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Disasters preparedness saves lives and saves money

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By Giovanni Zambello, IFRC

“We estimate that for each dollar spent on disaster preparedness, an average of four dollars is saved on disaster response and recovery” says Alberto Monguzzi, Disaster Management Coordinator in the IFRC Europe Zone Office. “Disaster preparedness and risk reduction can equip communities with the tools to reduce the number of lives lost and to protect livelihoods”.

One of the ways in which communities can prepare for a disaster is to set up drills and simulations of how a disaster unfolds – be it flooding, earthquake or extreme weather conditions. This way they can train Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and staff on how to respond to disasters, as well as to assess the overall response capacity of the National Society under emergency circumstances.

A number of National Societies in the Europe Zone have put themselves to the test by organising such activities recently.

Finland: midwinter rehearsals

Finnish Red Cross organised its ‘Midwinter rehearsals’, the first-ever national disaster-preparedness exercise, which saw the participation and involvement of Red Cross volunteers from over 200 towns across the country.

Throughout the day volunteers, staff and authorities rehearsed their readiness to deal with winter storms . They practiced how to operate in situations where an exceptionally fierce storm would cause nationwide disruption, such as cutting off power and telephone lines and damaging heating systems.

“There is a great demand for this kind of exercise, since we have had tough storms in Finland before” says Ari Saarinen, Chief of Preparedness for Häme district and coordinator of the disaster drill.

“This is why we rehearse together with the authorities and our partners: to be able to operate in such exceptional circumstances, but also to our preparedness plans on a local level up-to-date.”

Kristiina Kumpula, Secretary General of the Finnish Red Cross, believes this is an important exercise. “We have learnt more about the number of people that need evacuating in case of a real catastrophe, such as residents of retirement homes or sheltered accommodation. The authorities lack sufficient resources to evacuate those in poor health, and there the role of volunteers is really essential,” she says.

“The importance of volunteers is constantly growing when it comes to strengthening people’s well-being and their sense of security”.

Tajikistan: Setting the stage for flood response

Three years ago, Kulob city, south-western Tajikistan, witnessed devastating flooding, where 24 people died, 200 were injured and 50 more went missing. In March this year the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan organized a simulation exercise in Kulob to train volunteers and staff on how to deal with such a disaster should it happen again.

During the simulation scenario, floods inundated a large portion of two villages in the area around Kulob city, destroying dozens of houses and leaving hundreds of people buried in the debris. Supported by the Norwegian Red Cross through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the training aimed at creating a pool of disaster responders in the framework of the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan’s National Disaster Response Team training and to enhance the collaboration between the society and the governmental agencies in times of disasters.

“The skills and knowledge that volunteers and staff acquired through this training – such as how to establish and lead a group of relief workers, analyse risks, prepare a plan of action and a budget, set up shelter for the survivors and provide first and psycho-social support, and deal with the media - will all prove crucial when they are deployed in a disaster scenario,” said Shamsuddin Muhiddinov, Disaster Manager with the IFRC in Tajikistan.

Although many of the participants said they hoped that these skills and knowledge will never be needed, they all said that being ready is always an advantage when trying to save lives.