Is Malaysia prepared for the next natural disaster? — Adrian Lee Yuen Beng

JUNE 9 — I read with utter sadness about the lives lost on Mount Kinabalu during the recent Sabah earthquake.

What began as a trip of a lifetime for some had their life journey ended at the mountain. It is indeed terrifying to know how lives are lost within just a few seconds of calamity.

As we wait for the official report from the Meteorological Department as to why the earthquake had taken place, social media and the press have been speculating the reasons that caused the earth to tremble.

The most popular of course, being certain parties claiming that it was an act of God. Others stated that the earthquake occurred because certain irresponsible individuals stripping to the bare bone on a sacred place had incurred the wrath of the Almighty or certain forces that reside at the mountain.

Whatever the reasons behind the earthquake, it is imperative that we respect others for their views, no matter how conflicting they may seem to us. Even more crucial for us, is to acknowledge that the forces of Mother Nature are not to be messed around with. This is because the earth can at any time unleash forces that are way beyond our comprehension and control.

No longer can we deny the fact that our beloved country has experienced and will continue to experience natural disasters and calamities that will affect the lives of many. Being placed close to the fault lines means that we are not completely safe from such disasters.

This then leads to the question, how prepared are we for the next natural disaster or calamity?

It is heartening to know that we have our armed forces, police units, fire departments, and emergency response teams that are equipped and trained to react during times of emergencies.

In fact, we are one of the few Southeast Asian countries to have an Urban Search and Rescue team known as the Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART), which was set up to rapidly deal with such moments of calamity.

But then again, why do we continue reading reports about how lives were lost because help couldn’t get to the victims on time?

Without wanting to embark on the blame game, it is common knowledge that during such moments, the most important element that isn’t always favouring the victims is the element of time.

As victims remain trapped within the rubbles of a collapsed building or drowning in floodwaters, time is often not on their side as they wait for help to arrive.

While I have nothing but the utmost respect for the highly trained members of the emergency services who are fully equipped with sophisticated gadgets and appliances, it does become sad to hear about lives being lost because the victims couldn‘t get help on time.

Knowing that we are faced with such unfavourable conditions, it is vital that an emergency response system and evacuation plans be made clearer to the public. Many are still confused over or in fact; do not know what to do during such moments of emergencies. For example, many remain unsure if the number to dial during an emergency is 999, 112, 991 or even 911. 

More than a decade has already passed since our nation experienced one of the worst and deadliest natural disasters ever recorded. Since the 2004 tsunami, the latest emergency response systems and instruments have been put in place. While no one would actually wish for such calamities to take place, are we really fully prepared to respond physically and mentally if and when the next natural disaster strikes? Are the emergency respond teams ready to coordinate any forms of search and rescue and evacuation efforts? 

As in the case of the MH370 disaster that became so heavily criticised by the world due to the late response from the emergency services or perhaps even lack of it, questions were also raised as to why the emergency services weren‘t deployed without delay upon realising that something was amiss in the aftermath of the Sabah earthquake.

Such forms of lackadaisical attitudes are also evident during the annual flash floods. Even though it happens every year and almost like clockwork, it seems that we aren’t any better prepared in facing this calamity as it somehow seems to catch us off guard every year.

The rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts of the recent flash floods in Kelantan that drew the ire from many is an example of the case in point.

It is inevitable that the finger pointing then begins as one party after another shift the blame from one end to another. With that said, has this done any good to anyone or has anything changed since then? Have the current systems put in place been improved and have those responsible been reprimanded or are we just waiting for another disaster to occur?

Have we actually learned anything at all from these unfortunate episodes?

Stipulating that we have in place the best forms of disaster preparedness goes beyond just having the best facilities and services. Emergency respond services need to maintain a sense of vigilance, urgency and be alert at all times as we never know when the next disaster could strike. The infrastructure, manpower and emergency evacuation plans also need to be constantly maintained, restrained, updated and restructured. 

We also need leaders who would be present and ready to help coordinate evacuations, make brave and timely decisions and essentially give support to rescue efforts. These leaders would also need to eventually lend a helping hand in picking up the pieces after the dust has literally settled.

In the end, we do not want to speculate “what if” we had responded in a much quicker manner to emergencies or “if only” help could’ve reached the victims on time. No more “tidak apa” attitudes, no more excuses, no need for more task forces to be formed, and no more PR campaigns to justify the reasons for not responding appropriately.

If saving and safeguarding lives is a job that one is trained and paid to do, then please, just do it, effectively.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Malay Mail Online.

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