Emergency response policy nears completion

Unified procedures will be unveiled next week detailing how the UAE intends to deal with possible man-made and natural disasters

Ras Al Khaimah - March 31, 2009: Road flooding on the Sharjah - Kalba Road (102) in Ras Al Khaimah. Lauren Lancaster / The National  *** Local Caption ***  LL_31.03.09 - flood072.jpg

ABU DHABI // The country's response to possible national emergencies such as terrorist attacks, earthquakes, floods, industrial disasters and pandemics will be revealed next week. Authorities will unveil a set of unified procedures and operations for the Government and private groups that may have to deal with man-made or natural disasters.

Officials at the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority (NCEMA) are also in the process of reviewing draft legislation that will create the country's first coherent federal plan to respond to such emergencies. Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the general manager of NCEMA, which was given responsibility for coming up with a plan for disaster response and relief after its formation two years ago, said: '"This law is one of the pillars that our agency will stand on."

The authority declined to elaborate further yesterday but said details would be given at a major security conference in the capital next week. The conference, which begins on Monday, will feature security and counter-terrorism experts whose experience NCEMA intends to use in fine-tuning its federal plan. The speakers include Jason McNamara, the chief of staff at the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism adviser to the US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, and Jamal al Mutawa, the head of communicable diseases at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD).

Mr al Rumaithi said: "The UAE, in light of what it is witnessing in civilisational and architectural progress, needs these kinds of conferences ? with the goal of retaining these gains." Some energy corporations, such as the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), already have specific plans designed to deal with disasters in the sector, such as oil spills. The Ministry of Environment is working with representatives of the oil industry to develop an overarching plan for producers.

But NCEMA's remit is more wide-ranging and includes developing action plans to deal with terrorist incidents, hostage situations, industrial and environmental disasters, and natural catastrophes. The conference schedule is as diverse as NCEMA's responsibilities and will cover issues such as the swine flu pandemic, how political crises in the Middle East might affect the UAE, the implementation of major search-and-rescue operations, how to deal with mass public panic and the risks of operating nuclear power plants.

"It's not an educational experience [for the experts]; they will interact with our society so that our society can benefit," Mr al Rumaithi said. At the conference, NCEMA will also give details about its volunteer emergency response crew recruitment programme for Emiratis and expatriates. The scheme will run in conjunction with Takatof, the voluntary social organisation, and will enable people to volunteer to take on emergency response duties in their neighbourhoods when required.

Mr al Rumaithi said NCEMA would also sign a number of agreements with other Government departments that would underpin the co-ordinated emergency response policy. One agreement, with the Abu Dhabi Municipality, will provide crucial geographic information about the emirate to help enable mass evacuation operations to proceed efficiently. In November the agency said it was developing a database of health and residential facilities and population centres.

The database will contain information about the locations of suburban areas and hospitals to make it easier to identify suitable evacuation points as well as statistics such as the distribution of Emirati and expatriate populations. Over the next few months, NCEMA is also expected to establish a federal centre that will house the database and co-ordinate disaster relief with all government agencies.

The draft legislation is expected to be ready by the summer. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae