Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sri lanka Incident Map

Feel free to send information about incidents occuring in your respective areas to : novil.wijesekara@gmail.com

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How to make an Emergency Supply Kit

A tailor made recipe for Sri lanka!
Emergencies can strike our selves, family, school or workplace. Some emergencies cannot be prevented. However, it is wise to prepare for emergencies. When emergencies occur, we will be cut off from the routine supplies of food, water, clothes and medicines. First 24-48 hours after an emergency are very important, as after this period, emergency relief items will often arrive. Thus it is important to have an Emergency Supplies Kit to face the first few hours after a disaster effectively.

Why should we have an Emergency Supply kit?
The first 24-48 hours following the disaster is a very important period. Most undesirable effects of disasters are experienced during this period. If we are better prepared, we could cope better. face Just imagine yourself trapped in your office room for 1 day with no access to outside…. Even just a bottle of drinking water can make a huge difference. Suppose you and your 1 year old kid had to evacuate to a school for 1 day… The impact, misery and bad results of disasters could greatly be reduced if you have an Emergency Supplies Kit.

Who should have an Emergency Supply Kit?
Every body! Nobody is free from emergencies or disasters. So every body will benefit of having an Emergency Supply Kit, from a school child to an elderly person.

Where should we have an Emergency Supply Kit?
Every where! No place is free from emergencies. We may have to face emergencies at home, school, work place or while traveling. So it is a good idea to have an Emergency Supply Kit at every possible place, at least at places where you spend a lot of time in a daily basis.

When should we have an Emergency Supply Kit?
Every time! Disasters strike at most odd and unwanted times. Thus we need to be prepared all the time.

How should you prepare an Emergency Supply Kit?
It is simple as 1-2-3!
Gather the items that you may need in an emergency situation.
Pack them in a box or bag.
Keep it close to the exist and refresh the supplies regularly.

What should we have in an Emergency Supply Kit?
While general guidelines could be given to assemble an Emergency Supply Kit (Check List 1), each and every one of us needs to tailor it to suit our individual and specific needs. For example, water and non perishable food items are essential for every Emergency Supplies kit, however, a person taking drugs for long-term illness may need an additional stock of drugs, a family with a baby may need pampers. After all it is your Emergency Supplies Kit!

Items to be included in an Emergency Supply Kit

Safety items
Flashlight with batteries – helps you to find your way in the night time, especially with power failures.
Battery operated pocket radio – helps to keep you updated of the disaster situation.
Extra batteries for the flashlight and pocket radio
Lantern with a ½ bottle of kerosene oil – to give you light in the night and also to tell the searchers and rescuers where you are. Make sure to store the kerosene oil in a leak proof container.
Candles – to give you light in the night.
Boxes of matches – pack them in a waterproof cover such as hard polythene cover.
Mosquito coils or repellants
Pen and Pencil – to jot down a message.
Whistle – to indicate where you are to other family members as well as to searchers and rescuers.
Emergency Contact List and a mobile phone with additional batteries.
Some cash

Food and Water
Make sure that your food items are non-perishable and needs little or no cooking.

Biscuits – select a couple of your favorite biscuit types!
Tinned fish
Can Opener
Home made non perishable dishes - Example: Deep fried sprats and onions, Dry Maldive Fish sambol etc.
Sweets – Example: Thala Bola, Thala kerali, Dates, Juggary.
Savory items – Murukku, devilled gram, dhal or pea nuts.
Some pet food
Water – at least 2 liters per person per day

First Aid Kit – helps you to manage the basic health needs of your family.

1 pair of complete clothes per person. Example: long sleeved shirt, long pants/sarong and sturdy shoes – to protect you from mosquitoes and to from debris.

Thick polythene bags
Toilet papers/pieces of cloth
Sanitary pads

Supplementary items
One week’s supply of medicines if you are taking medicines for any long term illness.
Pampers, feeding plates and spoons if you have a baby.
Store your important documents such as bank pass books and copies of identity cards in your Emergency Supply kit. Get all your certificates and important documents such as insurance papers laminated. It is a good idea to keep a set of photocopies of all your important documents in a separate safe place away from your town/village.

Supplementary items
One week’s supply of medicines if you are taking medicines for any long term illness.
Pampers, feeding plates and spoons if you have a baby.

Store your important documents such as bank pass books and copies of identity cards in your Emergency Supply kit. Get all your certificates and important documents such as insurance papers laminated. It is a good idea to keep a set of photocopies of all your important documents in a separate safe place away from your town/village.

Maintain your Emergency Supply Kit properly!
It is important to maintain you Emergency Supply kit in good order at all times. You should replenish the food items with new stocks to prevent wastage and expiry. Use Check List 3 to keep a track of the maintenance of your Emergency Supply Kit.

After every emergency…..
Make sure to review your Emergency Supply Kit after every disaster. This is important not only to keep it refilled for the next disaster, but also to update/ modify it according to the experience obtained from the recent disaster.

Some Myths and Facts about Emergency Supply Kit…
Myth 1: Only rich can afford Emergency Supply Kit
Fact: Emergency Supply Kit helps both rich and poor. We can make an Emergency Supply Kit within our budget. Some of the most important items will not cost you a cent: Store boiled water in a used bottle or gallon. We can use the food items if not used before the expiry date. Emergency Supply Kits have been proven to be beneficial even in poor communities such as flood affected people in Bangladesh.

