Strengthening The Nation’s Emergency Response System

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Accidents are part of life and can happen at anytime. However, with a solid disaster management strategy in place, the effects of accidents in Nigeria can be controlled with minimal number of casualties. Uche Uduma writes.

Recently, Nigeria has been plagued by series of tragedies. Barely few days after the nation was thrown into mourning on June 1, as a result of the loss of 153 passengers on the ill-fated Dana plane from Abuja to Lagos, a building recently collapsed at Apo in mechanic site area of Abuja, the Federal Capital with many people trapped inside it.

There was also a dreadful road accident last week, involving over 20 heavy duty trucks along the Ibadan / Lagos highway. The long list of tragic mishaps continues -incessant Boko Haram attacks around some northern States, endless road and fire accidents hither thither.?

Indeed, there is a need for a much faster, efficient and responsive emergency management system in Nigeria. Every responsible government has the responsibility of ensuring the safety of its citizens. It is pertinent that the government and its emergency management agencies think ahead and prepare an emergency response system, which not only will be timely but also effective.

With the number of accidents snuffing the life out of Nigerians, happening on a daily basis, it is essential that the agencies responsible for emergency management, sit up in their role of safeguarding the life of Nigerians.

Judging by the accidents recorded in the past two weeks in Nigeria, it is apparent that there is a big Lacuna in emergency management and response in Nigeria. First and foremost in the aviation accident involving Dana Air, eye witness accounts showed that after the aircraft crashed, it stayed for at least twenty minutes on the ground before the plane exploded into fire.?

Eye witnesses also saw a man creep out of the crashed plane, however due to the fact that there wasn’t an immediate emergency response team the man who would have been the only survivor of the fatal crash, slumped and died.? It was also reported that the emergency response team was only able to arrive the scene of the accident one hour after the crash.

Before the emergency response team could reach the site of the accident, the plane had already been engulfed in flame. All the people that could have been resuscitated were trapped in the inferno and there was no life left to save.

The emergency response team gallantly resumed a new duty of evacuation on the crash site instead of saving the lives. Subsequently it was alleged that the aircraft was allowed to fly though it was defective.

The distress call made by the pilot of the ill-fated aircraft several minutes before the crash was also said to have been ignored by the airport authorities, while the management of the disaster was crude as people were using their bare hands in the rescue operations.??

Just last year, a Delta Airline coming from America to Nigeria, encountered a terrible storm which made it difficult for the plane to land, the plane hovered in the air for hours yet no emergency response unit was seen near the airport, in case an accident occurs in the cause of the plane landing. After the plane had hovered endlessly and? unable to land, it was forced to land in Ghana instead of Nigeria, thankfully no life was lost.?

And recently in Abuja, a house was engulfed by fire. The fire service were contacted immediately. However, the fire service response team was stuck in traffic for hours, and by the time the team arrived the scene of the fire incident, the house had been razed? to the ground.

This scenario is not too different from many markets; residential houses, churches, mosques that have been burnt down by fire due to the absence of a known or dedicated number with which emergency response agencies can be reached.

There have also been cases where fire service arrived at accident scenes with water but no detergent to add to the water in other to extinguish a fire during an? outbreak.

How NEMA responds to national emergency
The Chief Press Secretary to the Director General, National Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Yushau Shuaib explained that NEMA is not a primary responder to emergency situations.

According to him, “We respond based on the information we receive, and the information can come from different sources. Information can come from ordinary Nigerians, that is why we have flash numbers. NEMA as an agency is not actually the first responder in the course of any emergency.

By first responder I mean those that are relevant in any given situation or any given emergency. For instance when there is a fire incident people start calling NEMA, but the first responder when there is fire incident is the fire fighters.? Fire fighters go there to control the situation.

Similarly when you have a road accident you talk to relevant officers like the road safety officers to respond at the scene of the accident. When you talk about vandalisation of pipelines the first responder is the civil defence. Similarly, where you have issue of insecurity, you talk about relevant agencies like police and the army.

Many people confuse our function because of the word emergency in it. NEMA coordinates issues that have to do with management of disaster in the country. Apart from that there are other stake holders that respond to emergencies. In fact our role is to intervene after other structures are overwhelmed in the management of disasters.

For instance if something happens in the local government, it is expected that the Local Government Emergency committee responds to it, when they are overwhelmed they now alert the State Government Emergency Management known as SEMA.?

When the SEMA realise that the emergency is beyond what they can control they now call NEMA. That’s why we don’t have offices in all the states and we don’t have offices in the local governments. We only have seven Zonal offices including Abuja.

