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close this bookSevere Tropical Storms Preparation and Response - Case Study Text (DHA/UNDRO - DMTP - UNDP, 1991, 58 p.)
close this folderPart One: Background Information
View the documentA. Introduction
View the documentB. Background Details - The Salaccan Republic
View the documentC. Emergency Preparedness History
View the documentD. Cyclone Preparedness: Proposed Actions in Response to Warning

C. Emergency Preparedness History

Institutional Background for Emergency Response

The constitutional framework for emergency preparedness and response was set by the Emergencies Act of 1973. This Act assigned responsibility and authority for public protection under conditions of natural or man-made disaster, military operations, or sabotage. Authority for emergency planning was delegated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. A National Emergencies Committee was designated by the Act, consisting of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as Chairman, with representatives of all other government ministries as members. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs acted as Secretary to this committee. The Committee had overall responsibility for formulating and reviewing emergency preparedness and response policy and plans, and overseeing operational activities by the appropriate ministries. The secretariat was provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs was assigned the responsibility for co-ordinating emergency preparedness, assessment, and relief within the provincial and local government structures, in principle down to village level. Provincial Governors and District Officers were assigned broad authority to control and direct all civilian resources in the event of a declaration of an emergency by the central authorities. There were also provisions for directing evacuations and controlling access to affected areas.

There was no explicit reference to mitigation or longer-term recovery from natural disaster in the text of the Act. However, authority for the mobilization of industrial resources before and after a disaster was the responsibility of the Ministry of Industry.

The Act made no reference to civil-military relations.

Each Ministry was responsible for drawing up emergency plans within its area of concern. The National Emergencies Committee then had to review plans in draft, and attempt to identify gaps in responsibilities, overlaps, and possible resource conflicts.

Emergency Operations Centre

An embryonic National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was maintained by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in a separate building. Its designated function was to ensure that government decision-makers received adequate information on the emergency and the response; to ensure that established national policies were implemented in an appropriate way; to collect and analyse data relevant to the response at national level; and to co-ordinate and reinforce the actions of the major ministries and departments. The designated site for the EOC was not provided with back-up power, and relied mainly on telephone links with other centres of emergency activity and key resources: other ministries, armed forces headquarters, meteorological office, broadcasting stations, provincial offices, and the headquarters of the main utility corporations. There was an HF radio link to the offices of the provincial governors. The operating procedures for the national emergency operations centre were not well established. Little of the equipment needed (maps, charts, stationery, personal living items) had been stockpiled, and there was no formal system of training or exercises for the staff assigned to it. Generally, the system lacked standards, controls, and written operating procedures.

Emergency Department Staff

The Emergencies Department within the Ministry of Internal Affairs was responsible for Secretariat services to the National Emergencies Committee, for managing the national emergency operations centre facilities, and for co-ordinating local emergency planning at the Province and District levels. The Department had thirty full time staff. Most had no formal training in emergency planning and lacked any real experience in dealing with emergencies. There were no established selection criteria for reviewing the likely potential and capabilities of new staff assigned to the unit. Pay was low, and the emergencies function appeared to offer few career opportunities. Like many civil servants, most of the staff had some form of outside business interests. The budget for the Department was equivalent to 350,000 US dollars a year

Government of Salacca Response Structure

Provincial Level Staff and Operations

A similar situation existed at the Province level. Each province had two staff (of a seniority equivalent to a District Officer) appointed as emergency management co-ordinators. Each had received a total of about two weeks training at the central offices of the Ministry. Emergency plans at the Province level were rudimentary. Most Provincial offices had a designated space for an emergency operations centre, but like the central system, little preparation had been made to maintain back-up power, stockpile critical items, or to designate and train operating staff. None of the provincial government buildings had been surveyed for resistance to high winds. With the exception of limited local VHF networks (relying on unprotected and unreinforced aerials and equipment) all communications depended on the telephone system. This was also unprotected for the most part against hazard agents such as high winds, and flooding.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs also maintained three regional warehouses, stocked mainly with blankets, clothing, small amounts of canned food, and other domestic items. Two of these centres each had a small stock of six inflatable boats and outboard motors. These centres were intended to provide buffer storage in the event of an emergency, in support of public distribution of relief items.

