Disaster Preparation

“If only someone could invent a machine who can predict something like earthquakes, he/she would win a Nobel Prize.” - from a friend I met at this Future Makers Nepal meeting that happened this Saturday (06/20/2015). The documentaries that were shown was quite intriguing one. And over all this day is reminding me more of the recent aftermath only of a month ago or so and that I have yet to overcome.

Well that saying or lets just say the thinking of it strike me, not for the super hypothetical theory of a machine he talked about, but how that it can never be achieved. He informed that there was a machine to predict the disaster about 20 seconds earlier, so to make a more advance machine would realistically take years and years. But we, with the shocked mentality can’t think of waiting for something that may even not be possible.

So what I think I like preparing the people, the youths, the students. By giving them a compulsory training sort of, for emergency times. Like giving the scout trainings to every student in every schools. And giving them more knowledge about risks and disasters and how to act irrationally during those time, and with leadership skills as to control not only themselves but all the society.

Because we cannot predict the disaster, our enemy is an uninvited one. But it has enough power to alter everything we stand for. With that earthquake experience, we can agree on that. And how we panic, may be one person don’t, or two can control themselves. But its like a flock of sheep running wild. I have seen that, and you have too. So we don’t know when it strikes, but we can mitigate it with early session preparation

So like the scout training to students, we can give further trainings of first aid, basic sanitization and many other things. It’s like educating people, not just with the books and stuffs, but with the facts they will need when handling a disaster.


This is actually one of the most sensible thing to do. We should focus more on disaster preparedness.

  • Introduce program in school/college/office involving disaster related drill and information session (compulsory/effective)
  • train volunteers for leadership role in time of crisis
  • Invest in educating and preparing experts in crisis/disaster management.
  • conduct more constructive debate in aid-politics and sustainibility
  • focus more on management and partnership aspect than merely focusing on resources.

This could be far more effective from futuristic perspective…“a generation more prepared to face disaster than ours.”

Disaster preparedness through education: the missing piece?

@swarup and @barun_ghimire, I’m very much with you about your ideas for “disaster preparedness through education”! After the earthquake, I marvelled how quickly people can self-organize help after a disaster. But the volunteer disaster response movement could even be better, faster and larger. If “how to be part of volunteer disaster response” would be part of the “curriculum” for disaster preparedness, it might be the missing piece for better volunteer / community-driven disaster response.

That knowledge is not documented yet (as far as I know; I collected some pieces into a recent post, but it’s only a start). Inviting the people who led these volunteer disaster response initiatives here in Nepal might be a way to start though (and it’s often surprising who stepped forward into these leadership roles, responding to the need to help).

Why am I writing this … . I have the impression that the Nepal society is not an environment to organize big, top-down, strictly organized disaster response forces (as the Chinese do, for example). Rather, the strength here seems to be fast and organic, community-driven response. If education can strengthen that more, maybe this grassroots way of disaster preparedness is the much cheaper, more efficient alternative? It would enable people to quickly switch over from “normal mode” to “disaster response mode”, everyone knowing what to do and how to work to limit and fix the damages after a disaster. Not “knowing” from specific commands, but from being expert enough in the matter to know what’s the next step.

Any thoughts if and how this could play out in Nepal’s society? The still missing piece seems to me a way to extend this education to adults somehow …

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Hey, very interesting and important!

There could be many things done. First of all, I think people should start collecting all the information on different aspects and obstacles that occurred during the earthquake - what went wrong, what things people need to keep in mind. And put it in some sort of open-source big book of conduct. Then, based on it, schools, learning institutions, places like Karkhana, or NGOs who work with different social/gender/age/… groups could prepare their own training for their audiences.

These could be fun-camps for kids (not to make earthquake seem like fun, but we also know that some of the children were actually happy camping for weeks, so all needs to be done is to teach them what to be careful about while camping - hygienic issues, contacts with strangers, safety), these could be walks identifying where are the danger zones and where are the empty spaces to evacuate, and finally - a lot of teaching about WHY there are earthquakes at all! I was so surprised to discover that some of the regular people think it happened because of air pollution! Living on the edge of two continents and not knowing about it;)

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Dual use training?

I had similar thoughts initially - but I grew more and more concerned that this must have been pretty much exactly what people said the last time a major quake hit.

But then many decades later, in which not much happened, other priorities (perhaps also an emergency) become more and more pressing and earthquake preparedness gets sidelined over time. Another decade later, and it still has not paid off, resources are permanently reallocated…

So after some more thought my impression was that two things are necessary:

DO prepare all structures of some significance (material, like houses (URMs!), and immaterial, like clubs, organizations, and society at large) that will be around for the long term to take such disruptions into account. But don’t set the bar too high!

Require them to make an effort not to become a liability, but become some sort of an asset in such an emergency. For certain buildings this could indeed be handled by building codes and good practices.

For organizations it may look quite different. But Matthias’ link above already illustrates that this does not have to be overly complex. Often times you just need to do the first two steps, and things will start to fall into place as you continue. It does not mean you should ignore training or some preparation work. I would say it means you should emphasize on the things that can quickly get individuals or small organizations together so they can support each other achieving one goal or another. Doing different things in normal times, they will bring different capabilities to the table and this should be encouraged and coordinated I think.

Secondly I would try to find a shared aspect between their “normal routine” and their “emergency role”. This would mean the disaster training would not be perceived as a waste of time as it has a dual role character.

E.g. you work a lot as tour guide and interact a lot with tourists as well as rural population? Consider learning a few things about interviewing and making a needs assessment in an emergency, and perhaps help guide an international NGO in the local environment. During normal times much (not all) of this can be used to document the feedback and needs you may have from tourists and help you develop you business in a more effective way.

Or you own a construction company with a lot of tools, and you know even more people who have tools and machinery? Coordinate sharing these with each other during normal times, and while doing that, think of ways to build trust so that tools and materials can be quickly be offered to people in need and perhaps be reimbursed by NGOs at a later point in time.

You operate a bus line? Think of what you would need to improvise road repair - whom would you need to get in touch with? Could you suspend ticket sales for some time in favor of a priority list for an emergency? It does not need much time to work something like this out during normal times. I will take a lot of time nobody has during an emergency. If you are providing this as a reliable asset to local authorities, they’ll be even more inclined to keep you in business.

Very importantly, connect and tell others about this so that it can be coordinated.