New Delhi,
Additional Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of India, Dr. P K Mishra addressed the closing session of the Annual Conference on Capacity Building of SDRFs, Civil Defence, Home Guard and Fire Services” organised  by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)  here today. Dr. P.K. Mishra, Additional Secretary to the PM of India was the chief guest on the valedictory session.

While addressing the closing session of the Conference, Dr. P K Mishra said that our response system should also stay abreast with the latest technological innovations. Artificial intelligence, sensor technologies, robotics etc. hold huge promise in making our disaster response system more efficient and effective, he added. He also underlined that we have shifted from relief centric approach to response centric approach.

Following is the full text of the address given by the Additional Principal Secretary to PM, Dr. P K Mishra on the occasion:

Members of NDMA, Director General NDRF, experts from different parts of the country who contributed to the deliberations, officers from different government agencies involved in disaster management, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my privilege to deliver this valedictory address at this very timely and much needed Conference. Although we talk about a paradigm shift from response and relief centric approach to disaster risk reduction, it does not mean that we do not need to continuously improve our response system. Even in the most advanced countries, disaster response is an integral and large part of disaster management.

Having been associated with the conceptualisation of the NDRF, I am delighted to see that since its inception more than ten years ago, NDRF has established itself as a dependable, respected and trusted response force. It has set new benchmarks of timely and effective response. But we must realise that however strong NDRF becomes, it cannot be a substitute for local response capacities. NDRF can be a source of inspiration. It can also guide the capacity development of local response organisations. But it cannot replace them. Therefore, I welcome the focus of this conference on capacity building of SDRF, Civil Defence, Home Guard and Fire Services.

The Disaster Management Act lays down a three-tiered structure – at the national, state and district levels – as far as the disaster management authorities are concerned. But for disaster response, it provides only for the NDRF. However, seeing the need of NDRF like capacities at the state level, NDMA began to advocate setting up State Disaster Response Forces. Today 21 States have SDRF and some are in the process of setting up. The value of SDRF has already been proven in recent disasters such as in Cyclone FANI in Odisha. However, the task of professionalization of SDRF is yet to be accomplished in most of the states. Although each state should develop the SDRF according to its own requirements and available resources, there has to be some degree of standardisation in terms of minimum capacities, skills, tools and equipment in all the SDRFs.

Let me now turn to fire services. Local fire and emergency services are the mainstay of any country’s disaster response system. They respond to not only fires but multiple hazards. While national and disaster response forces are deployed in case of extreme events, the fire services are with the communities day in and day out.  They are an interface between the communities and the government. They save maximum number of lives. I applaud their courage and commitment. Yet they remain woefully understaffed and underequipped in most of our states. We have to upgrade and modernize our fire services, increase their coverage to also include rural areas, and improve their response time to serve communities everywhere. Modernisation has to be done on a continuous basis.  Fire Services have to keep pace with the emerging technologies and practices.

From my experience in Gujarat I can say that it is indeed possible to modernise the fire services in a relatively short period of time. We trained many firemen and officers in Germany and Holland who in turn became trainers, and trained the other members of the fire service. State-of-the-art equipment were identified through experts and provided to the Municipal fire services free of cost. We provided equipment not only to the fire services in big cities but also to 150 small municipalities. Our resources will always be limited, but investment in fire services has to be an important priority.

The civil defence and home guardsare even closer to communities. But they are largely an underutilised resource for not just disaster response but also for prevention. We should professionalize their capabilities by imparting appropriate training and equipment. We also have to contend with the challenge of retaining and nurturing the spirit of volunteerism, while also discussing about adequate honorarium for the civil defence volunteers. Civil defence as an institution does not exist in all the districts and all the states of India. If we want to actively engage them, then we need to change the role and functions of the Civil Defence and increase their presence to cover all the districts. Civil Defence volunteers can be effectively used for disaster prevention and preparedness by informing, educating and communicating with the communities. They can be used for ushering in a culture of community-based disaster risk reduction. Civil defence volunteers should bethe messengers of long-term risk reduction.

Let me now turn to the issue of coordination. How do we ensure that all of these various response capacities come together in a coherent manner at the local level? In this context, district and state disaster management plans are the key instruments of coordination. These plans, especially at the district level, must define the roles and responsibilities as well as Standard Operating Procedures for all the actors. But this must not remain a paper exercise. We must practice this over and over again so that a multi-agency coordinated response becomes our second nature. That is what mock drills are for. NDMA has a scheme of providing a sum of rupees one lakh for each district every year for conducting mock-drills. All districts must make use of these resources to conduct mock drills and practice coordination. When we practice coordination in peace time, we stay coordinated in times of disasters.

Our response system should also stay abreast with the latest technological innovations. Artificial intelligence, sensor technologies, robotics etc. hold huge promise in making our disaster response system more efficient and effective. There is a need for at least a group of individuals to continuously scan the horizon, anticipate what is coming next on the technology front and ensure that we are future-ready!

Finally, I would like to congratulate all the agencies involved in this conference. The SDRFs, the home guards, the civil defence and the fire services have their distinct identities and comparative advantages. While attempting to build coherence, we must not lose sight of the uniqueness of each one of these arms of our response system. We must nurture their unique strengths.

I would like to especially congratulate NDRF for organising this event. I am sure, this event will be an important step towards strengthening the nation’s disaster response system.


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