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Urban Disaster Preparedness: Guwahati City

The Case study highlights the affirmative and innovative efforts of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) to increase the seismic safety of citizens and schools in order to prevent damage and to protect students from injury or loss of life in hospitals as the hospital buildings remain occupied round the clock by a high percentage of immobile and vulnerable occupants.

Case Study

Urban Disaster Preparedness: the case of Guwahati City

HFA Priority

Priority Action 3: Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.

Context

Growth and urbanization go hand in hand, but they come with a catch. Rapid urbanisation in the 1990s and beyond has dramatically increased the numbers of people and scale of physical assets exposed to hazards because of inadequate urban land-use planning and construction standards. Therefore, huge urban population combined with poor quality and ill-maintained infrastructure, low quality building stock, and the lower resilience of high–density society increases the risks in the urban centres.

The case of Guwahati City is not different. Guwahati is one of the most rapidly growing cities in India. The city’s population was just 200,000 in 1971. In the 2011 census the population was found to be approximately 963,429 out of the 1,260,419 of the district of Kamrup Metro. The density of population exceeds 2010 persons per sq km and this high density of urban population combined with haphazard growth exposes city dwellers to high risk. Guwahati City falls under Seismic Zone V making it very vulnerable to Earthquakes. Unplanned land use patterns in the surrounding hills aggravate the landslide risk in the city. The city experiences multiple waves of storms and also high intensity rainfall in short durations which results in urban flooding. Besides natural hazards, the city is also vulnerable to human induced hazards like accidents, fires, bomb blasts etc.

Seismically Assam lies in one of the most active regions of the world and falls in Zone V, the most vulnerable seismic zone. This is one reason why earthquakes of very high intensity occur regularly in the region. The State experienced two major earthquakes in 1897 and 1950. The intensities of these two earthquakes were 8.7 and 8.5 on the Richter scales respectively. Large scale devastation took place on both the occasions. Given the past earthquake experiences, it is high time to understand the safety status of people, schools and hospitals in earthquake situations.

Location

Guwahati City, Assam, India

How the problem was addressed?

A.    Sensitisation programme for Guwahati apartment residents on earthquake and fire safety

Since the objective of the exercise itself is to sensitise and build the capacity of the community, ASDMA adopted a participative approach in conducting the whole exercise.

1.     Advertisements were placed in the print media about the exercise inviting apartment dwellers to register with ASDMA if they wanted the sensitisation programme to be conducted in their apartments.

2.     Advertisements were placed the print media about the exercise inviting NGOs/volunteers to register to facilitate the exercise.

3.     A database was developed for the registration received from apartment dwellers, NGOs, volunteers and they were subsequently involved in conducting the exercise.

4.     Identification of apartments: Following the advertisement, only 12 apartments registered with ASDMA for the exercise.

Hence, ASDMA involved the NGOs in identification of 188 apartments based on the following criteria:

i.  Apartments having more than 30 families;

ii. Apartment with G+4 and above;

iii. Apartments having two or more than two blocks;

5.     The selected NGOs were given earmarked areas and localities and all apartments falling in that area/locality were their responsibility

6.     Building the database: The selected NGO were given a format for collecting information regarding the number of residents in the apartments, disaggregated data based on sex, old and elderly, children below 12 years etc. They went from apartment to apartment and collected information which was then compiled to form the database for all the 200 odd apartments undertaken under this programme.

7.     Mapping of the information: The officers of ASDMA took a survey of all the selected apartments and collected the co-ordinates for mapping the apartments on a GIS Platform. Subsequently, the data pertaining to these apartments was linked with the mapped apartments for a comprehensive overview of the same.

8.     The NGOs then coordinated with the Apartments to finalise dates and facilitate conduct of the programme by ASDMA.

9.     Six teams comprising of officials from ASDMA, fire service, civil defence and the concerned NGO were constituted for undertaking the sensitization programme.      

10.  A conscious decision was taken to conduct the programme after office hours (6 PM to 9PM) so that maximum number of people could be reached.

11.  Each team covered two apartments every day and a total of 12 apartments were covered in a day.

12.  The programme included a 10-15 minute power point presentation on earthquake safety by the ASDMA official followed by a demo on emergency evacuation by civil defence and a fire safety audit by the fire services. This was followed by an interactive session where residents clarified their doubts and raised issues of concern.