Other Ministries

Within most of the other ministries, responsibility for emergency preparedness was nominally assigned to an official at the level of Permanent Under-Secretary. Operationally, one or two staff at Assistant Secretary level were responsible (mostly on a part-time basis) for developing and maintaining the ministry operating plans. None had received more than one week of training, at courses at the national administrative staff college.

Health Sector

The exception to this somewhat unprepared national posture was the Ministry of Health. Over the past four years, officials there had drawn up a national health policy on emergency planning and relief, and three specialist staff (covering clinical services, public health, and health facilities) had been given responsibility to promote, develop, and co-ordinate both emergency planning and longer-term measures to reduce the vulnerability of health facilities. These staff members had built close relations (both formal and informal) with local and international NGOs in the country, and with the national office of WHO, which provided technical support and training on a regular basis. Operational plans had been drawn up for maintaining vital services and inputs at hospitals and clinics, mass casualty management, medical supplies management, epidemiological surveillance, environmental health services, and for the maintenance or restoration of basic health services and disease control programmes during a period of national emergency. Special attention had been given to the problems of population displacement and to the likely problems of managing incoming international relief. And several steps had been taken to adjust the design and proposed location of new medical facilities to reduce their vulnerability to natural disaster, particularly windstorms and floods. The main shortcomings of the programme were the relative lack of activity at the District level and below, and the difficulties experienced by staff in explaining their plans to other national decision-makers. However, the total sum of specific initiatives (see Box for an outline of emergency-related measures) had substantially improved capacity to handle the health aspects of large emergencies.


Recent Emergency Medical Initiatives

1. Appointment of an emergency advisory committee, co-opting staff from NGOs and the WHO national office.

2. Development of a basic national emergency health plan, and plans for each region.

3. Financial support for regular informal contacts with regional and international specialists, including WHO Geneva, PAHO, and CDC.

4. Listing of all medical facilities in national database (with contact person and equipment lists)

5. Listings of details of specialist emergency training of all medical personnel (with special attention to those working in areas potentially at high risk of disaster)

6. Listings of transport available to clinics

7. Listings of local and regional suppliers of medical equipment and materials

8. Listings of national and regional contact people in other agencies

9. Listings of details of special control programmes, including immunization and vector control

10. Readily accessible baseline information on disease rates

11. A regular programme of courses on disaster management within medical schools and nursing colleges.

National Communications Weaknesses

In addition to various shortcomings within ministries there were problems with emergency preparedness within the national communications system. Communications (and hence central co-ordination and control) were largely dependent on an unprotected and often poorly maintained civilian telecommunications network. Military communications were not included in the national plan for civilian management of natural disasters.

There were significant weaknesses in the system for emergency communications:

1. Communications links with several provinces depended substantially on the national microwave network. This was highly vulnerable to storm damage.

2. There were no protected emergency linkages with designated sites of provincial emergency operations centres. These depended mostly on microwave. The Ministry of the Internal Affairs did have two small, vehicle-mounted communications satellite terminals (using the Inmarsat commercial system) for emergency use, but no trained operators, and no trained repair personnel.

3. The emergency management system, insofar as it existed, lacked any capacity for direct emergency communication with the public. There were no established links between designated emergency operations centres and public broadcasting stations, and no provisions in the emergency plans for establishing linkages during a crisis period. There was no provision of back-up support, or arrangements for protecting any links that were established. And no standard messages had been incorporated into emergency plans.

4. There was no provision of protected, reliable emergency communications at the district and local level. Communication between the provincial government headquarters and the district government centres relied mainly on normal telephone links. Some of the larger district centres had radio links, based on two channel VHF equipment; most had battery back-up, but no specific arrangements for re-charging batteries from alternative power sources. Most of the equipment was in inadequately wind- or rain-proofed buildings. A parallel network at the district level connected provincial police headquarters with district and some local stations. Again, most equipment had little protection. Below the district level, communications was mainly by telephone. A few village centres had hand-held VHF radios.

