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Preparing and responding GLOBALLY

Posted on November 28, 2013 in Articles


The growing magnitude of destruction due to natural calamities and manmade disasters (i.e. terror attacks) puts a question on emergency preparedness and response globally. While climate change and an unstable political environment can be the main culprit of the many casualties of natural disasters and terror attacks, the lack of emergency preparedness and slowness of responses can also be factors that spell a huge difference in saving lives. Emergency preparedness and response should go beyond the distribution of relief good to affected areas and victims. Ensuring a systematic and strategic drive to restore the necessary functions and order in the day to day operations also plays a critical role in the smooth implementation of emergency management. 
 
Situated at a place called the ring of fire, the Philippines is one of the many countries within the area that is frequently visited by natural calamities. Just recently, the historic province of Bohol was shaken by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake which had caused many historical churches to crumble to the ground. But earthquakes are not the only natural calamities the Philippines face. At an average of 26 typhoons per year, the chances of a Super Typhoon hitting the Philippines is something that’s not rare. 
 
Housing the financial and business centres of both local and international corporations, the National Capital Region (NCR) serves as the main artery of the Philippines economy. But the towering buildings, billboards and asphalted roads were no match when Typhoon Milenyo (International name Typhoon Xangsane) and Typhoon Ondoy (International name Typhoon Ketsana) slammed the country in 2006 and 2009 respectively. Peaking as a category 4 typhoon with maximum winds of 230 km/h, Milenyo ripped through Mega Manila causing a massive damage to infrastructures when it passed the country last 2006. Three years later, typhoon Ondoy set record breaking torrential rains which resulted to mass flooding in several cities in Metro Manila. And just a few weeks ago, “Super Typhoon” Yolanda (International name Haiyan) slammed the eastern seaboard of the Philippines with winds of more than 300 km/h. Typhoon Yolanda left a colossal damage in a significant number of regions, provinces, barangays, families and individuals. 
 
The Philippines is just one of the many countries who has experienced firsthand what it’s like to be in a state of panic and chaos after a disaster, and with the growing requirement for a structured approach to emergency preparedness and response, the global community had already taken steps by instituting their own emergency standards which were in response to global natural calamities and terror attacks. 
 
September 11, 2001. A day that would go down in history, the city of New York came under attack by a terrorist group seeking to destabilise the world’s most powerful nation. With the World Trade Centre instantly becoming a towering inferno, the New York City Fire Department immediately deployed 200 units within the area to jumpstart the rescue efforts of the tenants. However, due to the magnitude of the terror attack, the rescue effort fell short as they scrambled to reach victims. That day became to be known as the 9/11 attacks; with more than 2000 people dead, it was considered as the most deadliest terror attack in the American soil in recent history. This prompted the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to update and implement the NFPA 1600 or Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Program. The said document aims to consider the baseline criteria that are crucial in the development, implementation, assessment and maintenance of the program for the prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, continuity and recovery of the concerned organisation (NFPA Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Program 2010 Edition, 2010)
 
March 11, 2011. An undersea megathrust earthquake rocked the Eastern board of Japan. Registering a magnitude 9.0 in the Richter scale, the quake was quick to generate a massive tsunami of about 133 ft. The coastal area of Sendai came head to head with the giant tsunami which virtually almost wiped out most of the city. As a result of the massive tsunami and quake, the Fukushima powerplant was left crippled and at the brink of a nuclear meltdown. Japanese were quick to respond as to how a possible radiation spill can be prevented; two years after the radiation scare, one important realisation that came about was the proper measures/guidelines by which facilities can establish, validate and implement emergency plans for the occupants and visitors leading up to and during an evacuation (Australian Standards “Planning for emergencies in facilities”, 2010). The revision on the current AS 3745 – 2002 of the Australian Standards outlines the greater objective for the development of an emergency plan, roles, emergency planning committee and emergency control organisation. The standard highlights on the proper management of occupants with disability in the event of a facility emergency and how to determine the size of the emergency control organisation. The standard puts a premium on how the structural integrity of a facility must likewise be monitored to ensure an effective emergency plan. 
 
May 02, 2008. A low pressure area which developed in the Bay of Bengal in Eastern Chennai India quickly intensified into a cyclone. Peaking at 215 km/h, a category 4 in Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, Cyclone Nargis made landfall in the coastal Ayeyarwady Region of Myanmar. Storm surge paralysed the densely populated Irrawaddy Delta causing a global call for humanitarian aid as death toll reached 138,000. The massive chaos brought about by the fragile condition of Myanmar compounded the difficulty of reaching the victims of the cyclone. Emergency response and relief efforts were hampered as everything seemed to be disorganised, from command coordination to information dissemination. In response to this and other precedent events, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) drafted an international standard which specifically address the effective emergency management framework. Through the ISO/DIS 22320:2010 Societal Security – Emergency Management – Requirements for Command Controls, an organisation can mitigate the effects, save lives and ensure the continuity of the necessary societal functions (ISO/DIS 22320:2010 Societal Security – Emergency Management – Requirements for Command and Control, 2010). Strictly speaking, the standard promotes the sharing of emergency management response by the organisations and agency/government and private sector. In addition to this, in order to carry out an effective emergency response action, a structured command control and coordination is also specified by the standard as part of its requirements. 
 
The three aforementioned standards were put in place as a response of the international community to the growing need to better manage emergency response.  An organised emergency response and preparedness effort can be characterised by the following words: systematic and accurate. Because of the growing need for such, the initially drafted ISO/DIS 22320:2010 Societal Security – Emergency Management – Requirements for Command and Control was formally put in place as an international standard; the new standard, released last 2011, ISO 22320:2011 Societal Security – Emergency Management – Requirements for incident response ensures that commands and controls, together with procedures, decision support, traceability and information management are well established to mitigate the chaos during a calamity/terror attack (Lazarte, 2011). Moreover, through the new formalised standard, organisations can be of terms with the best practices within the industry, these best practices include:
 
- Timely, relevant and accurate information through process specification
- Systems of work
- Data mining 
 
Through the systematic and structured approach of ISO 22320:2011 and its inherent requirements for information and communication through commands and controls, the new standard aims to promote a culture of a proactive framework during a state of panic when disaster happens. As with the initially drafted standards by the United States and Australia, these emergency preparedness and response standards are in place/drafted to heed the calls of the changing time.From weather disturbances to manmade hazards, disastrous events in the past all have honed the way by which we look at calamity. 
 
Though we can never be too prepared for a seemingly apocalyptic disaster of global magnitude, it would always be of great assistance if we can have a structured approach on how we can respond when the situation calls for it.
 

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