Myth 2: Assembling and Emergency Supply Kit is a waste of time and money.
Fact: Assembling of an emergency supply kit will of course take some time and money when you are doing it for the first time. However, once you have assembled it, the maintenance will not cost you much time or money. Intact, the Emergency Supply Kit will save a lot of money and time if a disaster strikes.

Myth 3: Emergency Supply Kit is suitable for western cultures, not for us.
Emergency Supply Kit is not a concept to be learnt from western culture, even our own ancestors had many practices which helped them to prepare for disasters. For example, they used to save part of the daily rice consumption to be used in difficult situations (Mitihal Muttiya). Emergency Supply Kit is a part of the preparedness culture that we should adopt as a nation.

(Please contact the author if you need the complete article.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

World Rabies Day 2008: Awareness is the Best Defense against Rabies

The world is again joining together on September 28th to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of rabies prevention. Rabies is the oldest and deadliest disease known to mankind and Safer Sri Lanka is supporting this initiative.

Led by the Alliance for Rabies Control and supported by numerous human and animal health organizations worldwide, World Rabies Day is a unique campaign that brings together hundreds of thousands of people across the world to reinforce the message that rabies is a preventable disease, yet kills 55,000 people needlessly each year, half of which are children under the age of 151.

“Rabies is primarily a disease of children, who are particularly at risk from this terrible disease, due to their close contact with dogs, the major global source”, said Dr. Debbie Briggs, Executive Director of the Alliance for Rabies Control. “Children are more likely to suffer multiple bites and scratches to the face and head, both of which carry a higher risk of contracting rabies. Children are often unaware of the danger that dogs transmit rabies and may not tell their parents when a bite, lick, or scratch has occurred from an infected animal”, says Briggs.

Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to animals and humans. The disease is transmitted mainly by bite, but exposure may also occur through contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva from an infected animal. Once neurological symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans. The good news is that rabies is easily preventable. “Vaccination prior to possible exposure is a crucial part of health management of domestic animals, and is the single most important factor in rabies prevention”, said Peter Costa, Global Communications Coordinator for the Alliance for Rabies Control.

Rabies prevention starts with the animal owner. Protect yourself, your pet and your community by taking animals to be vaccinated. Avoid stray animals and wildlife. If you are bitten, wash bite wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. If your pet is bitten, consult your veterinarian immediately. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop rabies infection and/or prevent the disease in humans and animals.

The World Rabies Day initiative also raises money towards local rabies prevention and control programs, with five projects funded in 2008. “Through the World Rabies Day campaign we continue to engage all the major stakeholders associated with rabies to take action”, says Costa. “We invite everyone to join the team that is Making Rabies History!”

More information on World Rabies Day can be found at the official web site, www.worldrabiesday.org.

1 WHO. Human and Animal Rabies, Rabies: A neglected zoonotic disease. Available at: http://www.who.int/rabies/en/. Accessed on July 23, 2008.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sphere Project

Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response

Sphere is based on two core beliefs:
All possible steps should be taken to alleviate human suffering arising out of calamity and conflict.
Those affected by disaster have a right to life with dignity and therefore a right to assistance.

Sphere is three things: a handbook, a broad process of collaboration and an expression of commitment to quality and accountability. The project has developed several tools, the key one being the handbook.

Visit http://www.sphereproject.org/ to learn more about the sphere project.

Hope we will never have snowfall in Sri Lanka!!!

Measuring Snowfall.....

This is an obviously an obsolete topic for Sri Lanka however, as all of us in the Disaster Management class were very keen on knowing how to measure snowfall, this article was published.

Equipment needed:

Usual 8’ rain gauge without the inner tube and the funnel – this helps to collect the solid snow with ease.
Snowboard - a flat board, painted white, ideally about 16" x 16". This can be marked with a falg or so to find it after the snowfall.

There are 3 measurements with regards to snow fall:
1. Precipitation – the water content of snow
To measure the water content of snow with this type of gauge, you will need to
melt the contents ( by adding measured amount of warm water for example)
and put them into the inner cylinder.
2. New Snow Amount
Snowfall is the maximum accumulation of fresh snow during the past day prior to melting or settling. This is measured on the snow board using your ruler.
3. Snow depth - Total depth of snow on the ground
This is the total depth of snow on ground at your scheduled observation time
4. Snow Cores - Core Precipitation
If you think that all the snow has not fallen into the cylinder and has rolled down on its outer walls, example in windy conditions, you can take core precipitation. After measuring the precipitation, you cut a cylinder of fresh snow using the gauge for example on the snow board, collect the snow, melt it and add it to the precipitation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Helpful Telephone Numbers

Bomb Disposal 243425, 2440527

Police Emergency Service 119, 2433333 (Colombo)