5. Links between provincial centres and province-level offices of utilities (water, electricity, telephone services) relied almost entirely on the normal telephone network. No arrangements had been made to give special preference to government telephone lines during shut-down or recovery.

Pre-Disaster Problems with Mitigation Measures:

Mitigation was not properly addressed in either plans or structural organisations. As noted earlier, there was no explicit reference in the text of the Emergencies Act to disaster mitigation or its relation to longer-term recovery from natural disaster. Both UNDP and UNDRO had raised this question several times with the Government, and sought to encourage the National Emergencies Committee to assign responsibility for developing programmes and plans. The Government had formed a sub-committee of the National Emergencies Committee, tasked with co-ordinating activities in relation to the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). However, the members of this committee, which included several co-opted members from industrial associations and from the national university, were still attempting to define their role, and to define a set of practical activities. In meetings with UNDP and UNDRO officials, and with representatives of a number of major donors, regional finance institutions, and a visiting World Bank team, members of the committee attempted to explore the opportunities and means of international support for building collaborating constituencies for mitigation - with NGOs, banking, finance, and insurance institutions, and private industry. Their task was complicated by the lack of a clear departmental focus within government for risk assessment and mitigation planning.

Recently, after informal discussions with the Prime Minister, the UNDP Resident Representative had been exploring both the feasibility and level of political support for the establishment of an Office of Economic Emergency Preparedness within the Finance Ministry. Together with the Permanent Secretaries of that Ministry and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (which was responsible for many aspects of urban and rural development planning), staff of UNDP and UNDRO had discussed the activities which might be involved. It was felt that the process leading to the growth of improved economic emergency preparedness would have to involve the appointment of a senior adviser to the Finance Ministry, who would assist the proposed Department to coordinate the work of specialists from government departments, academics, and professional associations. The central political requirement was to build up a constituency for disaster mitigation within the country. The group would assemble a task force of economists, insurance industry specialists, meteorologists, hydrologists, cartographers, civil and mechanical engineers, and industrial engineers (and other specialities where appropriate) to review national vulnerability, and to explore ways of incorporating mitigation measures into national planning. The first major initiative would be a Risk Assessment and Mitigation Project, which would train planners and national decision makers in risk assessment and mitigation techniques, with special attention to lifeline network analysis and vulnerability assessment. The project would initially identify critical systems whose loss or damage would severely constrain rehabilitation in a future emergency, and define the main requirements for strengthening and modification. Later the project was expected to expand into an overall national risk assessment of hazards. The main challenge was to devise a means of incorporating detailed mitigation planning into selected nationally critical investment projects as part of normal routine development planning.

One initiative was taken early, with the formation of small joint UNDP/Finance Ministry/Ministry of Internal Affairs task group to review and inventory existing programmes which were thought to have substantial potential either directly or in support of disaster mitigation, where small additional inputs would give useful gains. A number of projects of this type were quickly identified.

At the same time, UNDP attempted to bring to the Government’s attention the need for a change in planning laws to allow the planning department to set conditions for disaster resistant design and construction when issuing building permits, particularly in relation to windstorms.

Other measures were also regarded as urgent, but given the degree of uncertainty about roles and responsibilities, and the amount of attention being given to institutional arrangements, little had yet been achieved. An underlying concern with those pushing for policy change was the real possibility of a change of government during the next year or two, with the need to build a new set of relationships with decision makers coming in with different perspectives and a different strategic agenda. Areas of special significance were highlighted in a recent UNDP/UNDRO report, and included in particular the importance of building additional protection into the new large industrial developments on the Southern coastline: projects involving petrochemical plant and natural gas pipelines, a container port, major new power stations, and a new “Free Port” economic zone which was attracting substantial foreign investment. A further area of concern was a plethora of new tourist developments further up the coast, including new hotel complexes and boating marinas. As yet, little had been done to review either emergency planning or the longer term economic implications of disaster-related disruption in these sectors. The main pressure for mitigation in these areas was coming from the insurance industry, particularly in relation to windstorms. They had set specific conditions for protection of buildings containing switchgear, introduction of fail-safe equipment, reinforcement of plant fire service buildings, protection of plant records, and protection of plant control computers.

