Interview: Mangesh Ghildiyal on District Disaster Response Force, Rudraprayag

Rudraprayag in Uttarakhand falls in the high-risk seismic zone. Given its geographical and climatic conditions, the district also faces the risk of landslides, cloud bursts and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. The districts boasts of several tourist attractions, including the Kedarnath Temple, and draws pilgrims from the world over. The district formed a District Disaster Response Force in March 2018 to ensure swift and efficient disaster response. Aapda Samvaad spoke with Shri Mangesh Ghildiyal, District Magistrate, Rudraprayag, who was instrumental in setting up this Force.

Q. Why was this Force created?

A. Rudraprayag is prone to multiple hazards like earthquakes, landslides, forest fires and cloud bursts. In 2013, a glacial lake outburst in Kedarnath resulted in a significant loss of lives and property. The district is also home to various touristic and religious places which results in a large influx of tourists throughout the year. Kedarnath alone attracted more than 7 lakh pilgrims in 2018. Disaster Management is a major challenge for us and to do it well, we established a dedicated disaster response force in March last year. It is the first of its kind in the country.

The Force is meant to provide immediate and effective response in case of any emergency. Another objective is to manage a large seasonal influx of tourists, especially the elderly and persons with disabilities, during the Shri KedarnathYatra.

At the time of 2013 Kedarnath disaster, the need for trained manpower and community awareness were strongly felt. Disaster Management was functioning with the help of police and health department personnel. These people had to be trained over and over again as they not only have to focus on their primary duties, they were also transferred regularly. To deal with such shortage effectively and ensure the availability of a dedicated force at the disposal of the district administration at all times, the District Disaster Response Force was created.

Q. How strong is the Force? How were its personnel chosen?

A. Presently, there are a total of 26 persons in the DDRF. They were shortlisted from the Pranteey Rakshak Dal (PRD), a mechanism developed by the Department of Youth Welfare by which they select local volunteers who render their services as and when required and are paid accordingly. Department of Youth Welfare has a separate budget for this from the annual plan of the District and DDRF team members are given a fixed monthly remuneration from this budget. Other allied expenses such as uniform, shoes and equipment are covered from the capacity building budget of Disaster Management. These personnel are given regular training too.

In fact, this model can easily be replicated in other districts of the State.

Q. On which skills have the DDRF personnel been trained?

A. To start with, the DDRF team went through a month-long rigorous field training on Search and Rescue, First Aid, Crowd Management and Emergency Response. 
The team later underwent a 15-day Search and Rescue course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi, one of the finest mountaineering institutes in Asia. This training the DDRF team to perform Search & Rescue operations in the Himalayas, particularly with reference to rescue techniques on rock, snow and ice, First Aid, Mountain Navigation, Radio Telephony, Audio and Visual communication Signals and evacuation methods. It also helped them improve their coordination skills with various other stakeholder organizations. 
Advance courses in Mountaineering and Search & rescue from NIM, Uttarkashi is in the pipeline for the DDRF team members for upgrading their skills.

Q. How has been the community's response so far?

A. The local community is very supportive of the initiative as they are the primary beneficiaries of the activities of the Force. The DDRF is deployed at remote and sensitive places of the district during the monsoon period and works as first responder to various events like road blockage, landslides, road accidents, etc. in the villages.
As soon as control room receives any such information, it is communicated to the nearest DDRF team which immediately moves to the affected place. While the agency responsible takes over the core work, the DDRF team manages the allied activities such as managing traffic and distributing the food and water to the stranded people in case of a road accident.
The team also helps clean the 16 km long Gaurikund-Kedarnath trek route before the commencement of annual Shri Kedarnath Yatra. During the Yatra, they are stationed at various points to help the pilgrims.

Q. Please share a few specific cases where this Force came to people's rescue.

A. While the district has not seen any major disaster after the formation of this Force, the team has rescued many during various accidents and the monsoon period.
Very recently, the DDRF team brought back to safety more than 100 tourists who were stranded at a village named Chopta, where roads were closed up to miles due to heavy snowfall.

The DDRF team also regularly organises trainings and awareness programmes at schools and villages. More than 1700 such trainings have been given so far benefiting around 2,500 participants. 

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