General Hospitals

Colombo General Hospital 2691111

Sri Jayawardanapura 2778610

Lady Ridgeway 2693711-5
Ragama 2959261

Kalubowila 2822261

Karapitiya 091-2245848

Kandy 081-2222170

Peradeniya 081-2388001

Jaffna 021-2222833

Ambulance Services

St. John Ambulance Service 2433756


Central Blood bank 2692317

Poison Information Centre 2686143, 2691111 - Ext 430

Electricity Board

Colombo 2466611-3

Dehiwala 2713662,2739324

Ratmalana 2637703

Sri Jayawardanapura 2863070

Public Transport

Central Bus Stand Pettah 2329606

Road Passenger Transport Authority

Western Province 2421731

Colombo Fort Railway Station 2434215

Flight Information

Airport katunayaka 2252861-5

Water Supply and Drainage Division

Colombo Municipality 2695348

Disaster Information

Disaster Management Centre 2861197

Meteorological Department 2686686

Geological Survey and Mines Bureau 2728227,2725750, 2734634

Community Tsunami Early-warning Centre 0914385408-9


Probation and Child Care 2448577

Legal Aid Commisiion 2433618

Abduction Disappearences 2676513, 0602119246

National Dangerous Drugs Control Board 2868794 (3 lines)

Bribery Commission 2581632,2586257

Fraud Bureau 2583512

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Protecting right to breath…..

Vehicle gas emission test compulsory from 15th July 2008….

Vehicle gas emission test will come into effect from 15 of this month onward, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Champika Ranawaka said.
Revenue license would not be issued to vehicles which do not comply with the environmental standards on vehicle emissions, the Minister added.
Obtaining an emission test certificate will cost less than 500 rupees for small vehicle while bigger ones will be charged 500 - 1,000 rupees. Vehicle owners will be required to come to the testing centre, obtain the certificate and take it to the revenue authorities for renewal of their revenue licenses. This move is part of the efforts to improve the air quality in the island, especially in Colombo, where pollution levels are high owing to a concentration of vehicles. A center to test vehicle gas emissions is setup close to the Fort Railway Station.
The Ministry has taken steps to establish four new testing centers by the end of this year at a cost of Rs. 88 million to purchase related equipment for testing.
At the commencement of this programme the Ministry will test the vehicle of its own.
Vehicle emissions -carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons – contribute to the formation of photochemical smog, acid deposition and elevated CO levels and these pollutants cause respiratory problems, increase toxicity and mortality, and the effects are more severe in urban areas where vehicle use is higher.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Another train accident in Hukkaduwa

Train derailed on the Bridge - 3 people killed

3 people were killed and many others were injured when express train from Kandy to Matara was derailed at Hikkaduwa Bridge. Reports say several passengers fell into the river when three compartments were derailed on the bridge. Karapitiya Hospital sources say seven passengers brought to the hospital are in critical condition. The guard of the train too is among the injured say reports reaching us. The coastal train service has been interrupted due to the accident. A Committee has been appointed to investigate into the incident. This happened in between Seenigama and Hikkaduwa, just off the spot where the Train was toppled over by 2004 Tsunami.

U.S. Embassy Reopens for Normal Operations

Powder, not a danger: investigation reveals

Investigation determined that the powder did not pose a danger. 
Colombo, June 30, 2008: The U.S. Embassy in Colombo, which has been closed to the public since June 25 after a suspicious powder was found, will reopen for normal operations Tuesday, July 1, after an investigation determined that the powder did not pose a danger. Visa and other appointments postponed by the closure are being rescheduled on an individual basis.

Thanks for those who participated in the poll. Surprisingly, none of the voters thought that the powder could be an inert substance! It is good to be on alert mode always. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A suspicious powder causes U.S. Embassy to be temporarily closed…

Powdered Terrorism, are we prepared?

At approximately 11:00 am on June 25, 2008, a suspicious powder was discovered at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo. The suspicious substance has been sent to a laboratory for analysis. Until the results are received and a determination is made that the substance does not pose health or safety risks, the Embassy will be closed to the public.

The US embassy has thrice been closed in the past after suspicious powder was detected but on each occasion it turned out to be a false alarm. We wish that this will be the case for the third time, how ever; this should be an eye opener to Sri Lanka to be prepared for biological or chemical terrorist activity.

Powdered Terrorism can basically be of two forms: Biological agents such as bacteria i.e. bio terrorism, and chemical agents such as Sarin i.e. Chemo or Toxic Terrorism.

What is Bioterrorism?
A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be changed to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment. Biological agents can be spread through the air, through water, or in food. Terrorists may use biological agents because they can be extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, can not.

Bioterrorism Agent Categories
Bioterrorism agents can be separated into three categories, depending on how easily they can be spread and the severity of illness or death they cause. Category A agents are considered the highest risk and Category C agents are those that are considered emerging threats for disease.

  • Category A
    These high-priority agents include organisms or toxins that pose the highest risk to the public and national security because:
    They can be easily spread or transmitted from person to person
    They result in high death rates and have the potential for major public health impact
    They might cause public panic and social disruption
    They require special action for public health preparedness.
    Examples of Category A :
    · Anthrax
    · Botulism
    · Pneumonic Plague
    · Smallpox
    · Tularemia
    · Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (VHF).

