During any disaster situation, timely response plays a crucial role, says new NDRF chief Sanjay Kumar.
With the monsoon in progress and several Indian states, including Kerala, facing devastating floods, response to disaster situations in the country has become vital. To understand rescue operations and other preparations of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), functioning under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, The Sunday Guardian spoke to Sanjay Kumar, newly appointed NDRF chief, who assumed office on 13 July. Excerpts:
Q: Every year, monsoon comes with the burden of floods and devastation. How has NDRF prepared to launch rescue operations during flood situations?
A: During any disaster situation, timely response plays a crucial role. To minimise the response time during floods, NDRF pre-positions its teams in flood-prone areas of the country well before the onset of the monsoon season. This pre-positioning plan is finalised based on deliberations held during coordination meetings with Relief Commissioners of the flood-affected states. The NDRF also organises a national level conference with the chiefs of State Disaster Response Forces (SDRFs) every year to streamline efforts and achieve standardisation in protocols, procedures, training, operational preparedness and response. This year too, the NDRF pre-positioned its 58 teams at 52 locations in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, in close coordination with the respective states, to deal with any emergency during the monsoon season.
The above mentioned 52 pre-positioning locations are in addition to our teams permanently available at 28 Regional Response Centres (RRCs) and reserve teams at 12 Battalion Headquarters across the country. Hence, there was presence of NDRF teams at 92 locations across the country before the onset of the monsoon season.
The pre-positioning deployment is reviewed on a daily basis as per the changing scenario, request of the state authorities and forecast issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Central Water Commission (CWC).
Recently, various districts of Kerala were affected by multiple landslides and heavy rainfall that led to severe floods in the state. The NDRF response mechanism is such that we immediately sent 11 additional teams to Kerala, out of which eight teams were airlifted.
Besides normal flooding, climate variability and change is a major source of many disasters, including the risk of cyclones, inundation and storm surges. The urban flooding phenomenon is again a cause for concern nowadays. We have recent experiences of urban flooding in Chennai in 2015 and Srinagar in 2014. Rapid urbanisation, drastic land use changes, ad-hoc development of the drainage system etc., are some of the main causes of urban flooding. NDRF teams are ready and fully geared up to tackle any such challenges.
Q: Since assuming the office of Director General, your focus has been on the modernisation of the NDRF. Please shed light on the work done by you to modernise NDRF.
A: In any disaster response, trained manpower and state-of-the-art equipment play a pivotal role. It is my constant endeavour to upscale the capabilities of our rescuers by means of specialised and best available training, as well as to procure the latest disaster response equipment available worldwide.
NDRF personnel undergo various specialised and refresher training at premier disaster management institutions in the country and abroad. Besides, joint international exercises like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) were organised in 2017 to share best practices, inter-operability and standardisation in protocols and procedures in the region. The NDRF will also host a joint mock exercise on “Urban Search and Rescue” with member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the first quarter of 2019.
We have made significant progress on the infrastructure front. State-of-the-art infrastructure with training facilities is being developed at the NDRF Academy as well as in all NDRF battalions.
Q: Currently, the NDRF has 12 battalions at strategic locations across the country aided by 28 Regional Response Centres in other cities. Do you think that the NDRF has sufficient manpower and equipment to cope with the existing rescue and rehabilitation challenges in the country?
A: All NDRF battalions and Regional Response Centres are selected depending upon the vulnerability profile of the region. NDRF battalions are well-equipped and trained to respond to all kinds of disasters.
Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved the raising of four new battalions of NDRF to strengthen the country’s disaster response set up. So, there will be 16 NDRF units deployed across the country and this is a sizeable force to tackle the disaster needs of the country.
In addition, the NDRF is also training the State Disaster Response Forces to enhance response efforts at the local level.
Q: How is the NDRF using technology to provide quick response during any calamity in the country?
A: Technology multiplies the efforts of trained rescuers. In any disaster response, trained manpower and state-of-the-art equipment, both play a pivotal role. The NDRF has a rich equipment gallery of 310 state-of-the-art equipment as per international standards. The NDRF is also equipped with drones for better appreciation of the situation.
The NDRF has recently procured 24 new equipment like Rescue Radars, Early Earthquake Warning and Security System, Life Detectors, Chemical-Biological-Radiological Detectors, Search CAMs, Underwater SONAR detection system and latest communication equipment.
NDRF teams are also equipped with various types of cutters and lifting devices for assistance during any collapsed structure rescue. Apart from technological equipment, the NDRF has got a large pool of trained search dogs, who are specially trained to sniff live victims buried under the debris of any collapsed structure.
Q: Training is an essential part of the NDRF. How have you given importance to it?
A: Training is very important for disaster response preparedness and is an ongoing process. The NDRF is a unique force in the world as all our teams are equally trained to respond to miscellaneous types of disasters. Apart from basic training, we provide specialised/task based training to our rescuers in India and abroad.
Efforts are being made to develop the NDRF Academy at Nagpur as a world class and premier disaster management training institute.
Q: Is the NDRF equipped enough to respond to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) emergency?
A: The NDRF is well trained and equipped to respond to any Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear emergency. Since this requires an altogether different kind of skill and equipment, half of our teams are trained and equipped to deal with CBRN emergencies.
Q: The country needs to build a structured response system to check any disaster. How is the incumbent government helping the NDRF in this direction?
A: The government is proactively assisting the NDRF, as well as other stakeholders, for a better and structured disaster response system.
Q: Every year, about 2,000 people die due to floods across the country. Are there new strategies to prevent such scenarios?
A: Floods in the country are an annual occurrence. At NDRF, it is our constant endeavour to respond immediately and instantly during floods. Pre-positioning of a large number of teams is also a part of this strategy. Other sister agencies and stakeholders are also working tirelessly to prevent damages and losses due to floods under the proactive guidance and leadership of the Ministry of Home Affairs and PMO.
Q: Would you like to share any other details with us?
A: Besides strengthening its own response capabilities, the NDRF is tirelessly engaged in enhancing the response capabilities of states and make them self-sufficient to tackle emergencies and minimise losses to the life and property. We are simultaneously working for capacity building of stakeholders like SDRFs, Home Guards, Civil Defence Volunteers and National Cadet Corps by imparting training and holding joint mock drills regularly. In the process of capacity building initiatives, the NDRF has so far sensitised over 58 lakh people across the country.