For instance, when you call us for any intervention, we first call the first responder to move in”.

How the military responds to national emergency
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Bola Koleoso speaking with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY in an exclusive interview, stated that the emergency response system can be strengthened by centralising the emergency response system.
According to him, “The Nigerian army has units and formations all over the country.

Formations like the divisions, formations like the brigade, units, battalions. We have them all over the nation and there are some specific units that have already been mandated to respond immediately to any distress call or any emergency within their area of responsibility (we call them AOR).

Such units are known as DRU -disaster response unit. I will give you a particular example especially in the air crash that occurred in Lagos on Sunday June 12. It took the Nigeria army officers and soldiers from 9th Brigade less than one hour to be at the scene – Iju Ishaga and be able to control the crowd.

It is not just the army that was responsive to the distress call, other agencies were there too and sincerely speaking, they must be commended for a job well done. The army cannot do it alone. There must be a centralised command to which all the security agencies report and from where they can be called up at any point in time.

Because you could see the effort of Nigerian Red Cross command and the Red Crescent you could see the air force you could see the navy, you could see all of them coming together just to make sure that they were able to be there in good time”.

Strengthening the system
In other climes, emergencies aircraft with well-trained medical personnel and paramedics are readily available to respond to emergency situations. In fact in the UK precisely, some days, the emergency response ambulances are usually seen (especially during weekends) just going round the streets in case there is accident.

In view of the fact that people usually drink and drive under the influence of alcohol during weekends. However, in Nigeria the reverse is the case, Nigerians painfully die in accidents that are predictable and even preventable.

The question on the lips of Nigerians is; “when can emergency response in Nigeria be quick, efficient and timely, when can aircraft NEMA is not a primary responder to emergency situations s be used in responding to emergencies instead of being delayed in traffic and when can we have a dedicated national emergency number known to everybody?”

The Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Bola Koleoso, however, pointed out that the emergency response in Nigeria can be strengthened if there is inter-agency cooperation.

According to him, “I believe that to make response quicker and be able to achieve the purpose for which disaster response unit were set up and for inter-agency cooperation,? there must be designated lines of communication which would be broadcast on national network which an average Nigerian must know and can call whenever there is a disaster.

It will make for quick response. Then disaster response unit needs to be adequately equipped. It is sad when you get there earlier and you are not able to assist. So they need to be empowered to act fast even when they get to any disaster area so that they can be effective.

They must be properly equipped, adequately remunerated so that their moral will be very high to respond and this cuts across the security forces.

There is NEMA -the National Emergency Management Agency. you could see their officials at the site of the crash they were there in fact their director for dispatch, Air Commodore Bankole was at the site, you could see what they were doing. The security men at the site had to clear the whole area before any meaningful rescue efforts could be carried out.

Because the plane landed in a residential area, so many people were all over the place with all the fire, all the smoke, it was quite a large crowd. Everybody wanted to offer help”.

Brig-Gen. Bola Koleoso also explained the condition in which military aircraft can be released in times of emergency. He stated; “you consider where the military aircraft is located, you consider the distance to the accident area, and you consider information passage.

If something happens now and no one responds, definitely you cannot respond. That’s why I said there is a need for a centralised system for disaster response in the country.

People must know that if there is disaster in Abuja today, once you call this number the army, the navy, the air force and the security and civil defence corps, the immigration, the custom, the prisons, everybody will be on their toes to assist.

There must be centralised response system even state by state and if possible, centralise the local government to quicken response time. Information passage and the area of accident will determine their response time”.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Director General, National Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Yushau Shuaib had also pointed out how the emergency response system in Nigeria can be strengthened.

“Emergency response can be strengthened through capacity building. Capacity building is the basic yard stick and to ensure that the response agencies are up to the task at any given time. It also involves training, intervention, education and advocacy, not only for the officers, but also for the volunteer agencies that have been incorporated to offer rescue and response during emergencies”, he said.

On the issue of using aircraft to respond during emergencies, he has this to say; “I don’t think there is anywhere you see aircraft coming to rescue people? You can only have aircraft coming to rescue people in cases like Katrina and there is nothing like that in Nigeria.

What it takes to get across to the victim is mobility which is normal transport. We always talk about utilising the services of the first responders, when there is fire incident you don’t expect an aircraft to go and quench the fire, you have the fire-fighter’s truck and fire fighters that will go to the scene and see how it can be controlled.

Similarly, when you talk about road accidents, you don’t need an aircraft to go there but you need the relevant officers like the Federal Road Safety Commission to be at the scene”.

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