13.  The Fire Services also shared their assessment report on fire safety measures with the president/secretary of the apartments and requested them to take corrective measures if required.

B.    Status survey of school and hospital buildings in Guwahati City  – structural and non-structural     vulnerability   to   earthquakes, wind, floods & fires

The Government of Assam through ASDMA has initiated efforts to increase the seismic safety of schools and hospitals in order to prevent damage and to protect students from injury or loss of life. The schools and hospitals are surveyed and studied to increase their safety against various possible disasters. The methodology developed by Lang et al. (2009) has been found to be most suitable, considering that the methodology was developed based on questionnaires involving schools and hospital in Dehradun. The building typologies are close or similar to typology available in the Guwahati city. 

In the methodology developed by Lang et al. (2009), the structural and nonstructural vulnerabilities are treated separately. A multi hazard approach has been adopted to build the data base through a comprehensive field exercise to gain knowledge about the problem and deliver maximum benefit to cost ratio from the project. The objective includes survey of the status of vulnerability to possible hazards namely earthquakes, wind, fires and urban floods in Guwahati. 

A status report about the city’s schools and hospitals of the has helped the authorities  to  plan  and  prioritise  restoration, and retrofitting work against multi hazard vulnerability. Rapid visual screening of existing schools and hospital buildings have been completed for more than 500 schools and 50 hospitals in the city of Guwahati. The data generated has been collated and quantified to map vulnerability and risk index the schools and the hospitals. These findings are included in the detailed report. Engineering analysis of hospitals and school buildings, which are identified as highly vulnerable, are being carried out to draft retrofitting solutions. The status report presented has  produced  structural and nonstructural vulnerability indexes for schools with a colour coded index bar for individual schools. The exposure level and preparedness level of hospitals are studied and presented.

Results

1.     Involved the community in the disaster preparedness activities.

2.     Made the residents aware of the hazards and related risk to which they are prone.

3.     Educated the residents of apartments on the measures   to be taken before, during and after an earthquake/fire.

4.     Assessed the fire safety of the apartments.

5.     Involved all stakeholders i.e. civil society, fire service, civil defence and home guards for an integrated approach towards disaster preparedness.

6.     Carried out rapid visual screening of existing hospital and school buildings – throughout the  city of Guwahati,  

7.     Overlaid the building map on various seismic hazard maps on a GIS platform as a supplement for the generation of vulnerability maps of hospital and schools in the city.   

8.     Carried out detailed engineering analyses of hospitals and school buildings identified as highly vulnerable and provide retrofitting solutions. 

Measuring success

A multi hazard approach has been adopted to build the data base through a comprehensive field exercise to gain knowledge about the problem and deliver maximum benefit. A status report about the schools and hospitals of the city will help the authorities to plan and prioritise restoration and retrofitting work against multi hazard vulnerability. Rapid visual screening of existing school and hospital buildings have been completed for more than 500 schools and 50 hospitals in the city of Guwahati.

The data generated has been collated and quantified to map vulnerability and risk index the schools and the hospitals. Engineering analysis of hospitals and school buildings, which are identified as highly vulnerable are carried out to draft out retrofitting solutions.

The status report presented has produced structural and non-structural vulnerability indexes for schools with colour coded vulnerability index bars for individual schools. The exposure level and preparedness level of hospitals are studied and presented.

Relevance to HFA

This is a unique initiative by the state authority to sensitize the people; the survey of schools and hospitals to increase seismic safety in order to prevent damage and loss of life are important preparedness activities. The initiative has directly contributed to HFA Priority Action 3: Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels. It also contributes to Priority Action 5: assess the safety of all schools and health facilities and upgrade these as necessary as stipulated in the Making Cities Resilient Campaign. The initiative is also relevant to the HFA 2 (Zero draft) Priority 1: Understanding disaster risk.

Potential for replication

The endeavour of ASDMA to engage with knowledge institutions to understand and take forward such initiative on a technological platform is apart of the national vision which can be replicated in other states of India.

Contribution by

Assam State Disaster Management Authority, Government of Assam: E-mail: asdmaghy@gmail.com

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