    Category B
    These agents are the second highest priority because:
    They are moderately easy to spread
    They result in moderate illness rates and low death rates
    They require specific enhancements of laboratory capacity and enhanced disease monitoring.
    Examples of Category B: Brucellosis (Brucella species),
    · Epsilon toxin of Clostridium perfringens
    · Food safety threats (e.g., Salmonella species, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Shigella)
    · Glanders (Burkholderia mallei)
    · Melioidosis (Burkholderia pseudomallei)
    · Psittacosis (Chlamydia psittaci)
    · Q fever (Coxiella burnetii)
    · Ricin toxin from Ricinus communis (castor beans)
    · Staphylococcal enterotoxin B
    · Typhus fever (Rickettsia prowazekii)
    · Viral encephalitis (alphaviruses [e.g., Venezuelan equine encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis])
    · Water safety threats (e.g., Vibrio cholerae, Cryptosporidium parvum)

Category C

These third highest priority agents include emerging pathogens that could be engineered for mass spread in the future because:
They are easily available
They are easily produced and spread
They have potential for high morbidity and mortality rates and major health impact.

Examples of Category C:
· Emerging infectious diseases such as Nipah virus and hantavirus

Chemo Terrorism or Toxic Terrorism
There are four major categories of chemical agents that could be used as terrorism weapons to cause a health emergency. They are grouped according to their effect on the human body. These major categories of chemical agents follow:
1. Blister (e.g., mustards)
2. Blood (e.g., cyanides)
3. Choking (e.g., chlorine)
4. Nerve (e.g., sarin, VX agents)

As discussed in the last blog post on Bus Bombs, public awareness and vigilance is so important to prevent terrorism. Bioterrorism and chemo terrorism are no exception. So the general public needs to be educated on how to respond in such an incident.

The Ministry of Health and the Epidemiology Unit, in line with the Disaster management Centre will have an important role in preparing and responding to such incidents. An effective coordination mechanism needs to be established between health (curative and preventive) and non-health stakeholders ex: Disaster management Coordinators of Disaster Management Centre. Such preparedness plans need to be conveyed to the people in order to optimize their own preparedness and response.

The Terrorists have no ethics nor do they have respect for human life. Thus who can say that terrorists may not try Powdered Terrorism tomorrow? Are we prepared?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Watch out! Your vigilance can save lives!

Passenger Safety Tips against Bus Bombs
N.W.A.N.Y Wijesekara

Though extremely inhumane and barbaric, bus bomb attacks targeted at civilians have become an every day reality for the general public of Sri Lanka. A large majority of Sri Lankans depend on public transport for their day to day activities. Bus bombs bring loss of life and disability, the loss to the bus owners needn’t to be mentioned.

Bus bombs can be of many types.
1. Bombs kept in buses (especially in the hood rack).
2. Bombs that can be pasted to buses
3. Suicide bombers inside buses.
4. Suicide bombers colliding with buses.
5. Road side bombs impacting on buses.
However, the good news is that most of bus bomb attacks can be prevented if the public is vigilant and attentive.

Here are some of the safety tips for passengers to prevent bus bombs. Some of them are part of general safety rules to prevent any terrorist activity, however, we will be focusing mostly on safety of buses.

Before you get onto a bus:

Get your bags checked by the civil protection officers or the bus driver or conductor.

Make sure that no unattended objects are there, if you find any, DO NOT TOUCH THEM! Remove people from the suspected object. Call 119 or the closest police station.

Emergency Services

Fire Service (Colombo)
(+94) 011 242 2222, 110
Police Emergency Service
Police Emergency (Colombo)
(+94) 011 243 3333
Accident Service (General Hospital)
(+94) 011 269 1111
Ambulance Services

St. John
(+94) 011 243 7744

Sri Lanka Red Cross
(+94) 011 267 2727

Line up in a queue. Do not rush into the bus. This can help the terrorists easily squeeze in.

When you are inside a bus:

Check under your seat, behind, in front and on either sides of your seat. Make sure that no items are kept on the hood rack.

Be vigilant about passengers.

Be on alert for passengers who get in half way as well as those who get off half way, especially those who seem to be guided by mobile phone calls.

If you see any unattended objects or baggage, inform the conductor or driver or the civil protection officer. DO NOT TOUCH THEM! Remove people from the suspected object. Call 119 or the closes police station.

Beauty is skin deep! Some times, terrorists can be attractive and charming! Be careful!
Do not take volunteers to take baggage onto your lap unless you are personally familiar with the person.

Speak out!!! Question!!! Clarify!!! After all it’s your safety!!!

Public vigilance works! Great tragedy prevented through public vigilance.
Bus bomb in Mount Lavinia, 23 February 2008.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How food industry mislead customers

Adding salt to pepper to sell pepper….
Actigen-E to Nestomalt
N.W.A.N.Y Wijesekara

We want both salt and pepper. You are marketing pepper. Customers buy pepper because it is pepper. You try to be smart. You add salt to pepper and ask people to buy your pepper because it is salt-added. People do buy salt-added pepper (of course at a higher price) because they feel that you have presented something special. But few actually realize that they wanted to buy only pepper, they already had salt in the stores. This is not very different from how the food industry plays on their customers.

Nestomalt had been a Malted Food Drink which has been marketed for decades in Sri Lanka. It has been marketed by Nestle. Since recently Nestomalt is claimed to have a new compound named Actigen-E.

What is Actigen-E?
“Actigen-E? This should be a marvelous compound with some miraculous property.” This is probably the first impression that an average human being may feel about Actigen-E when they hear about it. This is exactly what the food industry wants the customers to feel and unfortunately that is not the reality about Actigen-E at last.

