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close this bookTrainee's Manual on Disaster Preparedness (European Commission Humanitarian Office, 59 p.)
close this folderModule IV. Emergency Services & Responses
View the documentSession III. COMMUNICATION & WARNING
View the documentSession VI. SEARCH & RESCUE


A. Definition of Responses

RESPONSES are measures taken immediately prior to and following disaster impact. Such measures are directed towards saving life and protecting property and to deal with the immediate damage caused by the disaster. The quality of response measures greatly varies in accordance with the nature and extent of preparatory measures undertaken.

B. Phases of Response

1. Pre-Response
2. Response
3. Post Response

C. Characteristics of Response

1. The type of disaster

Depending on its type, the onset of disaster may provide long warning, short warning or no warning at all. This will obviously influence the effectiveness of activation, mobilization and application of response effort.

2. The severity and extent of disaster

This represent the size and shape of the response problem and particularly affects aspects such as:

a. The ability of response effort to cope with the problem;
b. The urgency of response action and the priorities which are applied;
c. Exacerbation of disaster effects if appropriate action is not taken; and,
d. Requirements for external assistance.

3. The ability to take Pre-Impact Action

If warning time and other conditions permit pre-impact action to be taken (in the form of evacuation, shelter and other protective measures), this may have a major effect on the success of response overall.

4. The capability for sustained operations

A frequent requirement of response operations is that they must be sustained over a long enough period to be fully effective. Several factors are involved here, including:

a. Resource capacity
b. Management
c. Community self-reliance

However, the capability to sustain operations relative to potential threats is a disaster management objective which needs to be carefully addressed both during preparedness and response action itself.

5. Identification of likely response requirements

It is generally possible to identify beforehand the kind of response action likely to be needed for any particular disaster. The threats likely to emanate from individual disasters are well established. Thus, the required response actions are also identifiable. This represents a considerable advantage in disaster management terms, in that it is possible to plan and prepare for well-defined response action in the face of potential threats. This again constitutes a tangible objective for disaster management.

It is suggested that an assessment of response needs in the light of the foregoing and similar factors has useful application to most circumstances.

D. Requirements for Effective Response

Experience has shown that effective response depends fundamentally on two factors, namely: information and resources. Without these two vital components, the best plans, management arrangements, experts staff and so on become virtually useless.

The Major Requirements for Effective Response are:

1. General Background of Preparedness

Response operations generally have to be carried out under disruptive and sometimes traumatic conditions. The effectiveness of response operations will depend vitally on the general background of preparedness which applies. This includes various aspects of policy direction, planning, organization and training.

2. Readiness of Resource Organization

The readiness of resource organizations (both government and non-government) to respond to disaster situations, often at very short notice, is a very important requirement for response operations. Sometimes, failure on the part of only one designated organization may seriously upset the total response effort. However, disaster management authorities do need to bear in mind that the response lead-time for resource organization can differ markedly.

3. Warning

An effective system of warning is vitally important for successful response operations, even though there are bound to be some occasions when little or no warning will be available. The main needs for warning are:

a. Initial detection, as early as possible of the likelihood that a disaster will occur;

b. Origination of the warning process as early as practicable, bearing in mind false or unnecessary warning needs to be avoided. In this regard however, precautions can be built into the warning sequence by ensuring that, where doubt exists only key officials are initially informed;

c. Effective means of transmitting warning information;

d. Facilities to receive and assess warning information;

e. Response decisions as a result of assessing warning information; and,

f. Dissemination of response decisions and as appropriate, broadcast of warning information to the public.

Preliminary reaction to warning, before a disaster actually strikes can save lives and property. This preliminary reaction might include:

a. Closing of schools, offices, and other public places;
b. Checking emergency power supplies and similar facilities; and,
c. Taking precautions in households to ensure supplies of food and drinking water.

It is re-emphasized that preliminary reaction of this kind usually needs to be planned beforehand and where necessary, the relevant information passed to disaster-related organization and the public.

4. Evacuation

The evacuation of communities, groups or individuals is a frequent requirement during response operations. Evacuation is usually:

a. Precautionary - in most cases undertaken on warning indicators, prior to impact, in order to protect disaster-threatened persons from the full effects of the disaster, or

b. Post-impact - in order to move persons from a disaster-stricken area into safer, better surrounding and conditions.

5. Activation of the Response System

For rapid and effective response, there usually needs to be a system for activating disaster management officials and resource organizations. It is useful to implement activation in stages. These might be Alert, Stand-by and Action.

The benefit of this arrangement is that if, after the initial warning, the disaster does not materialize, activation can be called off. Thus, full mobilization of resources can be avoided and the minimum of disruption is caused to normal life. It is advisable for government departments and other resource organizations to work this system of stages in their own internal plans.

