In India, the Armed Forces are the first responder when disaster occurs. They have equipment, training and a professional response to any situation. The lack of a civil defense system is also a reason for the dependence on the armed forces in times of calamity. Some specific disasters like oil spills, nuclear accidents require special equipment and training.
Though Armed Forces are principally involved in the security of the Nation against external threats, they are now being involved more and more in managing disasters with in the country and even in other countries in the neighbourhood. Their capability and capacity to respond quickly and efficiently and handle such situations make the armed forces the ideal choice as the first line of response.
The armed forces possess capabilities like airlift or the ability to carry large number of men and material to any place across the country. Their expertise in the field of search and rescue is unmatched. The armed forces can also bring in equipment for repairing damaged roads or building makeshift bridges.
Disasters are occurrences that are sudden and cause huge destruction to humans, animals and environment. There are heavy losses that could be human, material, economic or environmental. Disasters are classified as natural and man-made.
Natural Disasters are all hazards that occur in nature like earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, and cyclones that result in the loss of human life as well as destruction of property. Man-made disasters occur due to human action or inaction. These could be industrial accidents, transport accidents, oil spills, nuclear explosions, fire or stampedes.
Since natural phenomena cannot be averted, the effects alone can be managed. The loss of lives can be reduced and normal life can be restored. This is the process of disaster management. The natural disasters result in loss of homes, cattle, human lives and destruction of property.
So, the first task is to arrange for relief supplies like food, clothing and medicines to reach the affected people. Search and rescue of missing persons or animals is also part of managing disasters. Since natural disasters also severely damage infrastructure like roads, bridges, railway lines and power supply restoration of these is a principal task of disaster management teams.
The Armed Forces are the first responders to calls of disaster management.
During the tsunami of 2004, Indian armed forces carried out one of the biggest peacetime relief operations. The armed forces helped victims not only within India but in other countries too, namely, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia. Using Naval ships, helicopters and aircraft Indian Navy supplied food, safe drinking water, medical facilities sanitation and shelter. They also quickly restored water and power supply. The medical teams helped prevent epidemics and diseases.
During Cyclone Wardha, Indian Navy moved supplies by ships to Chennai. Air dropping of food packets to the affected and airlifting of stranded and injured
people was also undertaken.
The neighbouring country of Nepal was severely affected by earthquake in April 2015 and the Indian Army was among the first to dispatch relief material and men to help the mountain nation tackle with the aftermath of the natural calamity. Operation Maitri was launched by Indian Army where large transport aircrafts, Mi 17 helicopters evacuated Indian and foreign citizens. Indian Air Force airlifted medical personnel, engineering teams, water, food, blankets and tents.
In November-December 2017, Cyclone Ockhi which ravaged the coast of Kanyakumari as well as Kerala and Lakshadweep also saw the Indian Armed Forces responding. The Indian Navy transported four tonnes of food, water, blankets, raincoats and mosquito nets to the island of Lakshadweep. This included searching for missing fishermen and transporting relief supplies to the affected.
Even in the case of man-made disasters the armed forces have performed vital assistance. The accidental oil spill caused by tanker ships can be tackled by Armed Forces as they are trained and possess specialised equipment.
India has an organisation called National Disaster Management Authority for managing disasters. They have response teams in every state as well as in the Centre. The response teams at the centre are called National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF). At the state level it is called State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF). The response teams are trained by armed forces.
The organisational strength, discipline and response of the armed forces make them the most appropriate responder in times of crisis especially in disaster situations. Until the National Disaster Management Authority gains more experience and expertise in handling disaster management situations, the armed forces will continue to provide vital support and remain the bulwark of efforts at managing disasters in a vast country like India.