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An AKAH professional and volunteers loading relief material.

AKDN / Nazim Kachchhi

AKAH set up a virtual Emergency Operations Centre and an Incident Command Post to lead the response by liaising with the first responders, community leadership, government agencies and other stakeholders. It also transported stockpiles of emergency relief supplies to designated distribution hubs near areas in the path of the storm. Stockpiles included PPEs and flood safety equipment for first responders. Members from the Search and Rescue Team (SART) were deployed to strategic locations to stand ready to lead the response as required by the situation on the ground.

Local community leadership and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) evacuated vulnerable families from high-risk or low-lying settlements in cities and small towns across Gujarat. The evacuees were accommodated in community centres, housing societies and other safe shelters.

Due to the devastating COVID-19 second wave sweeping India, safety measures were required to minimise risk of transmission. All relief and evacuation efforts were conducted while enforcing precautions such as masks, sanitizers and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible.

In the aftermath of the cyclone, Disaster Assessment and Response Teams (DARTs) have been conducting Post-Disaster Need Assessments to determine the needs of communities in areas where homes and settlements have been damaged. The assessments will identify short-term needs such as water, food, sanitation, shelter and security as well as long-term needs to support recovery and rebuilding.

Disaster preparedness, mitigation and response are the cornerstones of AKAH’s disaster management strategy. The effectiveness of disaster response is determined not only by the actions taken once a disaster is imminent but also by the proactive measures taken to prepare for disasters that may strike in future. AKAH builds capacities to translate disaster warnings into actional information, assess and mitigate risk, carry out relief efforts and support post-disaster rehabilitation.

As evidenced by Cyclone Tauktae, having protocols and structures in place enables AKAH to act quickly and efficiently when disaster strikes. Disaster preparedness reduces community exposure to damage, shortens response times and can often mean the difference between life and death.

As a part of preparedness and response, AKAH regularly conducts simulation activities like Tabletop Exercises (TTx) across different parts of India. Similar to mock drills, these exercises task local teams with responding to a hypothetical disaster. A couple of years ago, a TTx based on an event similar to Tauktae was conducted with the local leadership of Una and trained volunteers from AKAH.

“This cyclone was very severe and caused a lot of damage,” said Tameeza Alibhai, CEO of AKAH, India. “We found our systems worked well. But with every event you learn how much more needs to be done in terms of preparedness.”

Another guiding principle of AKAH’s disaster management strategy is mobilising communities and building partnerships. Training local community members drastically shortens response times and allows them to provide assistance in the crucial hours immediately after a disaster. For instance, CERTs consist of community volunteers trained in first aid and basic first response capabilities. In case of a disaster, these community members are able to begin relief efforts without having to wait for external teams who may be unable to reach them due to adverse conditions.

The synergy between AKAH and communities has proved to be a major strength in times of disaster. “We are very fortunate to have strong grassroots level collaboration with the communities we serve,” remarked Alibhai. “But, even there, we need to make more improvements given the intensity of the events we are seeing. Preparedness down to the household level is key.”