[By Col NN Bhatia]
The devastating earthquake in Nepal has brought to the fore the vulnerability of the Delhi-NCR region to natural as well as man made disasters.
- It is in Delhi that there are drastic ecological and climatic changes. More heat waves, drought, increased frequency & intensity of precipitation. Climate change is indeed showing its impact.
- The main city areas of Delhi and New Delhi and Trans-Yamuna Area of Shahdara Block although protected by embankments , remain a danger to the normal life of the residents in these areas. Heavy rains can cause the choked Yamuna River to flood, causing extensive damage to property, crops, houses in low lying areas and public utilities
- On a scale of 5, Delhi lies in the seismic zone 4 for earthquakes , which is the second highest in vulnerability. With huge concrete jungles coming up everyday and large number of unauthorized colonies, the high-density of population in the Delhi-NCR region, the damages caused by these disasters can be devastating.
- The capital city is within range of the Pakistani and Chinese nuclear bombs and hence the vulnerability to nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) disasters and terrorism has also increased.
The question is however, are we prepared enough to handle any of these disasters?
While the government has taken the basic steps towards disaster management, it is imperative to educate people and the community about the vulnerability of hazards and suggest measures for survival. Col NN Bhatia, an ex-defence officer and an Industrial Security Consultant, lists down the DO’s and Don’ts during such disasters, so that the community can empower itself or at least better prepare to mitigate the dangers posed by them.
Earthquakes – Do’s and Don’ts
What to Do Before an Earthquake
- Repair deep plaster cracks in ceilings and foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.
- Anchor overhead lighting fixtures to the ceiling.
- Follow BIS codes relevant to your area for building standards
- Fasten shelves securely to walls.
- Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
- Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, settees and anywhere people sit.
- Brace overhead light and fan fixtures.
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.
- Secure a water heater, LPG cylinder etc., by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
- Store weeds killers, pesticide and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.
- Identify safe places indoors and outdoors:-
- Under the dining table or bed,
- Against an inside wall,
- In open away from buildings, trees, telephones and electrical lines, flyovers, bridges etc.
- Educate yourself and your family members.
- Know emergency telephone numbers of doctors, Fire Services, hospitals, police, RWA, neighbours etc with sufficient charged mobile batteries.
- Have disaster emergency kit ready to include: –
- Battery operated torch,
- Extra batteries,
- Battery operated radio,
- First aid kit and manual,
- Emergency food (dry items) and water (packed and sealed),
- Candles and matches in a waterproof container ,
- Knife cum-can opener,
- Chlorine tablets or powdered water purifiers,
- Essential .medicines,
- Cash and credit cards,
- Thick ropes and cords,
- Sturdy shoes
Help your community get ready
- Publish a special section in your local newspaper with emergency information on earthquakes. Localize the information by printing the phone numbers of local emergency services offices and hospitals.
- Conduct a week-long series on locating hazards in the house.
- Work with local emergency services and officials to prepare special reports for people with mobility impairments on what to do during an earthquake.
- Provide tips on conducting earthquake drills in the home.
- Help your community in knowing building codes, retrofitting programmes, hazard hunts and neighborhood and family emergency plans.
What to Do during an Earthquake
Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and larger earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and stay indoors until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.
- DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
- Protect yourself by staying under the lintel of an inner door, in the corner of a room, under a table or even under a bed.
- Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
- Do not use elevator(s).
- Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
- Stay there.
- Move away from buildings, trees, streetlights and utility wires.
- Once in open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass and falling objects.
If in a moving vehicle
- Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses and utility wires.
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.
If trapped under debris
- Do not light a match.
- Do not move about or kick up dust.
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
After an earthquake
- Keep calm, switch on the radio/TV and obey any instructions you hear on it.
- Keep away from beaches and low banks of rivers as high waves can sweep in.
- Expect aftershocks and be prepared for them.
- Turn off water, gas and electricity.
- Do not smoke or light lighter or match sticks. Do not turn on switches as there may be a short circuit.
- Use a torch.
- If there is a fire, try to put it out. If you cannot, call the fire brigade.
- If people are seriously injured, do not move them unless they are in danger.
