Disaster risk education in Assam, India / EC Photo - Flickr Creative Commons

School safety initiative where women lead

A story that highlights innovation driven change in attitudes, priorities and action for disaster risk reduction in school is being extracted here. It highlights how joint initiatives of Government, School and civil society can make a difference in ensuring that schools appear as safer heaven for the young ones, how they take the learnt messages of safety and risk reduction to their families and communities. This also highlights how women can lead localised DRR actions in their respective fields.

School Safety Initiative where Women Lead – A Case from Assam, India

HFA Priority Area

The Hyogo Framework for action as an instrumental obligation for member countries has brought a revolutionary paradigm shift in the ways and means of understanding and managing disaster risks. This case study highlights one such field level innovation driven change which fits with HFA Priority 3 in which it is emphasized that knowledge, innovation and education should be used to enhance resilience at all levels.

Context

It is a fact that schools are accepted as the temples where the future of that society is nurtured and cared. In spite of being given a high traditional and moral value, schools as infrastructure are not safe for the youngest population in many parts of the world and particularly India. There are recorded numbers of incidents where schools had been victims of certain disasters and also that schools were responsible for certain disasters that had happened be it a fire tragedy or food poisoning. Schools in India are not only vulnerable to the natural and man-made hazards out-side their control but also are vulnerable to certain incidents which can be controlled and managed but are hardly taken into account. Assam as a constituent state of India is also prone to multiple hazards and the city schools particularly in the capital city of Guwahati, are exposed to a number of natural hazards such as earthquake, landslides, floods etc as well as certain man-made ones, such as artificial floods, fires, stampede, accidents, food poisoning and so on.   Infrastructural concerns increase their vulnerabilities manifold and this concern was still to be addressed sufficiently from the view point of safety and risk reduction.

Location

This case study is based on a joint project of Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), Government of Assam and All India Disasters Mitigation Institute (AIDMI), Ahmadabad with two private and two government run schools in the city of Guwahati, Assam, India.

Addressing the Problem

As the project intended to demonstrate school safety through formulation and implementation of school disaster management plans, four schools, two of which were privately run, were selected. At the outset, a representative section of teachers and students were trained on the process and methodology for conducting school risk assessment and the same was conducted in all the four

Conduct of evacuation drill with systematic evacuation planning in one of the schools
Conduct of evacuation drill with systematic evacuation planning in one of the schools

 

schools. Women teachers lead the risk assessment involving students, both boys and girls, in all four schools which framed the basis for preparation of school disaster management plans in their respective schools. The drafting of the plan was also unique since a representative group involving both teachers and students drafted the plan based on the guidelines by the National Disaster Management Authority of India. The drafted plans were peer reviewed by spectral experts and finalized for implementation. From each school focal point teachers led the initiatives in a planned and integrated manner. Based on the plan, capacity building initiatives for different teams were held on areas such as first aid, search and rescue, conducting mock drills etc. Again girls were on priority in all teams.

Simultaneously, certain non-structural mitigation measures were also carried out based on the risk assessment. As the identification of risk elements was already done, their fixation, relocation and alternation has also been done. Teachers and students involved in evacuation and fire safety teams lead the process while the technical elements were guided by AIDMI. Within a period of two months, all four schools fixed, relocated and altered their falling hazards. Schools also came up with their evacuation plans, which were drafted by evacuation teams and were tested through school level evacuation drills. The evacuation drills proved to be most useful tool, as each school visualized an emergency situation, conducted an evacuation, and also experimented with routes.

Training on first aid through Civil Defence in one of the schools
Training on first aid through Civil Defence in one of the schools

The evacuation drills have resulted in time saving as well as bringing in discipline to avoid stampedes. The evacuation plans were thereby finalized and were placed in visible forms and shapes all around the schools. It is worth mentioning here that women teachers and girl students have demonstrated appreciable interest and result in the evacuation drills. All schools have also ensured adequate fire safety measures by placing fire extinguishers, sand and water buckets etc. at multiple locations. The uniqueness here was that all the instruments were demonstrated for students and teachers so that they can use them in emergencies. Here, also women teachers came forward to learn to use the equipment. The schools have also collected and displayed emergency contact numbers at multiple locations for emergency use. All the schools have integrated an annual calendar for DRR activities with their academic calendars and are implementing a host of activities on ongoing bases – the above are only indicative. The difference can be seen in the sustainability of the initiative. As DRR is now an integral part of schools’ basic functions, a great example of integration is visible for DRR practitioners in these four schools.

Result

If we look at the above, nowhere can the factor of “pushing” can be seen; rather the schools making progress can be “pulled” into action. Each and every action for safety is owned by the schools and is done in planned manner ensuring sustainability. Schools contributed immensely not only through manpower, but also through financial resources. The role of expert agency “AIDMI” was thus limited to facilitation, while ASDMA guides and monitors. The schools could be empowered and their interest, motivation and association could be guaranteed to ensure and lead school safety, which will be sustainable in the long run. Children learning the safety messages from the school have taken this learning home and the parents meetings conducted after the project period were evidence of that result as the parents were interested knowing more about the safer school initiatives.

Measuring Success:

After the initial phase of the intervention, different approaches for measuring the success were used as follows:

  • Internal Monitoring: ASDMA conducted three project review meetings during three different levels of the project. All stakeholders including representative from school, expert agency, local administration and state government reviewed the progress. Lessons learnt were also shared.
  • Expert visits: After the project cycle, national and international experts visited the schools. They praised the efforts and encouraged the schools with their achievements.

The indicators were based on the project outcome of the School Disaster Management Plan as per the guidelines of the National Disaster Management Agency, including the structure for disaster management in schools, evacuation planning, non-structural mitigation measures and mock drills which were measured during both internal monitoring and external expert visits.

Relevance to HFA

This is a unique initiative , which is still to be explored countrywide. As HFA emphasizes “knowledge, innovation and education should be used to enhance resilience at all levels”. Such an initiative, may be small in scale but it nevertheless provides a good example of local level action and the use of knowledge, innovation and education to promote safety. The HFA is the guiding force behind the entire design and implementation of the project and also the carrier for replication. Women were involved as leaders for school based DRR initiatives. This has been one of the best examples of HFA commitment and progress made by the Government of India and state governments. The case study is relevant and offers key lessons for HFA 2 Zero draft, especially for implementing Priority 1: Understanding disaster risk and Priority 4: Enhancing preparedness for effective response, and building back better in recovery and reconstruction with active participation of women.

Potential for Replication:

As a learnt lesson this initiative has the potential for national level replication as there is need and scope for doing so. The NDMA under the National School Safety Program has designed pilots of some of the above measures in 22 states of India. However, as this initiative was far deeper in involvement and outcome, the learning in terms of process, methodology and outcome, particularly the involvement and leadership of schools and in particular women, is something to be adhered to in any future initiative.

Contribution by:

Assam State Disaster Management Authority, Government of Assam

E-mail: asdmaghy@gmail.com