This is the industry’s claim about Actigen-

E: Nestomalt contains Actigen-E, a combination of 8 vitamins and 4 minerals with enriched levels of Vitamin B, Vitain C and Calcium to help optimize the conditions for the release of energey from Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat in your food. 2 cups of Nestomalt(56g) will fullfil 1/3 of your Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6 aand B 12. (Source: Nestomalt Package)

It is not a miraculous compound yet, a mixture of already existing vitamins and minerals that are found in a healthy diet. We did a Pubmed search for Actigen-E and did not find a single article containing it. Nor it is found in any of the standard text books on Nutrition.

Actigen-E, who owns it?
The Brand Owner for Actigen-E is SOCIETE DES PRODUITS NESTLE S.A. Nestomalt is claimed to be the only compound which has Actigen-E. Obviously only their product can contain Actigen-E as there are no competitors! The fact is that another company can make a cocktail of vitamins and minerals and call it “Fastigen-E” for example and own the brand and claim that their product only contains Fastigen-E.

Confusing the customers…
This is a well known strategy of the food industry: take advantage over the confused customers. The customer is thinking about the Vitamins and minerals and how they release energy etc. They are masked of the negative effects of this sugary high calorie food item which will not favor a healthy life style. The minor details have blurred the large picture. The mission completed! Product hits targets. Alas health!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Is the fever in Yatiyanthota also due to Chicukgunya?

Conformation of Chickungunya Epidemic in Medical Officer of Health Area, Yatiyanthota.
N.W.A.N.Y Wijesekara, K.S.P. Fernando.

Introduction: The fever epidemic reported from the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka in April to May 2008 has been due to Chickungunya virus. Many fever cases were reported from the Yatiyanthota Medical Officer of Health area with the symptoms of Chickungunya fever. We wanted to confirm if the fever patients found in Yatiyanthota were also having Chickengunya fever.

Methodology: We collected blood samples of 15 patients who were having fever and a history suggestive of Chickengunya infection. We sent the samples to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) for Chickungunya IgM. Out of the 15 samples, 10 have been tested randomly. In addition, we asked the above patients if they did or did not have the typical symptoms of Chickungunya fever i.e. arthralgia, myalgia, headache, nausea and rash.

Results: Out of the 15 blood samples tested, 9 were positive for Chickungunya IgM.

Discussion: 90% rate for Chickungunya IgM is highly suggestive that the current fever epidemic is due to Chickungunya virus. However, concurrent dengue infection cannot be excluded.

All 15 patients (100%) had arthrlgia while 14 (93%) had myalgia. Nausea 13 (86%) was slightly more common than headache 12 (80%). Rash was observed only in 8 out of 15 patients (53%).

Thus serology as well as the symptomatology of the selected patients is in favor of Chickungunya infection. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the fever patients reported from Yatiyanthota MOH area are also due to Chichungunya.


RDHS, Kegalle and his staff especially Dr. Dushyanthi Wijesinghe, Regional Epidemiologist, Kegalle.
Public Health Inspectors.
Medical Research Institute.
Dr. Nagalingam, retired RMO.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What if the Kotmale Dam breaks?

Are we prepared for another tsunami?

Evacuation of Vulnerable Communities in the Hikkaduwa for a Tsunami
N.W.A.N.Y Wijesekara


Hikkaduwa District Secretary (DS) area is situated in the Galle District of the Southern Province. It is famous all over the world for the golden beaches of Hikkaduwa and coral reefs which lie parallel to it attracting thousands of tourists per year. Beside tourism, many communities depend on fishing thus this is a heavily coast-oriented community. Hikkaduwa town, which is situated roughly in the midway along the Galle Road, is the administrative as well as business hub of the area.

It was one of the worst affected areas after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. (Map 1 and 2) The train accident claimed over 1500 lives occurred in the village of Peraliya of the Hikkaduwa DS area. While the natural topography of the area has partly been responsible for the destruction of Tsunami, human activities such as illegal coral mining and reef destruction have invariably doubled the effects of the Tsunami.

In the aftermath of Tsunami, beside the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities, a considerable effort had been taken in the Hikkaduwa DS are to prepare for future coastal disasters. If a proper warning and evacuation processes were there, many lives would have been saved. Hikkaduwa DS area demonstrated a coordinated efforts by government, non-government, private and community stakeholders in preparing for a future disaster. Thus, Hikkaduwa DS area was selected for this report.

The total population of the Hikkaduwa DS area is 98589 with around 20,000 families. It is estimated that about 80 of the population needs to be evacuated assuming that the expected tsunami will damage more or less the same as the 2004 Tsunami. This report discusses how to evacuate the vulnerable communities in the Hikkaduwa DS area upon the receipt of the following warning at 1.00 am: “A destructive tsunami will hit east, south and west coasts of Sri Lanka in 1.5 hrs time”. The report describes

The report will consist of the following sections:

1. Initiation

2. Early-warning Dissemination

3. Evacuation Process

4. Post-evacuation Measures

5. Recommendations

1. Initiation

Declaration of an Emergency

Emergency Situation and the need for an evacuation will be communicated by the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) Coordinator to Divisional Secretary (Administrative Leader) as well as to the Chairman of the Hikkaduwa Pradeshiya Sabha (Political leader). After consultation with the Chairman, the District Secretary will declare an emergency situation. This will activate the emergency operations, give the authority and power for the Police, Army and designated agencies to carry out the emergency operations as detailed in the Disaster Management Act of 2005.

