Home Infrastructure Architecture articles Role of Information and Communication Technology in Natural Disaster Management in India

Role of Information and Communication Technology in Natural Disaster Management in India


Mohammad Arif KamalDisaster is an event which threatens society with unwanted consequences. It is associated with disruption of normal pattern of life, negative effects on human life and social structure. It victimizes large number of people and cause social and economical losses. The International task group appointed by Department of Humanitarian Affairs of United Nations defines disaster as ‘a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses, which exceed the ability of affected society to cope using only its own resources’. Disasters are characterized by the scope of an emergency. An emergency becomes a disaster when it exceeds the capability of the local resources to manage it. Disasters often result in great damage, loss, or destruction. Natural disasters include those unplanned events that occur as a result of natural processes such as earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunami, freezes, blizzards, extreme heat or cold, drought, or insect infestation. Since times immemorial disasters have been occurring in various forms and places and posing threat to people, structure or economic assets. They have been mankind’s constant though inconvenient companions and continue to occur and are increase in their magnitude, complexity, frequency and economic impact. The impact of natural disasters in terms of human and economic losses has risen in recent years, and society in general has become more vulnerable to natural disasters. In many parts of the world, disasters caused by natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, land slides, drought, wildfires, tropical cyclones and associated storm surges, tsunami and volcanic eruptions have taken a heavy toll in terms of the loss of human lives and the destruction of economic and social infrastructure, not to mention the negative impact on already fragile ecosystems.  Man-made disasters include chemical disasters, biological disasters and nuclear disasters. In simple terms we can define disaster as a hazard causing heavy loss to life, property and livelihood.

Usually most affected by natural and other disasters are the poor and socially disadvantaged groups in developing countries as they are least equipped to cope with the events.  It is the communities and human settlements which need to be prepared as it is the communities who need to react first and it is the habitats, which need to be strengthened to withstand the forces of hazards. Looking at disaster events of the last few years it is evident that by no means natural or man-made disasters can be fully prevented. Only the loss caused by these events can be prevented. In this paper the role of Information and Communication Technology (such as Internet, GIS and Remote Sensing, warning and forecasting system etc.) in minimizing the impact of disaster assisting in preparedness and management of natural disasters in India has been discussed.

Natural Disasters in India

Figure 1: Major natural disasters in India from 1980 to 2009India with its subcontinent size and wide range of climatic and topographic conditions is a country prone to various types of natural and manmade disasters in varying degrees. It has witnessed devastating natural disasters in recent past like earthquakes, floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides, etc. In the decade 1990-2000, an average of 4344 people lost their lives and about 30 million people were affected by disasters every year. Among all the natural disasters that country faces, river floods are the most frequent and often devastating. The shortfall in the rainfall cause droughts or drought like situation in various parts of the country. India has faced some severe earthquakes causing widespread damage to the life and property. The country has a coastline of about 8000 km, which is prone to very severe cyclonic formations in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Usually more cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal then in the Arabian Sea. Another major problem faced by the country is in the form of landslides and avalanches [1]. During the last eighty years, India has lost 70,000 lives due to earthquakes or an average of about 900 lives per year. The corresponding average of the whole world is about 18,000 lives per year. Around 30,000 lives have perished in matter of seconds in an earthquake, as in Gujarat earthquake on 26th January 2001. Figure 1 shows the major disasters in India from 1980 to 2009.

The vulnerability of different areas of country to various natural disasters is given below:

1.    About 50-60% of total area of the country is prone to seismic activities of varying  intensities.
2.    16% of total area is drought prone and approximately 50 million people are annually affected by drought.
3.    India has a long coastline of 8041km., which is exposed to the tropical cyclones arising from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
4.    Also in India river floods are the most frequent and often most devastating.

