“Since there is no method of forecasting an earthquake — the most instantaneous natural disaster — we need to be better prepared,” said Prof Harsh K Gupta, member of the National Disaster Management Authority.
The imagined earthquake will have its epicentre at Sundarnagar in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh. It will have struck at 11.30 am on February 13 and ruptured an entire 200-km faultline, causing tremors of varying intensities and affecting 15 spots in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and the Union territory of Chandigarh.
The NDMA and Delhi’s DDMA had conducted the largest ever mock disaster drill on February 15 last year. The Delhi exercise will be the benchmark for the upcoming one. Eventualities such as a chemical explosion, a bridge collapse, fire, a gas leak and building collapses will be simulated at flyovers, markets, offices, government and private schools and colleges, hospitals, railway stations, bus stands, airports and residential areas.
“There are three aspects to it — to develop realistic scenarios to know the vulnerability and preparedness of state machinery as well as the public’s response; to make the government machinery more knowledgeable about such scenarios; and to conduct awareness campaigns and mock drills,” Gupta said.
“We have estimated the population that will be exposed to the risk as against the total population density, and, considering topography and other surface features, the human loss that such a scenario can lead to,” Gupta said. Factoring in the aftershocks that come 20-30 seconds after the first earthquake impact, the NDMA has projected that 231.8 lakh people will be exposed to intensities X-IX on the MSK scale, 323.6 lakh to intensities IX-VIII, and 251.6 lakh to intensities VIII-VII.
“The idea is to first bring about participation of various stakeholders, and check how all the emergency support functionaries — police control room, fire brigades, ambulances, hospitals, administration, disaster management, volunteers — respond, and to calculate their response time,” an NDMA official said. “The drills are likely to be held at bus stands, markets, colleges, schools, administrative offices, railway stations... The Army will be requested for observers to conduct a third-party assessment.”
Over the last four months, authorities in the areas to be covered have mapped their resources, prepared scenarios for the mock drill, identified venues, and trained volunteers as dummies (dead, critically injured, minorly injured). DDMA officials said the process of laying the groundwork began six months ago in a series of meetings initiated between NDMA vice chairman Shashidhar Reddy and other officials, the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, and the Chandigarh governor.
The Himalayan region was counted among the most vulnerable on the global seismic hazard map prepared during the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction during 1991-2000. And experts say the number of deaths due to natural disasters during the first 12 years of the 21st century has already crossed the total of the 20th century, despite advancements in science and sociology.
“Risk assessment and preparedness can mitigate effects of disasters to a great extent,” Gupta said. Gupta, a seismologist and a member of the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk programme as well as the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, is credited with developing India’s tsunami warning system.
In 1977, a cyclone caused 20,000 deaths on the east coast of India. In the years that followed, an early warning system was established, complete with meteorological radars and emergency plans. As a result fewer lives were lost — about 1,000 — when the same area was hit by a cyclone of similar strength in 1996, and again in 2005, when the death toll was just 27.