Preparing for future disasters

Construction of National Emergency Operation Centre and 10 helipads on the cards

Preparedness: Should disasters like the recent flash floods or even bigger ones strike the country in the near future, Bhutan would be better prepared.

The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) in collaboration with the Department of Hydromet Services (DHS) and the agriculture department has sought the World Bank’s support to strengthen the capacities of agencies concerned.

Through a hydromet and disaster improvement regional project (HSDIRP), the country would improve its weather services and disaster preparedness.

A National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) would also be established, including 10 helipads and 2 portable fuelling stations.

As per the project documents, the main objective of the project is to improve hydromet monitoring, forecasting and service delivery to the priority sectors.

To provide additional information for aviation safety at Paro international airport, a wind profiler system at the Paro International Airport and an aviation weather observing system (AWOS) would be installed. A ceilometer each at Paro and Bumthang domestic airport will be installed.

For this project to materialise, procurement of weather work-station, software and ICT equipment, a portable ice penetrating radar equipment and development of a common operating platform for automated hydro-met services delivery system will be pursued.

After the establishment of an NEOC, the dzongkhag disaster management offices will be equipped with emergency communication.

The NEOC building, however, will be located within the premises of the DDM office, within core area of Thimphu Thromde measuring 27,007 sq feet government land and free of any encumbrances like squatters, encroaches, vegetation and crops.

The National Land Commission has already given its consent for the proposed use of the site.

The NEOC building is expected to withstand known hazards and operate 24/7 for an extended period even during major disasters. The building will be equipped with monitor and projection systems, map displays, multi-layered telecommunications equipment as well as initial food and water stock security systems.

Another component of the project include the design of an agro met decision support system, wherein a weekly agro-met information and dissemination to agriculture extension offices would materialise.

As for the helicopter operation during times of emergency, the project document stats that lack of helipads, technical staff and helicopter pilots remain the challenges for its effective functioning.

Although precise locations for the proposed helipads in 10 districts have not yet been identified, a tentative list of probable locations are: Zomlingthang in Punakha, Lunana, near referral hospital in Mongar, Takila in Lhuntse, Gantey Goemba in Wangdue, Manas in Sarpang, Merak Sakten, Dagapela, one in Pemagatshel, and one near JDWNRH in Thimphu.

The locations of the helipads, according to the project document, were chosen based on the proximity to more densely populated dzongkhag headquarters or open locations within adequate distance from dense settlement and hotspots where meaningful emergency rescue operations could be conducted.

This means that the helipads will be constructed near district headquarters and the locations also have the dzongs, monasteries, and other social amenities close by.

In addition, these potential locations are normally well-connected with roads and social amenities and are already more disturbed in terms of natural landscape and habitat as compared with other parts of the dzongkhags.

The Gelephu and Bumthang domestic airports were chosen as the tentative destination for mobile fuel stations.

Tshering Dorji 

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