About Disaster Management

Role of Information 2The disaster management is the range of activities to maintain control over disaster and provide a framework to help, avoid or recover from the impact of the disaster. Disaster management includes Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Rehabilitation. Disaster management involves all levels of government. All government, nongovernmental and community-based organizations play a vital role in the process. Modern disaster management goes beyond post-disaster assistance. It now includes predisaster planning and preparedness activities, organizational planning, training, information management and public relations

The disaster management in any region is based on cyclic steps [2]. The disaster management cycle involves four key phases:

i.    Mitigation – includes any activities that prevent a disaster, reduce the chance of a disaster happening, or reduce the damaging effects of unavoidable disasters.
ii.    Preparedness – includes plans or preparations made to save lives or property, and to help the response and rescue service operations.
iii.    Response – includes actions taken to save lives and prevent property damage, and to preserve the environment during emergencies or disasters. The response phase is the implementation of action plans.
iv.    Recovery – includes actions that assist a community to return to a sense of normalcy after a disaster. These four phases usually overlap.

Information and Communication Technology is being used in all the phases, but the usage is more apparent in some phases than in the others.

Communication And Media In Disaster Mitigation³

The disasters in India are mainly managed by the government. The government at central level, state level, district level has various roles to play during the disaster situation. Now the voluntary sectors like non-government organizations are also becoming increasingly important because of the various functions they can perform [3]. Effective and reliable communication is vital for disaster reduction. Communication technologies, skills and media are essential for the various important roles they perform in disaster management. Those roles are:

i.    To Link scientists, disaster mitigation officials, and the public
ii.    To educate the public about disaster preparedness
iii.    To check approaching hazards
iv.    To alert authorities
v.    To warn the people most likely to be affected
vi.    To assess damage
vii.    To collect information, supplies and other resources
viii.    To coordinate resource and relief activities
ix.    To account for missing people
x.    To motivate public, political and institutional responses

Application of Information and Communication Technology in Natural Disaster Management

Information Technology is changing every aspect of human life. It enhances the quality and effectiveness of trade, manufacturing, services, other aspects of human life such as education, research, culture, entertainment, communication, national security, etc. Disaster management needs drastic improvements in its sources to decrease damage and save the life of people. To achieve this main object, disaster management has to face challenges for data collection, data management, translation integration and communication. IT pays crucial role in this respect. The advanced techniques of information technology such as remote sensing, satellite communication, GIS, etc. can help in planning and implementation of disaster management.

Role of Information 3With an increase in the perception towards spreading a culture of prevention in the disaster management scenario, considerable emphasis is now being placed on research and development activities in the area of information technology for disaster preparedness and prevention. This has brought in a significant positive change even though the multitude and frequency of disasters in the country has increased [4]. In most critical phases of some major disasters like earthquakes in Kobe, Japan; Northridge, California and turkey role of electronic communication has provided the most effective, and in some instances perhaps the only means of communication with the outside world. The changing trends have opened up a large number of scientific and technological resources and skills to reduce disaster risk. The Information and Communication Technology tools are discussed below:

1. Internet

In the present era of electronic communication, the Internet provides a useful platform for disaster mitigation communications. The role of Internet is becoming increasingly important because of the following reasons:

a.    It facilitates, the opportunities to enhance the capabilities of addressing hazard awareness and risk management practices before, during, and following emergency events.
b.    Internet sites providing an increasing array of information related to various hazards. . Internet Sites also provide more information about the growing number of organizations and professional disciplines addressing them.
c.    It provides a new and potentially revolutionary option for the rapid, automatic, and global dissemination of disaster information. A number of individuals and groups, including several national meteorological services, are experimenting with the Internet for real-time dissemination of weather observation, forecasts, satellite and other data.
d.    Network equally provides the means of access to more reference and resource material to more people, in more ways.
e.    The compilation, retrieval and redistribution of information by centers of interest, of the use by alternative forms of media can expand the utility of the information at the local, national, regional and international levels of interest.

