Tsunami mock drill reveals a loophole

Inaccurate population data poses hurdle

September 13, 2016 02:50 am | Updated September 22, 2016 06:57 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram:

A tsunami mock drill carried out in Kerala last week, as part of a multinational exercise in the Indian Ocean region, has exposed a chink in the State’s disaster preparedness caused by inaccuracies in micro-level population data.

According to experts analysing the data generated during the mock drill named Indian Ocean wave 2016, the absence of up-to-date information on the spatial distribution of population posed a hurdle in assessing the vulnerable communities along the coast identified for evacuation. As many as 3,711 persons, including 1,177 males, 1,924 women and 310 children, in four coastal districts were evacuated during the exercise. Preliminary analysis of the data from the district administration and various agencies involved in the drill has revealed that the shift in ward boundaries following the delimitation exercise every few years had led to inaccurate data on vulnerable populations, affecting disaster risk reduction and mitigation. The lack of precise information on the floating population is another cause for data insufficiency.

The revenue village is taken as the basic unit for disaster management planning in Kerala. “Erroneous data on populations could lead to serious miscalculations in disaster preparedness and emergency response,” says an official.

The Revenue Department is preparing to launch a data collection exercise to rectify the flaw. Village officers will be tasked with the preparation of population estimates at the village level to provide disaster management officials with precise data.

Demographic information is imperative for assessment of human population at risk before a disaster and post-disaster estimation of victims. Population statistics are generally compiled at the administrative unit level and therefore lack the spatial distribution data. Disaster management operations also require frequent updating of census data.

IOWave16 involved the simulation of a powerful earthquake south of Pakistan on September 8, with the subsequent tsunami wave triggering an alert in 23 countries in the region.

During the exercise, residents within 100 m of the coast in four villages in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kozhikode, and Kasargod coastal districts were evacuated to safer locations before the tsunami waves were expected to hit the coast.

The focus of the mock drill was on systematic and disciplined community evacuation and the effective operation of the command and control system. Officials said the State’s disaster preparedness would be reviewed after a detailed assessment of the exercise at various levels.

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