- Immediately clean up any inflammable products that may have spilled (alcohol, paint, etc).
- If you know that people have been buried, tell the rescue teams. Do not rush and do not worsen the situation of injured persons or your own situation.
- Avoid places where there are loose electric wires and do not touch any metal object in contact with them.
- Do not drink water from open containers without examining it and filtering it through a sieve, a filter or an ordinary clean cloth.
- If your home is badly damaged, you will have to leave it. Collect water containers, food and ordinary and special medicines (for persons with heart complaints, diabetes, etc.)
- Do not re-enter badly damaged buildings and do not go near damaged structures.
Floods – Do’s and Don’ts
Before a Flood
To prepare for a flood, you should:-
- Avoid building your home in a flood prone area unless you elevate and reinforce your home.
- Elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panel if susceptible to flooding.
- Install “check valves” in sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
- Contact community officials to find out if they are planning to construct barriers (levees, beams, floodwalls) to stop floodwater from entering the homes in your area.
- Seal the walls in your basement with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage.
During a Flood
If a flood is likely in your area, you should: –
- Listen to the radio or television for information.
- Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
- Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons, and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without such typical warnings as rain clouds or heavy rain.
- If you must prepare to evacuate, you should secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
- Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:-
- Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away.
Driving during Floods – Some Facts
The following are important points to remember when driving in flood conditions: –
- Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling.
- A foot of water will float many vehicles.
- Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-up.
After a Flood
The following are guidelines for the period following a flood: –
- Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
- Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Avoid moving water.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a vehicle.
- Stay away from downed power lines and report them to the power company.
- Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
- Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
- Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.
- Clean and disinfect everything that got wet.
- Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
Flood: Know Your Terms
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a flood hazard:-
- Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to local radio for weather services, commercial radio or television for information.
- Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to local radio for weather services, commercial radio or television for information.
- Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Flash Flood Warning: Move to higher ground on foot immediately.
Are We Prepared Against Nuclear Disasters..!!??
- Technology for making atom bomb is ready and available.
- Impulsion ‘Nuclear Bomb’ can be made from just 9-12 kg of enriched uranium (90 % purity) but ‘Dirty Bomb’ can be made with much lesser.
- Number of thefts of ‘Cobalt 60’ reported taken place in various cancer hospitals world over. Cobalt 60 can be used for making Dirty Bomb
- Number of suitcase sized nuclear bombs was missing after breaking away of the Soviet Union. Possibility of these falling in the hands of terrorists & rogue states exists.
- After 11 March 2011 Japan’s dual catastrophe of earthquake and tsunami snowballed to the third but graver catastrophe of nuclear radiation nightmare in the country. Creating worldwide fear on nuclear energy based plants raising doubts on our preparations against nuclear disasters.
Types of Nuclear Disasters
- Type 1 – During attack in war scenario- India, China and Pakistan are all nuclear powers.
- Type 2 – Nuclear leaks in nuclear reactors during normal functioning due to human error careless handling mishaps during transportation mal functioning and disasters.
- Type 3 – Nuclear weapons falling in the hands of ANEs – potential targets could be strategic missile sites, military bases, nuclear plants, centres of Government power like Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhawan, important communication centres, major refineries, ports, airfields, railway yards, military headquarters, ammunition depots etc.
- There have been 124 hazardous incidents in nuclear plants in India between 1993 and 1995, according to researchers at American University.
Protection against Nuclear Detonation
- Presently we are neither prepared for nuclear disasters nor steps have been taken in educating the masses.
- Disaster Management should be included in under graduate courses IAS and IPS Academies and NGOs, Media, Civil Defence and industry co- opted and involved to meet such challenges.
- The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is part of the DAE. It draws its manpower and budgetary resource from DAE and is virtually a rubber stamp of Atomic Energy Commission.
- There is need to have independent nuclear energy regulatory board vested with all required investigative, punitive legal and judicial powers, manpower and other resources reporting directly to parliament.
- The proposed hi-tech Jaitapur nuclear power plant will be highly automated but its design has never been validated earlier in the country.
- India is planning numerous nuclear power plants along the coast and hinterland and there is no independent regulatory authority to overview projects implementation.