6. Coordination of Response Operations

Coordination of the action taken in response operation is very important. Good coordination ensures that resource organizations are utilized to the best effect, therefore avoiding gaps or duplication in operational tasks.

Appropriate emergency operation centers are essential for achieving effective coordination, because the EOC system is designed to facilitate information management and accurate decision making.

Also, appropriate disaster management committees (usually at the national, intermediate and local government levels) are necessary in order to ensure that, as far as possible, there is overall coordination in decision-making and in the allocation of task.

7. Communications

As with all aspects of disaster management, a good communications system is essential for effective response. Also, since communications may be adversely affected by disaster impact, reserve communications (with their own power supplies) is a necessary part of response arrangements. The value of solar-powered communications, especially under severe disaster conditions, can be considerable.

8. Survey & Assessment

It is virtually impossible to carry out effective response operations without accurate survey of damage and consequent assessment of relief and other needs. To be fully effective, survey and assessment need to be carefully planned and organized beforehand. It usually calls for:

a. survey from the air

b. survey by field teams

c. accurate reporting from disaster management and other official authorities in or near the disaster area.

In most cases, a general survey needs to be made soon after impact, with follow-up surveys when necessary. Some training is usually required for personnel who are required to carry out survey and assessment duties. This is necessary in order to ensure the accuracy of information which is collected. The information gathered through survey and assessment is, of course, vitally important for the implementation of immediate relief measures. However, it should be noted that much of the information is also required for the formulation of recovery programs.

9. Information Management

In the confused circumstances which tend to exist following disaster impact, it is not easy to obtain accurate and complete information. However, without accurate and comprehensive information, it is difficult to ensure that response operations are focused upon the correct tasks, in the correct order of priority.

Emergency operations centers are essential for effective information management. EOCs ensure that information is correctly processed, according to the proven cycle:

a. acquisition of information
b. information assessment
c. decision making
d. dissemination of decisions and information

Therefore, even if there are limitations in obtaining information, the EOC system will make the best use of that which is available.

10. Major Emergency Response Aspects

Following the impact of disaster, there are usually varying degrees of damage to, or destruction of the systems which support everyday life. Communities therefore need help (usually urgently) in order to subsist through the emergency phase and beyond. Key aspects of this assistance include:

a. RESCUE - to rescue persons who may be trapped in buildings and under debris, isolated by flood waters, or need rescuing for any other reason;

b. TREATMENT & CARE OF VICTIMS - to dispose of the dead, to render first aid, to ensure identification tagging of casualties, to identify needs in terms of medical treatment, hospitalization and medical evacuation, and, to deal with these accordingly;

c. EVACUATION - to determine whether people need to be evacuated from the stricken area immediately, or whether such a requirement is likely to arise later.

d. SHELTER - to provide shelter for victims whose housing has been destroyed or rendered unusable. This may involve:

· making urgent repairs to some housing
· issuing tents and/or tarpaulins to provide means of temporary shelter.

e. FOOD - to organize and distribute food to disaster victims and emergency workers.

f. COMMUNICATION - to establish essential radio, telephone, telex and facsimile links.

g. CLEARANCE & ACCESS - to clear key roads, airfields and ports in order to allow access for vehicle, aircraft, and shipping.

h. WATER & POWER SUPPLIES - to re-establish water and power supplies, or to make temporary arrangements for them. The provision of potable water is often difficult, particularly in the early post-impact stages. Water purifying equipment might therefore have to be obtained and/or water purifying tablets issued.

i. TEMPORARY SUBSISTENCE SUPPLIES - to provide supplies, such as clothing, disaster kits, cooking utensils and plastic sheeting, so as to enable victims to subsist temporarily in their own area, thus helping to reduce the need for evacuation.

j. HEALTH & SANITATION - to take measures to safeguard the health of people in the stricken area and to maintain reasonable sanitation facilities.

k. PUBLIC INFORMATION - to keep the stricken community informed on what they should do, especially in terms of self-help, and on what action is in hand to assist them. To prevent speculation and rumor concerning the future situation.

l. SECURITY - to maintain law and order, especially to prevent looting and unnecessary damage.

m. CONSTRUCTION REQUIREMENTS - to estimate high priority building repair and replacement requirements.

n. DISASTER WELFARE INQUIRY - to make arrangements to handle national and international inquiries concerning the welfare of citizens and residents, including tracing of missing persons.

o. MAINTENANCE OF PUBLIC MORALE - depending on cultural and other local circumstances, to make arrangements for counseling and spiritual support of the stricken community. This may involve religious bodies, welfare agencies and other appropriate organizations.

p. OTHER REQUIREMENTS - depending on individual circumstances, other requirements, additional to those above, may arise.

