Teams of rescuers from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), in their orange uniforms, are now a familiar sight at most of the natural calamities or man-made disasters in India. On Friday, you might have seen images of personnel conducting rescue operations after an Air India Express flight crash landed in Kerala’s Kozhikode. You also may have noticed personnel helping out in Mumbai, when the heavy rains cause waterlogging in several parts of the city. The NDRF is equipped and trained to handle a range of difficulties, from borewell accidents to chemical, biological and radioactive emergencies.
Amid a busy season for the agency, a look at how it came into being, how personnel are deputed from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), and how they are trained.
Origins lie in the National Disaster Management Act, 2005
Parliament passed the National Disaster Management Act in 2005 as a much-needed step towards determining responsibility and accountability for disaster response, something which was highlighted by major calamities like the 2001 earthquake and 2004 tsunami. The legislation was also the result of ongoing discussions about disaster management on international forums at the time. The law laid down a legal framework for disaster response at the national, state and district level.
The Act paved way for establishing Disaster Management Authorities at the national, state and district levels, setting up the National Disaster Response and Mitigation Funds, and formation of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
The National Disaster Management Authority is chaired by the Prime Minister.
The constitution of NDRF and its structure
The NDRF was raised in 2006, initially with eight battalions, and now has 12 spread across the country. Each battalion, which has a sanctioned strength of 1,150 rescuers, caters to particular states as their areas of responsibility. In case required, teams from other battalions are moved for emergency response.
Battalions are divided into rescue teams which are self-contained emergency response units with specialist search and rescue groups, engineering, technical, electrical experts along dog squads and paramedics. NDRF functions under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and is headed by a Director General.
NDRF officials believe that the strategies of preemptive availability and pre-positioning of teams anticipating emergency situations, facilitated by nationwide presence of its battalions, has made sure that damages are contained. In many cases, NDRF teams have been airlifted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) for deployment. It has been recently announced that four more NDRF battalions will be raised, and teams of women rescuers will also be inducted.
Personnel and training of the NDRF
The NDRF gets personnel and officers on deputation from the CAPF for a period of seven years. After serving their tenure, personnel go back to their force.
Currently, NDRF has battalions staffed by personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
After personnel and officers are deputed to the NDRF, they undergo a first responder course for five months. Subsequently, sections of personnel get advanced specialised training in deep diving, special search and rescue, collapsed structure search and rescue, Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear emergencies and also psycho-social intervention. Some of the personnel further undergo specialised training with national and international institutions including those on chemical and biological warfare situations.
There are some very specific and specialised training modules like the borewell rescue course — because of a number of incidents across India where children fall into uncovered borewells.
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The agency has conducted relief, rescue, evacuation operations during all the major natural or man-made disasters in the country, including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, structure collapses and even some cases of retrieval or radiological materials. NDRF teams have also responded to road and train accidents, and also boat capsizes.
The NDRF has received global appreciation for aiding Japan in 2011, when it was struck by an earthquake, tsunami and a nuclear emergecy. It was also praised for its efforts in the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
While the NDRF has been able to keep upgrading its technology, officials say more needs to be done. For example, the agency acquired Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the past, but officials say an all weather UAV which can even function in extreme conditions is the need of the hour. Officials said they also require upgraded versions of life detection systems, which will further enhance capabilities during structure collapse responses.
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While the NDRF will remain the main national agency, there is urgent need to build efficient State Disaster Response Forces (SDRFs) across states.
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