Disaster Management Planning

(A paper presented on 19.03.2004to the participants in a training programme

 at State Institute of Rural Development, Maraimalainagar, Chennai.)


S. K. Dogra, IPS, Director Fire and Rescue Services.



There are some basic similarities between the planning and management of a disaster and the planning and management of any other complex job. Hence, it will be easy to conceptualize disaster management planning in terms of these basics.


For easy conceptualization the entire work for which an action plan needs to be prepared  may be called a Job. This job consists of individual Tasks and each task requires the performance of certain Functional Roles. For the performance of these functional roles specific equipment and specialized training are needed. Since in these days of Indo-Pak cricket series we are all emotionally preoccupied with cricket, let us understand this with the example of cricket. The job is to win the match. For this, one task is to accumulate a huge score. Another task is to get the rival players out with the least number of runs. For achieving these tasks each member of the team is given a functional role. He is given the equipment required for the performance of that role and undergoes long spells of training to effectively perform the role. The role of the wicket-keeper, for instance, is to stop the ball that goes beyond the wicket and to ensure that the batsman does not accumulate byes. Another part of his role is to utilize every chance to stump the batsman. Since he stands close behind the wickets and faces the ball when it is yet in full speed, he is provided protective gear. Thus, the wicket keeper is given the equipment and the training to perform a certain role which forms the part of the task of preventing accumulation of runs by the rival team in order to attain success in the job of securing victory.


Any other job can be similarly divided into tasks and roles. Even a simple job such as painting your house may consist of many tasks, such as selecting the suitable paint or paints; procuring the paints; engaging the person to do the painting etc. Each task could, in turn, be divided into roles assigned to specific individuals.


In the context of this theoretical background, let us now try to understand the planning process for disaster management.


Let us divide the management of a disaster into the following jobs:


        Mitigation of the negative impact of disaster.

        Immediate Rescue and Relief.


        Documentation and Learning for the Future.


In a meeting of the State Disaster Management Authority it was decided that the Fire and Rescue Services should take up the formation and training of Search and Rescue Teams. Accordingly, we have formed teams at the district level and worked out the details of how these teams will operate at the time of a disaster. In a recent meeting by the Commissioner for Revenue Administration, the training institutions of Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services were selected as the nodal training institutions for conducting trainings for officials. As a part of this task of conducting trainings we are working out the entire model in terms of the Job-Tasks-Roles model outlined by me here. The detailed working out of this model will gradually appear in the form of articles in our website www.tn.nic.in/fireservice. I request you to contribute your ideas in order to give a sharper focus to this approach of planning. Meanwhile, In the following  paragraphs I have taken up the job of immediate rescue and relief as an example to highlight the Job-Tasks-Roles approach to planning.


As a first step, we must clearly define the job. In the present example, the job is to identify those who are in danger of death or injury and to bring them out of the situation which causes such danger. Once we begin to analyze the job a little more deeply, we find that it brings up many questions, the answers to which will define our job more clearly and will also help identify the various tasks and roles which can be subsumed under the overall category of the job. Some of the questions are mentioned here:


        How to distinguish among various levels of threat? For instance, if we have a choice between rescuing a person who is likely to die if not extricated immediately but whose extrication is difficult and a person whose condition is less critical but who can be extricated more easily, who should be given preference?

        What methods should be used in order to locate the persons trapped under the rubble?

        How to ensure that the operation-rescue itself does not cause further harm to the person being rescued. For instance, a person who has suffered an injury of the spine can suffer complications if handled by untrained persons.


These are just a few examples to show how, by raising questions, we can identify the tasks and roles. With more thinking, discussion and analysis, it is possible to sharpen our definitions of the tasks and the roles. Once this has been done we can begin to select suitable persons for the performance of each role. It is not necessary that each role should be performed by a separate individual. The same individual may play more than one roles. Also, more than one individuals may together play one single role.


Once the roles have been clearly defined and assigned to individuals, we can decide about the type of equipment required for the performance of the role and the type of training required. Going by our example of immediate rescue, let us say one of the tasks is to make holes in concrete slabs so that rescuers could descend through these holes with the help of a rope in order to bring out injured or trapped persons. Here, in this single task, a large number of roles are involved. One person, who is trained in judging the structural stability of concrete slabs should assess and tell whether the collapsed slab will withstand the type of hole-drilling proposed to be taken up. If in the process of drilling the existing slab caves in, it will not only ensure the death of the person trapped underneath, but it may also kill or injure the rescuers. Once, the assessment about the stability of the slab has been given, the person trained and equipped to make the hole must do so. Once the hole is ready, the persons trained to climb down with the help of ropes must descend through the hole. At least one of them must be trained in medical emergencies.


This is just one example to show how a task can be divided into roles and how equipment and training can be matched with the roles.


In Fire and Rescue Services, while planning trainings under the UNDP project, we are planning to follow this approach. By following this approach it will be possible to prepare lectures, demonstrations and hands-on training sessions suitable for each role. This will prevent redundancy of effort and will ensure better team work where there will be no overlapping of roles and no resultant confusion. Each individual will know what his role is. He will be trained and equipped to play that role within an overall framework.


We shall be glad to get your suggestions and feedback on this process.