The message will be communicated to the head of the Police stations of Meetiyagoda and Hikkaduwa and the Commanding Officer of the Boossa Army Camp as well as to the Manager of the Community Tsunami Early-warning Centre (Community-based 24/7 observation centre for Tsunami with a loudspeaker network in the community) observations and Chairman of the Hikkaduwa Hoteliers Association.

The respective sections of the Hikkaduwa Emergency Preparedness and Response Manual will help the emergency managers to perform their duties appropriately.

Example: Turn to Tsunami sectionà Go to Early warning and evacuation PlansàRefer Night time Plans àDo all that is printed in the color allocated to your agency.

1.2 Emergency Operations Centre

Upon the declaration of the emergency, the Meetiyagoda police station will be start operations as the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), according to the predetermined plans. This was selected as the EOC as it is situated inland, out of the evacuation zones, but not too far away from the coast with easy access to all locations, and has the upgraded facilities to conduct the emergency operations. The DS, Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, DMC coordinator, the Police and Army chiefs will arrive as soon as possible at the EOC and assume their respective seats in the EOC. They will guide and instruct from there.

2. Early-warning Dissemination

2.1 Early-warning Media

There are many media to disseminate the Early-warning. Some of them are electronic media (television and radio special news broadcasts, text trailers on television), mobile phone networks (Dialog GSM Emergency Information Network) and local warning mechanisms such as loudspeakers and sirens. However, some of them will be of little or no use considering the time of the day i.e. 1.00am where this particular warning is issued.

Electronic Media: Television will have a limited role to disseminate the initial warning at 1.00am. However, they will be useful after people have been informed of the emergency situation by other sources for updates.

Battery operated radios: Radios will have a limited role to disseminate the initial warning at 1.00am. These will be useful especially to keep the people updated about the evacuation.

Mobile phones: Mobile phones as the first medium of warning is again questionable at 1.00 am. Thye will also have an important role, in disseminating updates after the initial warning.

Local level warning dissemination: This will be the most effective way of warning dissemination in the suggested scenario. The Hikkaduwa DS Tsunami prone areas will be divided in to five zones for effective warning dissemination and evacuation. (Table 1 and Map 2). Each zone will have its distinctive warning dissemination mechanism with a responsible agency.

Table 1

Early-warning Zones in

Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretary Area






From Urawaththa upto Uduwaragoda South.

Police Mobile Emergency Vehicles (Meetiyagoda Police Station)

Sirens, speakers mounted on the police jeeps and hand held megaphones will be used to warn the people.


From Daluwathumulla upto Seenigama.

Community Tsunami Early Warning Centre Loudspeaker Network

This community-based system has 15 loudspekaers. The speakers are manually operated from the 24/7 Community Tsunami Early-warning Centre, situated in Peraliya.


From Hikkaduwa town and upto Narigama

Multi-hazard Hikkaduwa Early-Warning Tower

This is a fully automated warning tower established by the Government. It covers a radius of 2.5 km. It can disseminate warning by siren as well as loudspeaker announcement. It can be activated from the Disaster management Centre in Colombo as well as from the tower itself.


From Thiranagama upto Uduhalpitiya.

Police Mobile Emergency Vehicles (Hikkaduwa Police Station)

Sirens, speakers mounted on the police jeeps and hand held megaphones will be used to warn the people.


From Karawegoda upto Boossa.

Army Emergency Vehicles (Boossa Army Camp)

Sirens, speakers mounted on the army vehicles and hand held megaphones will be used to warn the people.

In addition, in all zones, community volunteers will disseminate the message from the coastal line inwards as they are evacuating. This will be done on feet, by bicycles, motorbikes and three wheelers. Hand held megaphones or just shouting will be used.

In all zones, the traditional warning methods such as ringing of the temple, church and Kovil bells and announcement through mosque speakers will be used to inform the people.

2.2 Communication Strategies

According to the prior agreement with the telecommunication service providers in the area, measures to prevent congestion of the communication network will be implemented. Priority will be given for the bandwidth allocated for the emergency managers. Use of technologies like cell broadcasting will be made active from the EOC as soon as the emergency situation is declared to address the whole community without congestion.

Walky-talkies and radio communication networks of the police and army will be used for emergency communications. The Armature Radio network will also be utilized.

3. Evacuation Plan

The residents of the area will know the evacuation routes and shelters in their neighbourhood. Evacuation routes for different areas have already been identified and maps are available in the Yellow pages section of the phone directory. So any outside person (ex: a tourist) can turn to the yellow pages and find out where to evacuate. There are evacuation routes sign boards directing the evacuees. Again these will be of paramount use for strangers to the area.

3.1 How far to evacuate?

The inundation area for most of the areas of the HIkkaduwa DS had less than 1km affected by 2004Tsunami, 2 km area will be evacuated for safety reasons. (This was the practice during the two Tsunami evacuations in 2005 March and 2007 August).

