Bangladesh has a big potential for utilising technology to ensure a more effective disaster management, and a proper utilisation will help reduce any loss of lives during incidents of fire and building collapse, experts said on Wednesday.
The country – especially capital city Dhaka – witnessed a number of such major disasters over the years, including the Rana Plaza tragedy and slum fires, but reaching the sites of those incidents has not been an easy task for the Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) personnel.
Disaster management can become more efficient with the implementation of technology, which can help facilitate speedy connection between the FSCD and volunteers, gathering accurate information, preparing a response with the right tools, and finding a way through traffic.
Speakers made the remarks at the webinar "Use of Technology for the Coordinated Response of Urban Volunteers," jointly organised by Christian Aid, a project partner of Dhaka Earthquake & Emergency Preparedness – Enhancing Resilience (DEEPER), and The Business Standard.
At the programme, Kaz Software Ltd's CEO Wahid Aziz Chowdhury said, "The use of technology in facing and managing disasters has increased across the world, and this has the potential to see even wider use.
"Nepal is a good example of how disasters can be managed through social media. The Safety Check app of the social media platform Facebook was used there during the earthquake in 2015, which helped the authorities a lot in carrying out a targeted rescue operation."
He continued, "The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a good technology, and it can help authorities track the volunteers' locations during any disaster. Some applications and services such as the People Finder, Push Notifications and Crowdsourcing are also used globally for disaster management."
Md Jahangir Alam, assistant director of the Disaster Risk Management Department at Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said, "Dhaka's roads are narrow and traffic jams are a common phenomenon here.
"Such issues prevent fire service vehicles from reaching the scene of fires and other disasters. To mitigate such hurdles, technology can be used for speedy notification of incidents, and to provide alternate routes for FSCD vehicles, allowing personnel to reach the scene quickly."
He mentioned that volunteer mobilization activities are being carried out in 14 wards of Dhaka South City Corporation under the DEEPER project.
Kaustubh Kukde, programme delegate at the British Red Cross, said, "Urban volunteers are community volunteers trained by the FSCD, and they can respond to disasters until the FSCD personnel reach the site.
"A coordinated response by urban volunteers can minimize any losses of lives and property to a greater extent."
He continued, "The FSCD has so far trained a few thousand volunteers in Dhaka. Ensuring seamless coordination between the FSCD and urban volunteers, and mobilising them in a coordinated manner remains a challenge."
Jan E Alam Jahid, a volunteer of ward 30 under the Dhaka South City Corporation, said, "Presently, we inform about any disaster such as a fire incident through the social media. We have messenger groups of volunteers.
"However, if we had an app, we would be able to get notified as soon as someone contacts the fire service about any incident. This will allow us to reach the scene quickly."
Md Abdul Momen, assistant director (Training) at the FSCD, said, "We initiated the idea of training volunteers so that they can help out at a time of disaster in their wards. There should be an initiative for keeping the volunteers encouraged."
Biplob Barua, programme officer (DRR) at DEEPER, British Red Cross, said they have been developing an Alert App and a Prepare App.
The Alert App will be used for ensuring a speedy connection between the FSCD and volunteers during an incident. The app is scheduled to be launched this month on the android platform.
Consortium Coordinator of DEEPER Jalil Lone conducted the Question Answer Session at the webinar, while Morshed Noman, Chief Reporter of The Business Standard delivered the welcome speech.
The DEEPER project is funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, and is implemented through consortium approach with partners such as Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, German Red Cross, British Red Cross, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) & Christian Aid.