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Mervin V. Gutierez/Caritas/CAFOD 2014;

Chapter 16.1 Preparing for disasters and emergencies

Introduction

Photo: Mervin V. Gutierez/Caritas/CAFOD 2014;

Disaster preparedness has two main aims: to help people avoid impending disaster threats, and to put plans, resources and mechanisms in place to provide adequate assistance. The main elements of disaster preparedness are forecasting events and issuing warnings; taking precautionary measures; and improving response through timely and effective rescue, relief and assistance. Table 16.1 sets out the main components of disaster preparedness.

Table 16.1 Disaster preparedness framework

1. Vulnerability, hazard and risk assessment
Starting point for planning and preparation, linked to longer-term mitigation and development interventions as well as disaster preparedness
2. Planning
Disaster preparedness plans agreed and in place, which are achievable and for which commitment and resources are assured
3. Institutional framework
Well-coordinated disaster preparedness and response system at all levels, with commitment from relevant stakeholders. Roles and responsibilities clearly defined
4. Information systems
Efficient and reliable systems for gathering and sharing information between stakeholders (e.g. forecasts and warnings, information on relevant capacities, role allocation and resources)
5. Resource base
Goods (e.g. stockpiles of food, emergency shelter and other materials), services (e.g. search and rescue, medical, engineering, nutrition specialists) and disaster relief funding (e.g. for items not easily stockpiled or not anticipated) available and accessible
6. Warning systems
Robust communications systems (technologies, infrastructure, people) capable of transmitting warnings effectively to people at risk
7. Response mechanisms
Established and familiar to disaster response agencies and disaster victims (may include evacuation procedures and shelters, search and rescue teams, needs assessment teams, activation of emergency lifeline facilities, reception centres and shelters)
8. Education and training
Training courses, workshops and extension programmes for at-risk groups and disaster responders. Knowledge of risk and appropriate response shared through public information and education systems
9. Rehearsals
Evacuation and response procedures practised, evaluated and improved
Adapted from R. Kent, Disaster Preparedness (New York/Geneva: UNDP/DHA, 1994), http://www.pacificdisaster.net/pdnadmin/data/original/dmtp_07_disaster_preparedness_8.pdf.

The categories in the table should not be seen as a fixed sequence. Activities in different categories will often be carried out at the same time. Nevertheless, there is a logical sequence of sorts: planning must be preceded by understanding of risk, hazards and vulnerability, and it leads to the establishment of an institutional framework; the framework is a foundation for setting up information and warning systems, assembling resources, putting preparedness mechanisms in place and testing them and providing public education and training. In reality, one never starts with no elements of the disaster preparedness system in place, so that the task is to make improvements in all areas.