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Mervin V. Gutierez/Caritas/CAFOD 2014;

Chapter 16.4 Preparing for disasters and emergencies

Protecting assets

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

Short-term measures to protect household assets are needed in sudden-onset disasters. The most obvious step is to move them out of harm’s way. Communities vulnerable to frequent hazards such as seasonal floods tend to have well-established systems for moving livestock, food, household utensils and other items. Where this is not possible, possessions can be secured within the home by putting them on high shelves and platforms, hanging them from the ceiling or even placing them on the roof. If the house itself is vulnerable – for example to the high winds and sea surge of a cyclone – some goods can be made safe by burying them in the ground in tins or pots. This is common practice in parts of Bangladesh, where it is also increasingly common to build mounds of earth rising above floodwater levels that give shelter to animals.

Protecting household assets is largely a matter for individual households: disaster preparedness and response agencies are primarily concerned with saving lives and relieving human suffering, although preparedness planning is beginning to take livelihoods issues into account. Some shelters and safe places are designed to take animals and people will often take their most precious possessions to shelters (the need to protect livelihood assets has an influence on poor people’s readiness to respond to warnings of disasters). Community stores have been built to protect grain and seeds against flooding. The idea of providing secure buildings for storing other items is occasionally discussed but has not been tested on any scale. ‘Safe’ or ‘hardened’ rooms within homes and public buildings can provide protection, particularly against high winds and debris from windstorms, cyclones and tornadoes. After Hurricane Gustav in 2008, scientists in Cuba designed and promoted a low-cost approach consisting of a single room within a house, constructed with resistant material, in which families can seek protection for themselves and their valuables during a storm.+See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYK3VUaTbVs.

The assets of the disaster preparedness system itself also need protecting. Control centres, communications systems, warehouses, search and rescue equipment and relief goods may all be at risk. Agencies need to protect their own buildings, equipment – and files: preserving records of beneficiary groups, resources, methods and experiences is important (just as it is for local government agencies to preserve land, legal and medical records). Protection of community infrastructure and lifelines is discussed in Chapter 9.

Table 16.2 Flood preparedness measures at different levels

Individual and household level
  • Build awareness about the risks: drowning, waterborne diseases, electrocution, poisonous animals.
  • Install protective railings around houses, to protect children from falling into the water and to provide support for the elderly.
  • Identify potential safe areas and potential routes to get there.
  • Know what to do when a warning is received.
  • Know whom to contact in case of emergency.
  • Keep life jackets or buoys or tyres.
  • Keep first aid kits.
  • Store clean water and food in a safe place.
  • Listen to flood forecasts.
  • Move valuable items to higher ground.
  • Be prepared for evacuation.
  • Protect livestock and other important assets.
 Community level
  • Identify and maintain safe havens, safe areas and temporary shelters.
  • Put up signs on routes leading to temporary shelters.
  • Inform the public of the evacuation plan, and the location of safe areas and the shortest routes leading to them.
  • Keep a list with important contacts such as district or provincial and national emergency lines, and identify a focal point in the community.
  • Make arrangements for setting up teams in charge of health issues, damage and needs assessment.
  • Set up community volunteer teams for a 24-hour flood watch.
  • Improve or keep open communication channels to disseminate warnings.
  • Distribute information throughout the community.
 Municipality, district, provincial or regional and national levels
  • Determine roles and responsibilities of each agency during response, relief and recovery.
  • Prepare maps (flood risk, extent and depth; vulnerability and resource maps) to provide essential information and data on current situation, and to plan assistance.
  • Make sure that critical roads are built up to a level above expected flood height, to create safe areas and to ensure continuous transportation for flood relief.
  • Identify safe areas and maintain existing shelters, making sure they have sanitary and other basic necessities.
  • Implement public education and awareness activities.
  • Prepare resource inventories, identifying how much is available locally and how much is needed from outside.
  • Plan resource mobilisation.
  • Set up emergency teams (e.g. health, search and rescue teams).
  • Conduct drills (exercises) for search and rescue teams.
  • Make sure that communication channels to the community are functioning well.
  • Check flood mitigation infrastructure (e.g. dykes, levees and floodwalls) as well as other key infrastructure (e.g. roads, dams).
  • Disseminate public safety information through early warning systems.
  • Specify the source and actions to be taken immediately after receiving warnings.
Adapted from A. K. Jha, R. Bloch and J. Lamond, Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century (Washington DC: World Bank, 2012), https://openknowledge.worldbank.org.