of emergency (iii) restore electrical lines (iv) telecom lines (v) restore water supply and carrying out clearance work of roads of the debris to make them road worthy. The action plan will include man-power requirement and material required to carry out such relief and restoration work. This should be communicated to the state government and a meeting, with all concerned state heads should be carried out at the state level to ensure the required availability. While the actual requirement can be known only once the disaster has struck, it is suggested that at least 50% of the additional man-power and 75-80% of the material requirement as per the action plan should be procured and stationed at various points within the district.

30.  The district collector should also convene a meeting with various PSU units, installations, industries and agencies such as APIIC, Dist manager industries and take stock of their preparedness to meet any eventuality arising out of such a disaster. Focus will be on their rescue plan, shutting down of units prior to disaster and ensuring that all important units within each of such installations are safe.

31.  It should be seen that officers/staff when deputed from other districts to help the district administration are not kept idle. There should be a central control point (may be headed by AO collectorate or a deputy collector/any other senior Tahsildar) for such officials being deputed from elsewhere and they should be assigned specific duty and place of work as well as reporting and working hierarchy depending upon their subject expertise and skill sets.

32.  A control room should be set up in collectorate which should be properly manned on a 24/7 basis and should be well equipped with telecommunication facilities. A reserve control room also should be set up elsewhere in some other office which can be used in case of breakdown of any of the facilities in the original control room. A strong, fully equipped control room is a necessary pre-requisite for any disaster control.

33.  The officer in charge of IMD center should constantly update the control room every three hours on the movement of cyclone. A register should be maintained to track the movement and the information should be available to media.

34.  A media room should be set up within collectorate which should be equipped with live channels and facilities for media to send their reports. It is important as crucial inputs for general public can be given to media from time to time and any rumors which normally run high at such times could be quashed with proper dissemination of information.

35.  District collector should, at a specific time, hold interaction with press and media every day to highlight the efforts and also to point out important information as might be needed for general public.

36.  District administration, as a precautionary measure close down all educational institutions, both public and private at least a day prior to the expected cyclone. Similarly, other such places where public gathering is there such as cinema halls should be closed down. All industrial and manufacturing units should also be closed down at least a day in advance. This will minimize movement of people on the day of cyclone.

37.  Hostels should however continue to run as it is and it should be seen that children don’t go out during this period. This is the safest way to keep them in a place as their movement at this point of time otherwise might expose them to the cyclone. The hostel warden should ensure that all stocks and essentials are in place. The DSWO, DBWO and DTWO should ensure that all hostels are functional and equipped with all required supplies.

38.  A meeting should be taken up with the person in charge of Institutions such as Zoo to ascertain the action plan for safe custody of animals during the cyclone. Their safety should be ensured which will also imply safety of others.

39.  Matter may be taken up with the state government to install at least 5 hotlines directly connecting the District Collector/SP with the state government. These lines should be all weather and will not depend upon the telecommunication lines.

The above list is not exhaustive and is indicative in nature. The District Collector should in consultation with other officers and subject experts take all necessary action as deemed appropriate to ensure that the casualties are minimized and damages are contained and also to initiate all such steps with the required manpower and equipment in proportion to the intensity of the disaster to see that the restoration work is done at the earliest.






  1. Arvind

    Really helpful, detailed checklist and very well elaborated/explained.

    It will also be help to build Optional (Advisory) and Mandatory Evacuation Guidelines, Emergency Alert Systems (to announce and support such evacuation). Traffic Planning and Control for Evacuation and for Emergency Relief Vehicles. Fuel - Patrol/Diesel for personal and official vehicles.

    Mock Runs/Tests with Administration and Various Agencies will be helpful to validate and to update such checklists (like DR-BCP tests).

  2. Very useful suggestions Sanjeev. Shall work on them

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