11. Allocation of Tasks

If planning and preparedness have been properly carried out, the majority of response tasks, as outlined in the foregoing paragraph, should have to be designated beforehand to appropriate government departments and other resource organizations such as:

a. Public Works Departments and the LGUs to undertake debris clearance tasks, etc.;

b. Medical and Health Department to implement health and sanitation measures;

c. Police to maintain law and order, and to assist with control of people and vehicle around the disaster area; and,

d. Red Cross to carry out first-aid and other emergency welfare assistance.

12. Availability of Relief Supplies & Commodities

The ready availability of relief supplies and commodities is an important factor in effective response. After disaster impact, there is usually an urgent need to provide and distribute food, drinking water, clothing, and shelter materials.

Disaster management action therefore needs to cover two main areas:

a. obtaining the various commodities from government stores, emergency stockpiles, commercial supplies and international assistance sources; and,

b. organizing the distribution of these commodities according to the best possible orders of priority.

13. International Assistance Resource

International assistance resources often play a valuable part in response operations. These resources mainly comprise relief commodities, especially food, shelter and medical supplies. However, specialist personnel and equipment are also available for damage. Authorities responsible for response operations should bear in mind that some international agencies and some countries hold stockpiles of relief supplies conveniently situated around the world.

14. Public Cooperation

Good cooperation between the disaster response authorities and the public is essential if response operations are to be successful. The foundation of cooperation should be laid down during the conduct of public awareness programs, a necessary part of preparedness. However, disaster response and coordinating authorities should remember that if the affected public is not kept as fully informed as possible, rumors and false reports are likely to be started, causing problems the response authorities.

15. Media Cooperation

Disaster, especially major disaster is news. Consequently, requests for information by local and international media are inevitable. It is clearly advisable to have organized arrangements to deal with this aspect. These arrangements are usually outlined in plans and standard operating procedures (SOPs), which are the responsibilities of government information and broadcasting agencies.

It is important that conditions in the stricken nation should be accurately reported internationally, with no misreporting or misrepresentation of international assistance efforts. Most events will be superseded by other events in the world scene in a fairly short time. To avoid possible misunderstanding and misinterpretation, it is important to give media representatives appropriate opportunities for briefing and gathering of information soon after disaster impact. Delays may lead to some media representatives making their own news, which may not be in the best interest of the affected nation.

Good relations with the local media is also important. Usually, two-way benefits are involved. The local media can also render invaluable services through dissemination of warning and evacuation announcements, and through stimulating public awareness of disasters.

During highly-pressured response operations, disaster management authorities may regard media information as low priority. However, this should and could be avoided if proper arrangements are in place.

16. Pattern of Response Management

It is important, especially in the interest of operational coherency, that disaster managers should try to develop and maintain a pattern of management during response operations.

Disaster Management deals with major requirements for coping with disaster, resource management depends on four major factors:

a. a capable EOC system;

b. a good information picture;

c. effective communication between the disaster management and individual resource organizations; and

d. sensible commitment of resource organizations to operational tasks, bearing in mind their capability and durability.

Given that these factors can be applied, it is useful if the response management authority works to a pattern of:

a. maintaining the best possible information picture (from surveys, situation reports and other information) concerning the disaster situation and the tasks which may need to be undertaken;

b. establishing priorities for tasks;

c. committing resources to tasks in the most effective manner, bearing in mind that personnel need time for meals and reasonable rest periods;

d. continuously assessing the situation in terms of:

· tasks completed
· tasks needing to be undertaken
· resources available
· possible reinforcement by additional resource, etc.;

e. maintaining close liaison with other relevant disaster management authorities (e.g. committees at higher and lower government levels);

f. maintaining close liaison with non-government organizations;

g. keeping the public as fully informed as practicable; and,

h. utilizing self-help from within the community.

17. Period of Response Operations

Broad international experience indicates that most governments find it expedient to keep the period of emergency response operations down to a fairly limited period. This period usually tends to be 2-3 weeks, after which remaining relief and associated needs are met through the normal system and processes of government. Undue extension of the emergency is usually regarded as undesirable. This is to avoid:

a. over-dependence on emergency aid (especially food supplies);
b. adverse effects on the local commercial system; and,
c. unnecessary delay in returning to normal community life.

It may be useful therefore, for disaster managers to bear this likely time frame in mind in formulating their overall concept of response operations.

E. Common Problems Encountered

1. Operationalizing the Disaster Operations Center
2. Communication and warning
3. Infrastructure and transportation
4. Search and rescue
5. First Aid
6. Health, nutrition and sanitation
7. Emergency Relief and Evacuation Center Management