Cyclone Ockhi: Job done, questions remain

Only pre-cyclone watch or a cyclone alert triggers SOP.

The unprecedented cyclone that visited Kerala caught not only the IMD unawares but also the state government. IMD’s late alert is telltale. Questions were raised whether the state government rose to the occasion to save the lives of fishermen who ventured into the sea. While the government claims it met all protocols, doubts linger. But the State Disaster Management Authority insists it’s not a forecasting agency. It had complied with well-laid Standard Operating Procedure. Only pre-cyclone watch or a cyclone alert triggers SOP. SDMA has little to do during depression or deep depression phase.

It’s a fact that the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the state government and the State Disaster Management Authority were in constant touch from November 29 in view of the fast-changing weather conditions.

The advisory bulletin received from INCOIS on November 29 was circulated to all media via the media WhatsApp group of KSDMA for mass information of the advisory. The SMS of heavy rainfall and sea condition were also issued via the WhatsApp group to media from KSDMA.
Nov 29 at 4 pm – State Government issued the bulletin received from INCOIS to print and visual media and others concerned for public attention
Nov 30 at 7.30 am – issued the bulletin received from IMD to print and visual media and others concerned for public attention
Nov 30 at 9 am – began preparedness works as per the SOP for Cyclone. Discussions were held with IMD on possible evolution of the system.
Nov 30 at 10 am – Reports of fishermen who had ventured out to the sea the previous days were received. Coast Guard was requested for assistance by District Collector, Thiruvananthapuram.
Nov 30 at 11 am – District Collector, Thiruvananthapuram, was advised to declare holiday for all schools so that in case of massive evacuation, schools are available to the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) as shelters.
Nov 30 at 12 noon – Cyclonic Storm Orange alert was declared in the state. Specific instructions were issued to public, fishermen, tourist destinations, Sabarimala pilgrims and DDMA to act as per the laid Standard Operating Procedures.
Southern Kerala – Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Idukki- was advised to trigger necessary Very Heavy to Heavy Rainfall response procedures. Thiruvananthapuram DDMA was advised to act as per the Severe Cyclonic Storm Standard Operating Procedures.
The State Executive Committee met. Chief Secretary and Additional Chief Secretary, Disaster Management (State Relief Commissioner) met and decided to raise the event as L3. Coordination calls were made to Army, Navy, Air Force, NDRF and Coast Guard. Necessary liaison was ensured between the forces.
DDMA Thiruvananthapuram was advised to meet urgently to discuss necessary evacuation. Discussions were held with IMD too. Field deployment of Army and police was ensured. Due to Heavy to Very Heavy Rainfall warning, NDRF was directed to continue in position at Sabarimala so as to ensure Pilgrim safety.
Nov 30 at 3.30 pm – Chief Minister held an urgent meeting of SDMA and decided to order evacuation of kutcha houses in the 100 m off the coast line of Thiruvananthapuram based on the available prognosis. Necessary arrangements were made for operating relief camps.
Nov 30 at 4 pm – DDMA, Thiruvananthapuram met and reviewed the arrangements for camp operations. Following the Incident Response System, one responsible officer and one local incident commander was posted per taluk and camps were opened. Kerala Armed Police battalions and local police were operationalized to advice coastal community to move to shelters for the night. Coast Guard and Navy assistance was sought and their ships and aircrafts were pressed into service.
Nov 30 at 6 pm –Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan and Disaster Management, Chief Secretary and Additional Chief Secretary, Disaster Management reviewed the situation
Nov 30 at 9 pm – Four columns of Army moved into local areas and stationed at police stations. Two columns were kept on standby at Thiruvananthapuram.
Dec 1 at 9 am – Chief Minister reviewed the situation; 10 ships, 3 types of aircraft and several helicopters in search and rescue. Chief Secretary reviewed the search and rescue operations. An integrated ‘Operation Synergy’ was launched and an integrated Search and Rescue Operations Centre was opened at the Technical Area of the Thiruvananthapuram Airport. Rescue works were ongoing
Dec 2 at 10 am –CM reviewed the situation in the presence of senior ministers and officials and directed to continue search and rescue operations. Ex gratia as per SDRF norms and additional assistance were declared from Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund. Rescue works were ongoing
Dec 2 to 18- Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard requested in full swing. Army put on standby - 6 aircraft, 2 helicopters, 2 coast guard ships, 1 coast guard helicopter and 4 navy ships –
Stage 5 weather conditions prevailed over sea delaying the progress-
Medical treatment of rescued in all Government hospitals were declared free
KSDMA meeting heldDefence Secretary, Air Marshal, C in C, Navy, Coast Guard DIG were contacted to increase the availability of aircraft and ships for search and rescue
State Governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka requested to provide assistance to fishermen from Kerala
More ships and aircraft provided by Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard
Union Defence Minister and Union Minister of State for Tourism (independent charge) visited Thiruvananthapuram
A preliminary memorandum was submitted to Government of India on Dec 2
Search and Rescue participating local fishermen conducted offshore Kochi
Relief Operations constantly reviewed by Chief Minister
Passengers to Lakshadweep from Kozhikode provide all necessary assistance
Dead body identification procedure using DNA triggered
Rs 33.95 crores disbursed to provide Rs 2000/head to all active fishermen as relief
Rs 20 lakh declared as exgratia to the families of the deceased
Rs 5 lakh declared for all seriously injured fishermen who will not be able to continue his traditional livelihood of fishing
Rs 20,000 declared for all hospitalised fishermen
Equivalent compensation for lost boats and nets
Free education for the children of the deceased
Declared more recruitment to Coastal Police in which 200 will be recruited from Fishermen folk
Indian Embassy in Oman requested to verify news regarding dead bodies washing ashore in Oman – Confirmed as fake news
Consultation meetings held between trade unions, people’s representatives and religious leaders.

Tamil Nadu had better systems

SDMA sources discount the argument that Tamil Nadu got the same warnings as in the case of Kerala and they alerted every district. According to the sources, IMD’s Area Cyclone Warning Centre (ACWC) is positioned in Chennai. This organisation has previous experience in handling cyclone warnings and hence they telephonically contacted the state relief commissioner and the district collectors concerned and even faxed the messages directly to them as per the SOP.

In Kerala, IMD claims having 5 Cyclone Warning Dissemination Systems (CWDS). However, none of them has been in working condition and hardly anyone knows where they are located. The local IMD did not call the district collectors concerned, let alone the chief secretary and the state relief commissioner, the sources claimed.

The IMD believed that even a cyclone in Kerala will only cause damage to paddy crops, banana, papaya trees and orchards, breakage of communication lines and trees uprooting and damage only to thatched houses. In a monsoonal state like Kerala these are routine rain-related damage.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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