Restructuring Preparedness and Mitigation Planning

A recent consultants report had been quietly but decisively critical of the current emergency planning arrangements within government, and had also highlighted the relative lack of focus on mitigation activity.

This report had led indirectly to a discussion in Cabinet about a restructuring of emergency preparedness and response functions within government. The consultants had called for additional emphasis on training and support for line ministries, focusing particularly on ways in which mitigation measures could be incorporated into day-to-day programme planning and implementation. The consultants had also highlighted the relative lack of co-ordination achieved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Implicitly, it was suggested that the Minister would not have the authority to influence the activities of other ministries and departments at the local level in the event of an emergency. It was recognised that the Prime Minister would have to take an active role in co-ordinating and directing the preparation, response and recovery from a disaster. However, his department currently lacked any focus for emergency planning or preparedness. Nonetheless, the Executive Office of the Prime Minister was pushing hard for the transfer of the Secretariat and co-ordination functions of the Emergencies Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Prime Minister’s Office, together with the establishment of a new unit. This was being resisted strongly by the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Finance. An unknown factor at this stage was the attitude of the Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff, who had watched the potential reorganization with interest, but had remained outwardly uncommitted. It was thought that the Armed Forces were in favour of reinforcing the National Defence Council (which had its own operations room) to include a disaster response function. The debate was inconclusive, and the matter was referred to a Cabinet Working Group for further review.

The importance of mitigation planning was not adequately reflected in the Cabinet discussions. However, a brief but effective presentation by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance at the Cabinet Finance Sub-Committee did much to convince Ministers of the economic implications for the country as a whole of several types of potential major disaster. As events will show, however, this was too late to achieve effective changes in policy.


A selection of mitigation activities incorporated into on-going projects before the disaster:

1. Incorporation of protection against horizontal driving rain and flooding in the construction of new telephone exchanges, being built as part of a project involving a major European telecommunications company.

2. Extension of a fibre-optic landline route to incorporate a major provincial government headquarters.

3. Incorporation of additional structural protection for microwave masts and transmission equipment on new microwave routes being developed for a cellular telephone and data transmission network.

4. A bilateral project by a Scandinavian aid donor involving improvement of broadcasting facilities for fishermen. This was part of a wider fisheries development programme, and involved the use of rebroadcast equipment for severe weather warnings. Larger fishing vessels acted as relays, rebroadcasting warnings on citizen band frequencies to small fishing boats equipped with inexpensive short-range radios.

5. A project which incorporated cyclone-resistant construction in repair and maintenance facilities for public works vehicles

6. A project aimed at improving the design of new school buildings, to provide safer evacuation sites in cyclone-prone areas

7. Incorporation of core protected rooms for patients and equipment in new small clinics in cyclone areas.

8. An additional funding increment for transport network improvements for roads to coastal villages, to allow the population to be evacuated more quickly.

9. Measures to increase protection of land-tenure records in cyclone-prone areas. Under a project encouraged by a bilateral donor, records were moved into strengthened buildings and kept in good quality, sealed cabinets in an inner room on an upper floor.

10. A small on-going project, supported by UNDP, which enabled the national building research institute to maintain a small field team over several years to study the relationship between changes in construction methods and cyclone-vulnerability. At the time of the disaster, the institute had an invaluable database covering local housing policies, information on housing types and their distribution, information on material costs, information on suppliers, and informal contacts with construction companies, local engineers and architects, appropriate technology groups, NGOs and community groups. (This proved extremely useful during the rehabilitation period after the next disaster)

11. An animal tagging scheme used in a veterinary disease control programmes: small expenditures on more robust tags and better coding later enabled local authorities and farmers’ associations to round up stray animals and restore them more quickly to their owners.