A disaster is a sudden and great calamity, which causes deep distress to passengers, staff, and their families. In the context of railways, disaster management envisages expeditious, orderly, effective, and adequate relief measures in the case of a disaster. The term 'disaster management' first came to be used on Indian Railways in 1986, and has been in vogue ever since. In some respects, this term redefines an accident as a disaster.
1 Classification of Disasters
The following chart gives a broad classification of disasters on the Railways.
2 Details of Disaster Management
Disaster management on railways may be broadly divided into the following stages.
Disaster mitigation and prevention
This stage consists of strengthening the basic infrastructure such as the track, bridges, rolling stock, and signalling equipment as well as introducing systems and procedures to ensure that accidents are minimized, if not prevented.
Disaster management planning and preparedness
The successful management of a disaster depends on the ability to foresee and control it in time. Planning is thus vital for minimizing disaster effects, quick recovery, and resumption of work. The key to developing an effective disaster plan is to anticipate every possible vulnerability and taking the appropriate action to tackle the same effectively. In this context it is necessary to identify the available resources and utilize them most efficiently. The duties of various officials should be defined in detail so that work can proceed as per the planned strategy. The management should be fully prepared to face a disaster and should possess a proper action plan for dealing with the same.
Post-disaster management including rescue and relief arrangement
This comprises of all the work that is undertaken by the railways following a train accident.
First responsibility of the railways The first responsibility of the railways in the case of accidents is to reach and extricate accident victims and organize effective trauma care. The basic principle of trauma management is speed and expediency, as most trauma patients can be saved within the first hour. This hour is called 'the golden hour'.
Accident relief measures The Railways should have full-fledged arrangements for rescue and relief operations in the case of railway accidents. Steps must be taken to provide prompt and effective relief to the affected passengers in the event of train accident.
Relief train Depending upon the type of an accident, a relief train equipped with tool vans and a medical van must be arranged, which proceeds to the site of accident within stipulated time.
Restoration process After rescue and relief arrangements have been made for the affected passengers, and the necessary information has been collected from the site for investigative purposes, immediate action must be taken to restore traffic on the damaged track. This encompasses the following work.
(a) Mobilization of adequate resources consisting of men, material, equipment, and specialized machinery for restoration work. Apart from local assistance, the help of adjoining divisions and zonal railways should also be taken. If necessary, contact can also be established with villagers, local administration, civil authorities, and defence establishments for the necessary aid.
(b) Restoration work should be started immediately by way of removal of debris and establishment of new track connections after the necessary earthwork has been done. In case a bridge is affected, either a diversion or a temporary bridge can also be planned. Once the damaged track has been repaired, trains are allowed to traverse it at a restricted speed, which is slowly restored to the normal speed in subsequent stages.
(c) All efforts must be made to ensure that restoration work is done expeditiously and that trains start using the affected section as soon as possible.
3 Actions Taken by Engineering Officials
The first engineering official to arrive at the site of the accident should take the following actions.
(a) Take steps to protect the train.
(b) Coordinate first aid and rescue efforts.
(c) Carry out a cursory examination of the entire site.
(d) Advice the nearest station master.
(e) Carry out a detailed examination of the site.
(f) Draw a dimensional sketch of the site giving full details.
(g) Collect and preserve any clues pertaining to the accident.
(h) Record the track geometry.
(i) Measure the vehicle after it has met with an accident.
(j) Examine the operating features.
(k) Prepare a preliminary report.
(l) Lay out the follow up action to be taken with regard to repair.
4 Availability of Resources
The resources available in the case of a major accident may be grouped into four different units, depending on the time frame within which they can be made available after an accident. These groups are the following.
(a) Resource unit-I-Railway and non-railway resources available on the train and in the nearby surroundings
(b) Resources unit-II-Railway resources available on the accident relief train with medical van/accident relief train (ARMV/ART) depots and elsewhere within the division
(c) Resources unit-III-Railway resources available at ARMV/ART depots and elsewhere on adjoining zones and divisions
(d) Resources unit-IV-Non-railway resources available within or outside the division
Unlifted Command Centre/Combined Assistance and Relief Enclosure
There are two aspects of disaster management work carried out at an accident site, as described below.
(a) Rescue, relief, and restoration operations, which are carried out by one set of functionaries. This work is done under the control of the Unified Command Centre (UCC) on Indian Railways.
(b) The second aspect pertains to the rehabilitation of the accident affected passengers, taking care of dead bodies, dealing with relatives of the dead victims, etc., for which a different set of functionaries is required. This work is done by the Combined Assistance and Relief Enclosure (CARE) on Indian Railways.
6 Review of Disaster Management
A high-level committee was constituted in September 2002 to review disaster management on Indian Railways and to modernize it. The committee presented its recommendations in a report in April 2003, which was subsequently approved and accepted. The implementation of these recommendations would require an estimated Rs 4000 million.
The various aspects that would help in the modernization of disaster management are given below.
(a) Faster response
(b) Better facilities and equipment
(c) Expanding resources to meet requirements in major accidents
(d) Better customer focus
(e) Training and preparedness