ULBs must integrate technology for risk reduction during disasters

Technology has brought about constructive changes in the way humans live. The advancements have also provided us with early warning systems and safeguards to reduce the impacts of natural and man-made disasters and also speed up rescue efforts 

Progress in the science and technology domain relating to natural disasters has made it possible to introduce significant changes in the integrated approach to address different aspects of natural disasters. It is not just limited to accurate prediction of natural disasters, but includes study of the reasons, advancements in early warning systems and rescue mechanisms. It has transformed and strengthened the resilience of communities in handling natural and man-made disasters.

With India’s growing strength in space by the launch of many satellites, Geospatial tools are powerful keys to effective disaster response and management. Geographic Information System (GIS) techniques, Global Positioning System, Satellite Imagery and Vulnerability mapping are now facilitating disaster management. The monitoring through production of interactive maps and geographic models with the help of these geospatial techniques makes it easier to understand and visualize the effects of the disaster which ultimately helps in deploying rescue teams effectively and to undertake post-disaster rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction.

Who would have imagined that drones would identify hot spots in case of major fire in a city! This would not only help in accelerating rescue efforts but also ease the job of firefighters. It is a reality now. According to a report, firefighters in South Africaare being equipped with drones with heat mapping capabilities, which would allow them to identify hot spots at the greatest risk of flare-ups – a task virtually impossible for ground crews working in blinding smoke and dense undergrowth.JJ Rebello, Foreign Government Relations Manager at Airborne Drones South Africa, says drones will not only improve the effectiveness of firefighting efforts; they will also reduce the risk to human life during firefighting operations and stand to limit damage to assets by enabling firefighters to work proactively, rather than reactively.“Commercial drones can withstand temperature extremes from below 5 degrees Centigrade, up to 50 degrees Centigrade….With the use of advanced thermal imaging cameras transmitting data to command centres, they can identify people or animals, even where visibility is limited by darkness, smoke or vegetation, so allowing emergency teams to pinpoint exactly where assistance is needed. Thermal imaging cameras also support proactive firefighting measures, by mapping hotspots where flare-ups could occur.”

Firefighting is not the only area which has seen significant improvement. The unique capabilities of the satellites to provide comprehensive coverage of large areas at regular intervals and with quick turnaround time have been valuable in monitoring and managing flood dynamics. The Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) is in talks with technology major IBM and MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology (MSRIT) to develop separate interventions that can strengthen Bengaluru VarunaMitra, the urban flood forecasting system. Such efforts can be taken by other state governments to reduce the losses due to floods.

Creating a pool of experts in the area is also important. University of Chicago has started a Masters in Disaster Management programme. As part of the disaster risk reduction programme in world cities, Rockefeller Foundation has started the 100 Resilient Cities project. Surat was one of the cities selected under the programme. All the cities under the project appointed a Chief Resilience Officer. Urban local bodies in India and especially in disaster-prone cities must learn from the experiment and invest in risk reduction programs to make their cities resilient and safe.