The East Coast floods last December was a national disaster that opened the eyes and minds of Malaysians that we are no longer safe from natural disasters and ill-prepared for them. It is said that an earthquake in or around northern Sumatra could affect Penang, Kedah and Langkawi like the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 did. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake in southern Philippines could affect the Sabah coasts as well.
Malaysians now know that a disaster could hit us! In addition, relief agencies which went to the aid of the East Coast floods victims realised how helpless the affected local communities were because they were unprepared for a disaster. It became apparent that people on the ground needed to be disaster-ready.
The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) — which played a significant role in providing relief in last year’s East Coast floods — recognised the need for ground-level preparedness in the event of a disaster and has initiated a nationwide effort to accomplish this objective by organising training sessions for the local community.
It has held a few training sessions previously but its most recent one which ended today was attended by a record 250 participants! It was an information-packed three-day session led by International Disaster Response Network (IDRN) emergency coordinator and certified trainer Daron Tan, who has years of experience in disaster relief.
Tan’s commitment is in training local communities to be disaster-resilient. He gave an example of how an earthquake in Mexico showed that 800 people were rescued immediately but 100 rescuers died while at work.
“Your community is the first responders and they can save more people immediately after a disaster than the relief teams who come later,” Tan says.
Therefore, there is a great need for people to become attuned and be ready to survive a disaster.
Tan suggests three factors in being personally ready. Firstly, be informed. Secondly, don’t expect help and, thirdly, have a plan. The first point is self-explanatory. We need to know to be able to act decisively.
The second point requires a mental rethink. We think someone will come to our rescue in a disaster. Tan says “help won’t come at the preferred times!” In the time it takes for relief to come, more people may die. So, the first responders are actually us and our neighbours and we need to be made aware of what we can do in a disaster.
Tan says the local community — us — must initiate self-help. One of the things we can do individually is to have a “go-bag” or a “bug-out bag” (American slang). The go-bag is an easy to pick up bag which is already packed with all the essentials you need to survive for at least three days without help. It can have your personal hygiene stuff, necessary medicines, quick-dry clothes, a water purifier (to get water from a source which may be contaminated), foodstuffs that can keep and a survival kit. When danger is imminent, grab your go-bag and go!
The third factor is utterly necessary when you are responsible for your family’s or community’s safety . Without a pre-planned plan, immediate rescue and relief may be hampered. Tan says “your survival depends on your preparedness”.
He suggests four considerations when working out a plan.
1. Evacuation/Shelter: Depending on the disaster, decide whether to evacuate or bunker in. If the latter, is your home prepared for it? Is there an alternative shelter? Act accordingly. If you have to leave, make sure to cut off all utilities, especially in a flood.
Have at hand photocopies and/or scanned copies of important documents. Put the copies in a plastic zip-lock bag or save them in a thumb drive and take them with you when you leave.
2. Preparedness: This has to be done before the disaster happens. Anyone who knows First Aid/CPR or firefighting skills? Are there enough people who have been trained in LUSAR (Light Urban Search And Rescue)? These are first responders’ skills and have to be acquired.
3. Supplies: Make sure food and water supplies are adequate, especially in a flood. Don’t use flood waters as they are contaminated. Food supplies should be non-perishables and packed in good-grade plastics so that it keeps for long. Carry some chlorine dioxide tablets to purify water.
4. Survival Skills: The basic survival needs are security, water, shelter and food. When working out a plan, consider how to have access to these.
Then develop some traits of a survivor.
- Make friends with your neighbours. They are your first responders.
- Don’t over react; it helps to lower anxiety levels.
- Get in shape. You need to be fit to deal with any emergency. Also, there will always be people in your family and community who may be disabled or to slow to escape like the aged, children and the sick and they would need the fit able ones to help move them.
- Calculate the risk based on correct and right information and make informed decisions.
The above are some of the basic characteristics of being disaster resilient. The three-day training session covered the issues more comprehensively, including a section on actual search and rescue.
The NECF established a National Coordination Centre (NCC) which collaborates with relief agencies Methodist Malaysia, CREST, HISTEAM, World Vision and Full Gospel Bussinessmen Fellowship Malaysia (FGBMF) to conduct the disaster response training sessions.
At the just-concluded session, NCC chairman Andy Chi said that the training was designed with four objectives:
- To equip and empower individuals and communities with disaster response preparedness and knowledge
- To facilitate and establish a Local Command Centre (LCC — a contact point at the local level to initiate community preparedness for disasters) in every city, town and community
- To provide recognised international standard disaster response training for relief agencies, field workers and volunteers, and
- To identify individuals with specific skills sets needed in a disaster response operation
“Disaster response preparedness can help minimise casualties and increase the coping abilities of individuals and communities affected,” Chi said.
The NCC will be conducting the disaster response training all over the country. For further information, please contact NECF.