In a bid to equip residents with safety measures in the event of an earthquake in the highly prone town of Shimla, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) recently conducted a mega mock exercise with the help of various government and non-government organisations, voluntary groups and local administration at about 15 vulnerably identified places.

Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Secretary Sudripto Roy said that with this drill, efforts were being made to ensure active participation of local people to deal with any eventuality and to take preventive measures in case of an earthquake. “This exercise would go a long way in awakening the people as how to respond during natural calamities and also the administration for initiating measures for mitigating the disasters and make further arrangements accordingly,” Mr. Roy said. He added that such programmes would now be made a regular feature in this sensitive hill State.

P.P. Shrivastva, member of North Eastern Council and national observer for the mock exercise, said that the overlooking of traditional wisdom and rampant violation of prescribed norms for constructing earthquake resilient structures by builders’ lobbies have lately increased the threat manifold. He emphasised the role of the communities who are the ultimate stakeholders in any disaster incidence or its management later.

Brig (retd.) Dr. B.K. Khanna, senior consultant with NDMA, said that the entire State falls under seismic Zone IV and V and is extremely susceptible to earthquake and other natural hazards.

While quoting a study by IIT Mumbai and IIT Madras based on the analogy of the great earthquake of 1905 in Kangra, Brig. Khanna said if ever an earthquake occurs in the State again, its epicentre would fall between Sundernagar and Mandi. With a depth of 15 km, the rupture would go up to 200 km and its intensity would be 8 to 10 on Richter scale. The effect of earthquake could be felt even in Delhi and the congested townships in the hill State would be the most affected.

Talking about the magnitude of destruction, he said there could be at least 3.4 per cent deaths and 17 per cent injuries in a population of 8.14 lakh of Shimla district alone if tremors of maximum intensity happen at night. At the State level, in a population of 68.6 lakh, the losses can go up to 2.3 per cent deaths and 16 per cent injuries.

The NDMA is also running synchronised public awareness campaigns in schools, offices, hospitals, malls and localities in the hill towns. The national disaster response force has 12 battalions of 1,100 personnel each and they act as master trainers for the State and district level administrators.

The locations where the drill was done in Shimla were the Deputy Commissioner’s office, all major hospitals, hotels, schools, colleges and the Himachal University; tall buildings like the State High Court, the Himachal Secretariat, the Doordarshan and AIR stations and various thickly populated localities like Sanjauli, Cemetery, Krishna Nagar and Kusumpati.

During the drill, however, various gaps were encountered in communications as designated helpline telephones did not respond and the ambulances, rescue teams and required machineries could not reach majority of the identified 15 locations from where the emergencies were reported. Lack of co-ordination and confusion was felt amongst various departments during the mock rescue operation.