GIS and Remote Sensing

Geographic information technology tools like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote sensing (RS) support all aspects of disaster management. GIS and RS are essential as effective preparedness, communication and training tool for disaster management. Disaster planning can be very powerful when modeling is incorporated into GIS. Most potential disasters can be modeled. Modeling allows disaster managers to view the scope of a disaster, where the damage may be the greatest, what lives and property at highest risk, and what response resources are required and where GIS can play a very important role in this exercise. The specific GIS applications in the field of Risk the assessment are:

–    Hazard Mapping
–    Threat Maps
–    Disaster Management
–    Records Management

Nevertheless satellites have several limitations in their application for response operations. The most obvious is that a number of satellites cannot see through clouds. Many large scale disasters such as cyclones and floods are generally associated with periods of heavy cloud cover, and consequently the ability to image the ground is greatly restricted. In addition a disaster event must coincide with the overpass of the satellite if it is to be imaged [5].
Some application of GIS and Remote Sensing in various disasters are as follows:-


GIS and Remote Sensing can be used in drought relief management such as early warnings of drought conditions will help to plan out the strategies to organise relief work. Satellite data may be used for to target potential ground water sites for taking up well-digging programmes.


GIS and Remote Sensing can be used for preparing seismic hazards maps in order to assess the exact nature of risks.


Satellite data can be effectively used for mapping and monitoring the flood inundated areas, flood damage assessment, flood hazard zoning and post-flood survey of rivers configuration and protection works.


A cyclone is a storm accompanied by high speed whistling and howling winds. It brings torrential rains. A cyclone causes heavy floods. It uproots electricity supply and telecommunication lines. Road and rail movements come to halt. Ships overturn Winds bends and plucks out trees and plants.‰ Houses collapse. There can be outbreak of diseases like Cholera, Jaundice or Viral fever. Advanced techniques like, GIS, remote sensing tools can be used to identify the vulnerable population with the single hazard component. These tools can be used to calculate state level population affected by different type of storms. But, calculating vulnerability by GIS with multiple hazards and coping capacity is not easy job for decision makers.


Landslide zonation map comprise a map demarcating the stretches or area of varying degree of anticipated slope stability or instability. The map has an inbuilt element of forecasting and is hence of probabilistic nature. Depending upon the methodology adopted and the comprehensiveness of the input data used, a landslide hazard zonation map able to provide help concerning some or all of the following:-

–    Location
–    Extent of the slope area likely to be affected and
–    Rate of mass movement of the slope mass

Search and Rescue

GIS cab be used in carrying out search and rescue operations in a more effective manner by identifying areas that are disasters prone and zoning them accordingly to risk magnitudes.

Warning and Forecasting System

An advance system of forecasting, monitoring and issuing early warnings plays the most significant part in determining whether a natural hazard will assume disastrous proportions or not [6]. The country has the following forecasting systems:

Indian Meteorological Department (IMD)

Indian Meteorological Department provides cyclone warnings from the Area Cyclone Warning Centres (ACWCs) It has developed the necessary infrastructure to originate and disseminate the cyclone warnings at appropriate levels. It has made operational a satellite based communication system called Cyclone Warning Dissemination System for direct dissemination of cyclone warnings to the cyclone prone coastal areas. IMD runs operationally a Limitedarea Analysis and Forecast System (LAFS), based on an Optimal Interpretation (OI) analysis and a limited area Primitive Equation (PE) model, to provide numerical guidance.

National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA)

Long-term drought proofing programmes on the natural resources of the district have been greatly helped by the use of satellite data obtained by NRSA. Satellite data can be used very effectively for mapping and monitoring the flood-inundated areas, flood damage assessment, flood hazard zoning and past flood survey of river configuration and protection works.

Seismological Observations

Seismological observations in the country are made through national network of 36 seismic stations operated by the IMD, which is the nodal agency. These stations have collected data over long periods of time.

Warning System for Drought

The National Agricultural Drought Assessment and Management System (NADAMS) has been developed by the Department of Space for the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, and is primarily based on monitoring of vegetation status through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Advanced Very High Resolution (AVHR) data. The drought assessment is based on a comparative evaluation of satellite observed green vegetation cover (both area and greenness) of a district in any specific time period, with that of any similar period in previous years.