Evacuation will be done through pre-identified, designated and rehearsed evacuation routes. There will be 3 types of evacuation routes:

1. Evacuation routes for vehicles.

2. Evacuation routes for pedestrians.

3. Evacuation routes for emergency service vehicles.

3.2 Evacuation routes for vehicles:

Effective evacuation of vehicles is important not only to protect the vehicles and their passengers, but also to minimize congestion and safe evacuation of pedestrians. Evacuation routes for vehicles will be used to evacuate the vehicles already on the Galle Road, as well as vehicles which will carry evacuees from the evacuation zone. These roads will be made one way (towards inland), since the initiation of the warning.

Up to 15 minutes from the initiation of the warning, vehicles will be directed to evacuate voluntarily along these routes. However, after 15 minutes of the initiation of the warning, road blocks will be enforced and all vehicles will be diverted by the volunteers along the evacuation routes.

Only roads more than 12 feet in width will be used to evacuate vehicles to minimize congestion. Paedestrinas will not be generally evacuated along these roads to prevent congestion as well as accidents.

Volunteer Groups from GN divisions inland will be called upon to direct the vehicles along alternative routes inland.

3.3 Coordination between Ambalangoda and Galle Four Gravets DS areas:

There will be close coordination between the emergency managers of the Ambalangoda and Galle Four Gravets emergency managers in directing the traffic as well as putting road blocks. This will help to prevent congestion both along the Galle Road and inland, and safe evacuation of all the vehicles.

3.4 Evacuation routes for pedestrians:

Vehicles will not be allowed to enter these roads. Pedestrians will be encouraged to use the closest evacuation route to where they are. They will be encouraged not to use the evacuation routes for vehicles. The pedestrians will be guided by the volunteers towards the evacuation shelters.

3.5 Evacuation routes for emergency service vehicles:

These few will be routes reserved for the emergency services vehicles such as police vehicles and ambulances. They will carry traffic in both directions. Sirens and roatating lights will be mounted on the emergency vehicles.

3.6 Needs of Special Groups:

The needs of the special groups such as elderly, disabled and bedridden people as well as pregnant mothers and children will be looked into primarily by the community itself. Exammple: Youth can be trained to carry a bed ridden person. In addition, the emergency service vehicles such as ambulance and police/army vehicles will help to evacuate pre-identified high risk individuals/groups needing assistance.

3.7 Role of police, forces and volunteers

It is important to guide the people properly for a safe evacuation unless evacuation itself could be a disaster! This was evident by following the evacuation of the 2005 March where many casualties and a couple f deaths were reported. The members of the of police and forces as well as the community volunteers will help the people to evacuate safely. The will provide the necessary information about evacuation routes, evacuation shelters etc.

There are many volunteer groups established under different umbrellas for different purposes. EX: Civil protection Committees, Disaster Management Centre GN level Volunteer Network, Community tsunami Early-warning Centre Volunteers, Sarvodhaya Volunteers etc. It is important to mobilize these different volunteer groups in an effective manner during and evacuation process.

3.8 Evacuation Zones

Evacuation zones will be the same as the Early-warning zones. The agency responsible for the early warning will assist the people in evacuation.


Evacuation Zones and Responsible Agencies

Evacuation Zone

Responsible Agency


Meetiyagoda police


The Community Tsunami Early-warning Centre


Disaster Management Centre


Hikkaduwa hoteliers Association

Life guard Service

Hikkaduwa police


Boossa Army camp

3.9 High Risk Areas

3.9.1 Zone D

Zone D covering the tourism area running from Hikkaduwa to Narigama will be considered as a high risk area. This is due to a number of reasons. This will be the busiest area at one a clock in the morning due to the concentration of the hotels in this area.

Though the exposure is less due to the presence of Coral Reefs and vulnerability is less due to the well-engineered structures in the area, from evacuation point of view, this will be high risk area. Majority of the tourists will be staying for a short period in the area and will not be familiar about the evacuation routes and shelters. In addition, there will be communication problems. Above all, It will be a sensitive area due to the large number of foreigners who are residing there and the repercussions that this area can have on the tourism.

Thus the evacuation will be under the purview of the Hikkaduwa Hoteliers Association supported by the Hikkaduwa police station and the life guards service.

3.9.2 Hikkaduwa Fishery Harbor

Almost all the fishing boats in the Hikkaduwa Fishery harbor were subjected to massive damage during the 2004 Tsunami claiming millions of Rupees. A contingency plan has been developed for the Hikkduwa Fishing harbor. The weather radio network of the Hikkaduwa Fishing Harbor will communicate the warning and direct the boat owners to minimize the damage to boats and equipment.

Boats with trailers in the harbor: To be moved outside the evacuation zone as soon as the warning is issued.

Boats in the sea: Keep ships off shore or move offshore (at least 1200feet deep) as soon as tsunami Warning is given deep. Move the ship at least 2 miles offshore from the coast.

If boats cannot evacuate either inland or offshore, most important goods can be removed within the allocated time period.

3.9.3 Hikkaduwa Town

If the Tsunami was to hit in the day time, Hikkaduwa town will be a high risk area due to concentration of the people in the government offices, schools, banks, bus stand and business premises in the Hikkaduwa town. In addition, all the schools in the area would have been high risk areas. However, at 1.00 am, none of these places will be high risk areas.

