Coping during crisis

Personnel from the Army and General Operations Force (PGA) carring out search operation along Sungai Kedondong following the Batang Kali landslide. — Filepic

Landslides and flash floods have occurred with little or no warning lately, which resulted in devastating financial losses and loss of life.

With scientists warning of changes in weather patterns because of global warming, it is likely such natural disasters will continue to take place if nothing is done.

However, communities can be proactive and learn to become disaster resilient and minimise the impact of these natural events.

StarMetro spoke to experts who shared their views on how communities could be better prepared to face disasters.

Former Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Dr Soh Chai Hock said it was important to always be prepared to face any form of disaster, otherwise there would be a crisis within a crisis to deal with.

A lack of preparedness, he explained, would take time away from rescue efforts, which might result in loss of life and assets and subsequently leave an emotional impact on society.

He said that in the recent Batang Kali landslide incident, rescue dogs stole the nation’s heart as the animals played an important role in rescue efforts.

Soh suggested that the public train their pets to become rescue dogs.

“A resilient society will take steps and be prepared.

“We will have more help and could even save lives if we have rescue dogs in all communities.

“This is not an impossible task as dogs can be trained,” he said.

He stressed that resilience needed to be developed in every neighbourhood.

“The new government must think of a new national culture in order for us to be a resilient community.

“Community members, consisting of employers, businesses, community associations, services as well as local and federal governments must also make an effort for the idea to take root,” said Soh.

He said some examples of groups formed specifically for building resilient communities were the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT).

According to their respective websites, Fema aims to help people before, during and after disasters while UNDMT is an inter-agency working group to deal with disaster-related emergency situations in the country.

According to the experts, there are four steps to developing community resilience – building partnerships, identifying hazards and community vulnerabilities, prioritise and take risk-reduction actions, and communicating successes.

In terms of building partnerships, Soh said communities should have a good rapport with local officials, representatives of industry and businesses as well as those involved in infrastructure, transport, utilities and healthcare.

These relationships would be invaluable in times of disaster and help to reduce losses, he elaborated.

For the second step, it is important to determine which areas in the community that are likely to be affected, identify at-risk facilities and how the vulnerable will be affected, he said.

“We need to have knowledge of the area, such as the soil and landscape of the area.

“Also, carry out a risk assessment to determine the potential consequences of a disaster based on the combination of the hazard and vulnerability studies,” he added.

Under prioritise and take risk-reduction actions, Soh said community efforts to decrease vulnerabilities should be supported and policies that encourage property owners to invest in projects that aim to reduce losses in case of a disaster must be developed.

“Last but not least, successes should be communicated through distribution of promotional materials on mitigation plans and the value of reducing hazards for land purchases, development or redevelopment of land,” he explained.

He said it was important to have a plan that protected people as well as the resources to tackle a natural disaster.

He also stressed that economic sectors should continue during times of disaster and this would only be possible with thoughtful preparation.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Centre director Dr Khamarrul Azahari Razak believes that youths should be trained to lead as they can be helpful during a disaster.

He said that during the December 2021 floods that hit 63 districts in the country, youths contributed in their own way but their efforts would have been more effective with better coordination.

The floods hit states such as Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang and the losses totalled about RM1.6bil.

“I suggest that youths join existing disaster relief organisations and be trained.

“The current older leaders must make space for youth leaders,” said Khamarrul.

Based on statistics from National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), there was a 220% increase in deaths and economic losses from floods in 2021 as compared to 2014.

Khamarrul said the Japanese model outlined three types of help – public support, mutual assistance and self-help.

“Public support includes help from the authorities such as the fire department and other civil bodies.

“Mutual assistance consists of the community we are living in. During the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, about 6,000 people died.

“However, the heart-warming part was that the survivors came out to help their own community – this is a sign of a resilient society.

“As for self-help, each family does their part by staying prepared for a disaster.

“For instance, members must monitor the news and have evacuation kits ready,” said Khamarrul.

He highlighted that there were 17,000 local leaders registered with Local Government Development Ministry (formerly known as housing and local government ministry) and the key was to have these leaders trained in disaster preparedness.

“Ideally, the government should work with these leaders to equip them,” he said.

Disseminating information on possible disasters through local leaders was an effective method, he added.

Information such as exit routes in case of an emergency can be passed to community members during festive activities, said Khamarrul.

“The monsoon period is about four months in a year.

“The rest of the time should be used to carry out evacuation drills, map the neighbourhood and identify the disabled and vulnerable.

“Conduct drills in the community to ensure residents are aware of what a siren sounds like in the event of an emergency,” he said.

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