- Green lobby of environmentalists is against the nuclear plants.
Protective Measures for citizens
Make a plan. If a nuclear attack does happen, it won’t be safe to venture outside for food — you should stay sheltered for at least 48 hours, preferably longer. Having food and medical supplies on-hand can put your mind at-ease, and allow you to focus on other aspects of survival.
Stock up on non-perishable food. Non-perishables can last several years, whether it’s in storage or in sustaining you after an attack. Choose items that contain a lot of carbohydrates, so you get more caloric bang for your buck, and store them in a cool, dry place:
- White rice
- Powdered milk
- Dried fruits and vegetables
- Build your supply slowly. Every time you go to the grocery store, pick up one or two more items for your food storage. Eventually, you should be able to build up a multi-month supply.
- Make sure you have a can opener for canned items.
Store water. Consider keeping a water supply in food-grade plastic containers. Clean the containers with a bleach solution then fill them with filtered and distilled water.
- Aim to have one gallon per person per day.
- For purifying water in the event of an attack, keep basic household bleach and potassium iodide (Lugol’s solution) on-hand.
Get communication supplies. Being able to stay informed, as well as alerting others to your position, can be vitally valuable. Here’s what you might need:
- A radio: Try to find one that’s crank- or solar-powered. If you have to go with a battery-operated model, be sure to keep spare batteries on-hand. Consider getting an NOAA weather radio as well-this will broadcast emergency information 24 hours a day.
- A whistle: You can use this to signal for help.
- Your cell phone: Cell service may or may not be maintained, but you’ll want to be ready if it is. If you can, find a solar charger for your model.
Stock up on medical supplies. Having a few medical items available could be the difference between life and death if you’re injured in the attack. You’ll need:
- A basic first aid kit: You can purchase these pre-packaged, or make one yourself. You’ll need sterile gauze and bandages, antibiotic ointment, latex gloves, scissors, tweezers, a thermometer and a blanket.]
- A first aid instruction booklet: Purchase one from an organization like the Red Cross, or assemble your own with materials you print off from the internet. You should know how to bandage wounds, administer CPR, treat shock, and treat burns.
- Prescription medications or supplies: If you take a specific medication every day, try to make sure you have a small emergency supply built-up.
Get other miscellaneous items. Round out your emergency preparedness kit with the following:
- A flashlight and batteries
- Dust masks
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape
- Garbage bags, plastic ties and wet wipes for personal sanitation
- A wrench and pliers, to shut off utilities such as gas and water.
Keep an eye on the news. A nuclear attack will unlikely come out of the blue from an enemy nation. Such an attack would likely be preceded by a deteriorating political situation. A war with conventional weapons between nations that both have nuclear weapons, if not ended swiftly, may escalate towards nuclear war; and even limited nuclear strikes in one region carry the likelihood to escalate towards an all-out nuclear war elsewhere.
Assess your risk and consider evacuation if a nuclear exchange is looking likely. If evacuation is not an option, then it should at least affect the kind of shelter you will construct for yourself. Learn your proximity to the following targets and plan appropriately:
- Airfields and naval bases, especially those known to house nuclear bombers, ballistic missile submarines, or ICBM silos. These are certain to be attacked even in a limited nuclear exchange.
- Commercial ports and runways over 10,000 feet long. These are likely to be attacked even in a limited nuclear exchange, and certain to be attacked in an all-out nuclear war.
- Centres of government. These are likely to be attacked even in a limited nuclear exchange and certain to be attacked in an all-out nuclear war.
- Large industrial cities and major population centres. These are likely to be attacked in the event of an all-out nuclear war.
Learn about the different types of nuclear weapons
- Fission (A-Bombs) are the most basic nuclear weapon and are incorporated into the other weapon classes. This bomb’s power comes from splitting heavy nuclei (plutonium and uranium) with neutrons; as the uranium or plutonium split each atom releases great amounts of energy – and more neutrons. The daughter neutrons cause an extremely fast nuclear chain reaction. Fission bombs are the only type of nuclear bomb used in war so far. This is the most likely type of bomb to be used by terrorists.