3.10 Vertical Evacuation

This is an acceptable option especially for engineered sturdy constructions such as large hotels in the area which survived the 2004. In addition some of the post Tsunami constructions have been designed for vertical evacuation. Ex: Hikkaduwa New police Station. Some of the foreigners may prefer to evacuate vertically in the comfort of the hotel instead moving inland. Prior plans have been made by the Hikkaduwa Hoteliers Association to guide foreigners who prefer to evacuate vertically to suitable structures.

Vertical evacuation will be the last option for those who cannot evacuate the area 15 minutes ahead of the expected first waves. In addition, police and Army personnel and volunteers will guard the area after the evacuation have to use the vertical evacuation shelters.

3.11 Evacuation Shelters

The pre-determined public evacuation shelters will be identified in each zone. Upon the declaring of an evacuation, the inland volunteer teams attached to these shelters will activate the public evacuation shelters. They will exercise the predetermined arrangements for the following:

· Reception of evacuees.

· Collection of information

· Arrange Television viewing and Radio listening facilities for evacuees

· Provision of emergency needs of the evacuees such as drinking water, refreshments and needs of special groups such as babies, children and lactating mothers.

· First aid

· Communication facilities with other evacuation shelters as well as the Disaster Management Centre.

In addition, families may evacuate to their relatives or friends places after getting out of the inundation zone.

Table 3

Countdown to First Wave

Schedule for Early-warning and Evacuation

Time Elapsed from Receipt of Warning (minutes)

Time Count Down to expected First Wave (minutes)




Declare an emergency

Emergency operations centre activated



Early-warning complete in Zones B and C

Police and Army reached the coast line in Zones A,D,E

Ships off shore warned not to return.



Early-warning complete in Zones A,D,E.

Evacuation in progress in zones B and C.

Road Breaks created.

Vehicles diversion inland commenced.



Evacuation in Progress in all zones.



Ambulance/vehicle evacuation of bed ridden patients completed.



All the remaining people evacuated vertically



All volunteers are safe.



Tsunami first wave hits/does not hit



All clear warning given

Return /response begins

4 Post Evacuation Measures

The evacuated people will not be allowed to return to the inundation area until the all clear warning is issued by the Disaster Management Centre. The evacuated people will be continuously updated about the information provided by the Disaster Management Centre through the televisions and radio sets at the evacuation shelters.

Emergency needs of the evacuees will be provided such as drinking water, refreshments and needs of special groups such as babies, children and lactating mothers. First aid will be provided as required.

Post evacuation measures will lead to Emergency Response and Relief if a tsunami occurs. If no Tsunami occurs, the evacuees will be helped to return to the inundation area.

5 Recommendations

Some of the facilities and measures included in the above report are not available at present or needs to be strengthened. Thus the following recommendations are made to respond better to a similar scenario in the Hikkaduwa DS area:

1. To prepare the Hikkaduwa Emergency Preparedness and Response Manual assigning clear and specific instructions for various stakeholders in given scenarios.

2. Identify a suitable location (Ex: Meetiyagoda Police Station) and establish an Emergency Operations Centre and to upgrade its capacity to handle a future disaster.

3. Determine Early-warning and evacuation zones taking into consideration the diversity and the different levels of the early warning mechanism which are available in the area.

4. Strengthen the coordination and concerted effort of all the stake holders who have the capacity, commitment and authority to contribute towards disaster preparedness.

5. Prepare and publicize the inundation maps for the Hikkaduwa DS area and incorporate them in to decision making on public safety.

6. Obtain the participation and commitment of the telecommunications providers operating in the area to respond better in a given case scenario.

7. Prepare a detailed evacuation route and shelter map of the Hikkaduwa DS area and time schedules for different evacuation scenarios and to communicate them to the public. Ex: Yellow pages section of the telephone directories.

8. To put Tsunami evacuation sign boards along the evacuation roads.

9. Special groups needing assistance during evacuation Ex: bed ridden people, to be identified and documented.

10. Detailed Evacuation plans to be made for high risk areas such as the Zone D, Hikkaduwa Fishery Harbour and Town area.

11. Vertical evacuation shelters to be identified and a special sign to be displayed in front of such buildings.

12. Evacuation shelters to be indentified and documented.

13. Strengthen the volunteer network both coastal and inland in order to respond better during an evacuation.

14. Conduct regular drills of early-warning and evacuation.

15. After obtaining permission from PGIS, to make this report available for decision makers in the Hikkaduwa DS area responsible for early warning and evacuation.

6. Acknowledgement

  • Dr. K.P.P. Pathirana
  • Cpt. Senarathna, District Disaster Management Coordinator, Galle District.
  • United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (for the Maps)
  • The Manager, Coordinator and the officers of the Community Tsunami Early-warning Centre, Peraliya, Thelwaththa.

7. References

1. 3rd International Workshop on Coastal Disaster Prevention and Tsunami Hazad mitigation, 2007.

2. The Disaster Management Act 0f 2005.

3. UNDP, Galle District Disaster Management Plan, 2005.

4. Ministry of Disaster Management, Towards a Safer Sri Lanka, Road Map for Disaster Risk Management, 2005.

5. Hawaii Civil Defence “Never try to surf a tsunami” (CD Rom).

6. Department of Land and Natural Resources,Hawaii, Hawaii Boaters Hurrcaine/Tsunami Safety Mannual,1998.