Enhancing the Resilience of Communities in the Face of Natural Disasters
“This exercise is part of a program called ‘éducation à la vie’ or ‘education in life,’ which consists in providing rules and information that will help students to avoid natural as well as social and psychological problems, and we are planning on making this exercise an annual event because we believe that it is extremely beneficial for students,” said Sister Marlène Salamé, the principal of the Collège des Saints Coeurs, after a field simulation of an earthquake associated with a tsunami was carried out , and all of the students were evacuated from the school. According to the students who took part in the evacuation process, the event was fun, beneficial, and taught them how to act quickly and intelligently in such circumstances. Students emphasized that the exercise had taught them how to react calmly and how to know exactly what to do in case of emergencies, especially with regard to helping others.
Under a heavy rain, local schools in Jbeil/Byblos were ordered to evacuate following an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale that struck 200 kilometers from the Lebanese coast and caused a tsunami to arrive 20 minutes later. The Civil Defense forces, the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Lebanese Red Cross, the Municipality of Jbeil, representatives of various ministries at the regional level of Jbeil, as well as members of the UNDP Disaster Management Project team combined their efforts to conduct a city-scale disaster response simulation that aimed at testing disaster management plans and coordination protocols that had recently been developed with the support of the UNDP. The simulation included evacuating students of the Collège des Saints Coeurs to the public garden, having the Civil Defense rescue injured persons who had been trapped inside cars, gathering patients and transporting them to the nearest hospital by the Lebanese Red Cross, isolating affected areas, managing the joint field operations room and maritime surveillance, directing people to safe places, and having the Municipality of Jbeil and the Jbeil Crisis Management Room secure routes for logistical support. . The response exercise, the first of its kind in Lebanon’s history, aimed at testing response coordination mechanisms and fell within the scope of implementing the National Response Plan, which had been developed by the UNDP project “Strengthening Disaster Risk Management Capacities in Lebanon,” a project that had been co-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
- Swiss Ambassador Ruth Flint highlighted practical steps that the Swiss government was willing to take in order to reduce the traumatic costs of disasters, including a grant of $5,000,000 to support projects for disaster risk reduction in Lebanon.
- The UNDP’s support for the government in developing a National Operation Room to support an immediate, coordinated response to natural and man-made disasters around the clock
Before the field simulation, national first responders and official dignitaries were brought together in a meeting at the Saint Jean-Marc Ontosh Hall in Byblos. During the meeting, UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Ross Mountain announced “the UNDP’s support for the government in developing a National Operation Room to support an immediate, coordinated response to natural and man-made disasters around the clock,”
An announcement was also made by the President of the Municipality of Byblos, Ziad Hawat, who pointed out the city’s plans for “a more beautiful, safer, and stronger” Byblos and considered the response exercise as “one of the first steps in a long journey that the Municipality of Byblos is willing to make.” In this context, Swiss Ambassador Ruth Flint highlighted practical steps that the Swiss government was willing to take in order to reduce the traumatic costs of disasters, including a grant of $5,000,000 to support projects for disaster risk reduction in Lebanon. Representing Prime Minister Tammam Salam, General Mohammad Khair outlined the role of municipalities in streamlining disaster risk management (DRM)at the local level and emphasized the importance of the National Response Plan that the Lebanese Government had developed with the support of the UNDP. After the speeches, General Khalil Abu Suleiman made a brief presentation that described what to expect during the simulation. He stressed the importance of collective and coordinated work among the different departments in order to achieve better results.
As a follow- up to the exercise, the UNDP organized a half-day reflection and evaluation workshop for the purpose of assessing the effectiveness of the tested plans and identifying the lessons that had been learnt. Just as the various agencies had come together to execute the simulation, they once again met and evaluated their work and integrated the lessons that they had learnt into their work. The next step for the project will be to organize large-scale simulations at the Beirut International Airport.