Flood Forecasting

The Central Water Commission (CWC), Ministry of Water Resources, issues floods forecasts and warnings. These are used for alerting the public and for taking appropriate measures by concerned administrative and state engineering agencies in the flood hazard mitigation. Information is gathered from the CWC’s vast network of Forecasting Stations on various rivers in the country.

Cyclone Tracking

Information on cyclone warnings is furnished on a real-time basis to the control room set up in the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. High power Cyclone Detection Radars (CDRs) that are installed along the coastal belt of India have proved to be a very useful tool to the cyclone warning work. These radars can locate and track approaching Tropical Cyclones within a range of 400 km. Satellite imagery received from weather satellite is extensively used in detecting the development and movement of Tropical Cyclones over oceanic regions, particularly when they are beyond the range of the coastal radars. The existing mode of dissemination of cyclone warnings to various government officials is through high priority telegrams, telephones, telex and fax.

Disaster alert through cell phones

The Ministry of Science and Technology of India has developed the world’s first of its kind multilingual disaster alert system – National Disaster Information System (NDIS) – that will transmit Tsunami and cyclone warning through mobile phones in the form of SMS, within 30 seconds of a weather satellite or an earthquake observatory giving alert signals.   The SMS alerts will be made in over 100 languages including 14 regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi and Oriya. The SMS alerts will be followed by voice alerts on the mobile phones as well as fixed phones. The NDIS server first receives the warning from the meteorological department alert system before converting it into an SMS in two seconds. In the next 19 seconds, the software translates the alert into multiple languages. The SMS reaches the user in 30 seconds.

Satellite Radio Application

Satellite radio can play a key role during both the disaster warning and disaster recovery phases. Its key advantage is the ability to work even outside of areas not covered by normal radio channels. Satellite radio can also be of help when the transmission towers of the normal radio channels are damaged in a disaster [7].


Disaster management activities depend on large volumes of accurate, relevant, on-time geoinformation that various organizations systematically create and maintain. The advancement in Information and Communication Technology in the form of Internet, GIS, Remote Sensing, Satellite communication, etc. can help a great deal in planning and implementation of hazards reduction schemes. For maximum benefit, new technologies for public communication should be made use and natural disaster mitigation messages should be conveyed through these measures. GIS can improve the quality and power of analysis of natural hazards assessments, guide development activities and assist planners in the selection of mitigation measures and in the implementation of emergency preparedness and response action. Remote Sensing, on the other hand, as a tool can very effectively contribute towards identification of hazardous areas, monitor the planet for its changes on a real time basis and give early warning to many impending disasters. Communication satellites have become vital for providing emergency communication and timely relief measures. Integration of space technology inputs into natural disaster monitoring and mitigation mechanisms is critical for hazard reduction. Awareness and training in Information technology in a much greater measure is required to develop human resources. There should be a greater emphasis on development of new technologies in disaster mitigation. The disaster preparedness and awareness is the only effective way of mitigating the impact of future disasters.


1.    Government of India, ‘ Disaster management in India’, A status report, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, 2004
2.    United Nations Development Program, ‘ICT in Disaster Management’, http://www.apdip.net/apdipenote/16.pdf, accessed on September 20, 2014.
3.    Joshi I., ‘Planning for earthquake Preparedness in Tehri Garwal District’ (unpub. MURP thesis), Dept of Architecture and Planning, I.I.T Roorkee, 2002.
4.    Gupta, A., 2000, ‘Information Technology and Natural Disaster Management in India’, http://www.gisdevelopment.net/aars/acrs/2000/ts8/hami0001.html, accessed September 10, 2010.
5.    Hodges A., ‘ Information Technology and Disaster Management: Issues for the next decade’, http://desastres.usac.edu.gt/documentos/pdf/eng/doc12092/doc12092-contenido.pdf, accessed September 17, 2010.
6.    Mandal, G. S., Forecasting and Warning Systems for Cyclones in India, Shelter, 1999, pp. 24-26.
7.    United Nations Development Program, ‘ICT in Disaster Management’, http://www.apdip.net/apdipenote/16.pdf, accessed on September 20, 2014.



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