- Fusion (H-Bombs), using the incredible heat of a fission bomb ‘spark plug’, compress and heat deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen) which fuse, releasing immense amounts of energy. Fusion weapons are also known as thermonuclear weapons since high temperatures are required to fuse deuterium and tritium; such weapons are usually many hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The bulk of the US and Russian strategic arsenal are these types of bombs.
Surviving an Imminent Attack
Seek shelter immediately-If you can’t find shelter, seek a depressed area nearby and lay face down, exposing as little skin as possible. If there is no shelter of this kind, dig as fast as possible. Even around 8 kilometers (5 miles) you will suffer third degree thermal-burns; still at 32 kilometers (20 miles) the heat can burn the skin off your body. The wind itself will peak at around 960 kilometers per hour (600mph) and will level anything or anybody caught in the open.
- Failing the above options, get indoors, if, and only if, you can be sure that the building will not suffer significant blast and heat damage. This will, at least, provide some protection against radiation. Whether this will be a viable option depends on the construction of the building and how close you will be to the likely ground zero of a nuclear strike. Stay well away from any windows, preferably in a room without one; even if the building does not suffer substantial damage, a nuclear explosion will blow out windows at enormous distances.
- Don’t be surrounded by anything flammable or combustible. Substances like nylon or any oil based material will ignite from the heat.
Remember that radiation exposure could cause large numbers of deaths.
- Initial (prompt) radiation. This is radiation released at the moment of detonation, and it is short-lived and travels short distances. With the large yields of modern nuclear weapons, it is thought that this will kill few who would not be killed by the blast or heat at the same distance.
- Residual radiation. Known as radiation fallout. If the detonation was a surface blast or the fireball hits the earth, large amounts of fallout occurs. The dust and debris kicked into the atmosphere rains down, bringing with it dangerous amounts of radiation. The fallout may rain down as contaminated black soot known as “black rain,” which is very fatal and may be of extreme temperature. Fallout will contaminate anything it touches.
Once you have survived the blast and the initial radiation (for now at least; radiation symptoms have an incubation period), you must find protection against the burning black soot.
Know the types of radiation particles. Before we continue, we should mention the three different types:
- Alpha particles: These are the weakest and, during an attack, are virtually non-existent as a threat. Alpha particles will survive for only a couple inches in the air before they are absorbed by the atmosphere. They possess a minuscule threat from the exterior, however, they will be fatal if ingested or inhaled. Standard clothing will help protect you from Alpha particles.
- Beta particles: These are faster than Alpha particles and can penetrate further. They will travel for up to 10 meters (10 yards) before they are absorbed into the atmosphere. Exposure to beta particles is not fatal unless exposed for prolonged periods; which may cause “Beta burns,” almost like painful sunburn. They pose a serious threat, however, to the eyes, should they be exposed for a prolonged period. Once again this is harmful if ingested or inhaled, and clothing will help prevent Beta burns.
- Gamma rays: Gamma rays are the deadliest. They can travel for nearly a mile in the air and penetrate just about any kind of shielding. Therefore gamma radiation will cause severe damage to the internal organs even as an external source. Sufficient shielding will be required.
- A shelter’s PF against radiation will tell you how many times less a person inside the shelter will receive radiation compared to open space. For example, RPF 300 means that you will receive 300 times less radiation in the shelter than in the open.
- Avoid exposure to Gamma radiation. Try not to spend more than 5 minutes exposed. If you are in a rural area, try finding a cave, or a fallen log into which you can crawl. Otherwise just dig a trench to lie in, with stacked earth around you.
Begin reinforcing your shelter from the inside by stacking dirt around the walls or anything else you can find. If in a trench, then create a roof, but only if materials are nearby; don’t expose yourself when not necessary. Canvas from a parachute or tent will help stop fallout debris from piling on you, though it will not stop Gamma rays. It is impossible, at a very fundamental physical level, to completely shield from all radiation. It can only be reduced to a tolerable level.
Plan on staying in your shelter for a minimum of 200 hours (8-9 days). Under no circumstances leave the shelter in the first forty-eight hours.