Each district to conduct CBRN combat mock exercise by 2023: NDRF DG

NEW DELHI : India is undertaking a mega exercise to conduct preparatory drills in each of its 740-odd districts by 2023 to combat various man-made and natural disasters with a special attention on tackling chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attacks or accidents, the country’s disaster response force chief said.
The Union home ministry has entrusted the federal disaster management apparatus and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to complete the first phase of this multi-agency exercise in three financial years, beginning 2020-21.
“Modern day man-made disasters will be CBRN disasters. It is very important to prepare for that…As it is an uncharted territory,” NDRF director general S N Pradhan said in an interview.
“We are going to be in the nuclear mode for power generation more and more. So, all this combines to the agenda that has to be CBRN oriented,” he said.
The nature of a CBRN challenge, he said, is that one cannot probably be really prepared for it in all manners as there have not been many such accidents that allow rescuers and experts to use and develop their skills against them.
“Yes, the apprehension is there that the CBRN challenges have not tested us that way…Some (incidents) have happened like the recent chemical leakage in Vizag and we could handle it efficiently but the real-time preparation is probably not feasible (for CBRN disasters) as we can prepare for natural disasters like cyclone and floods,” he said.
As NDRF is the frontline responder for CBRN disasters in the country, it is acting as the nodal agency for conducting this countrywide exercise, he said.
The DG said because of the “emphasis” laid by the government on all-round preparation for this challenge, preparatory work is being done and various central government ministries are working on the subject.
“I would say that the preparation is optimal (for tackling CBRN disasters) but it can become better with more and more coordination and more mock drills and that we have started doing,” the NDRF chief said.
Home Minister Amit Shah, he said, has “directed us” to hold at least one mock drill every three years in each of the about 740 districts of the country with the “focus” being on CBRN, he said.
One-third of the total districts will be covered per fiscal, he said.
“We are good at handling floods, cyclone but one cannot have experience to handle a chemical disaster unless we have a disaster of that sort. That gap has to be made up for…That experience gap has to be made up for by mock exercises. You have to simulate the situation…The more you simulate and the more you practise, the better it is,” he said.
In 2020-21, the agency has covered almost 45-50 per cent of the districts but due to the COVID-19 outbreak it has not been able to keep up with the calendar. “With the vaccine coming in, we will be able to complete the target for the current fiscal and for the next one within the stipulated time frame,” Pradhan said.
The NDRF DG explained the process of undertaking these mock drills with the involvement of various stakeholders of a district like health care, police, administration, fire services, voluntary service organisations and others.
Suppose a particular district has a big chemical plant so that will be the focus for the mock exercise. Similarly, if the district has a gas pipeline grid, that becomes the focus of the exercise. In case it has a nuclear reactor, it will be the focus of the exercise, he said.
“So, this is what we are doing. We are collaborating with the PSUs, private sector and state government machinery. The national disaster management authority (NDMA) has approved the entire calendar and has written to state governments to collaborate with the NDRF,” he said.
The DG said as the focus of these mock drills is CBRN, the force has tied up with various agencies in this domain, including the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre or the BARC.
During these drills, the NDRF is also making an inventory of various tools and logistics that are lying with the government, PSUs and private sector that can be used when a disaster strikes a particular region.
Pradhan expressed satisfaction that the states are also “waking up” to the challenges posed by CBRN catastrophes like seen recently (May) in Visakhapatnam where about 11 people were killed and hundreds affected after they were exposed to a chemical gas leakage emanating from a factory. (agencies)