The UNDP’s Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Unit, under the Presidency’s Council of Ministers, has been working with several agencies to establish and implement a National Response Plan in Lebanon to enhance the nation’s ability to withstand disasters and to recover from them. As a part of this plan, the DRM Unit implemented a disaster simulation to put the National Response Plan into action, involving all concerned agencies. The DRM Unit’s tsunami simulation took place on May 8th, simulating the event of an earthquake with an attached tsunami hitting the coast of Jbeil.
Lebanon is prone to many natural disasters, including landslides, storms, and earthquakes. Lebanon’s position makes it a very vulnerable nation, since it sits on two fault lines and lies on the East border of the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, an earthquake with an attached tsunami hit Lebanon in 1956, hence the importance of increasing the nation’s capacity to respond effectively towards this particular case.
The opening remarks and speeches at the event made the objective of the simulation very clear; General Khalil Abu Suleiman emphasized the importance of collective work between different departments in order to minimize damage and to save as many civilians as possible, and elaborated on the process of evacuating people, moving the injured people to hospitals, and clearing the streets for field operations.
Additionally, General Jean Farah discussed the National Response Plan, its importance in Lebanon, and emphasized the importance of controlling chaos and fear in such disasters. Ziad Hawat, the president of the municipality of Jbeil, explained that Jbeil has always been dedicated to disaster risk management, and is one of 33 cities chosen in the “Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities” challenge.
This simulation is the first of many to come, according to General Mohammad Kheir. While Jbeil was the target of this simulation, it will also move on to Sour, Tripoli, Saida, Baalbek, and many other cities around Lebanon.
Ross Mountain, the United Nations Humanitarian and UN Resident and UNDP Resident Representative, expressed the importance of these events, as well as the role of the UNDP in enhancing the resilience of communities and of the nation itself. Through its continued support of the Lebanese government’s efforts to manage disaster risks, the UNDP has aided in ensuring local and national development and has helped in preparing to deal with and manage disastrous events.
Additionally, the Swiss government took special steps in reducing the costs of recovering from disasters, contributing approximately $5,000,000 to disaster reductions in projects related to Lebanon.
According to Ruth Flint, the Swiss Ambassadress, the Swiss agency of Development and Corporation (SDC) has been working on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) for many years and worked hand in hand with the Ministry of Education in order to develop a national school safety plan through UNICEF. They are further working on rehabilitating two public schools in the North that will set the standard for earthquake resilience.
In line with the concept of coordination and controlling damage, as outlined in the National Response Plan, the simulation encompassed several response actions, including the establishment of a regional operations room within the caza of Jbeil to oversee all operations on the field –as per the caza’s response plan, search and rescue procedures, securing the perimeter, command and control, evacuation, and systematic warning systems.
An organized evacuation drill took place at Saint Coeur School with the combined efforts of the Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense, ensuring the safety of students and their preparedness in case of an actual emergency.
All groups involved in disaster recovery moved to the port of Jbeil, conducting search and rescue fieldwork exercises. The Lebanese Red Cross set up a hospital tent for all injured individuals, and worked in tandem with Civil Defense to minimize casualties; individuals feigning injuries were taken care of as per standard protocol. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army’s Coast Guard went to the aid of individuals at sea, successfully rescuing several people and transporting them to land.
The Army coordinated general command and control, ensuring continued cooperation between all groups and carefully executing management of tasks to each involved group. They maintained a secure perimeter, ensuring that the simulation went on unhindered, and fieldwork was not interrupted.
Within the operations room, composed of all the involved agencies within the caza of Jbeil, representatives implemented standard operating procedures and coordinated efforts with the objective of saving lives, assets, and critical infrastructure.
This event ultimately proved that a very good sense of coordination exists among the involved agencies, allowed people to prepare themselves psychologically for the duress of an actual disaster, and increased each group’s capability to react in the event of such a disaster with respect to the National Response Plan.
This exercise functioned within the scope of the Lebanese National Response Plan for dealing with disasters, as well as the Regional Response Plan for the municipality of Jbeil. In order to implement this plan, each involved group worked in accordance with the National Response Plan, and then each of these facets of the plan were synthesized in order to create a strong sense of coordination and cooperation in the actual event of a tsunami – a feat that took three months of planning and preparation.
This event is simply one facet of a large plan to increase disaster reduction capabilities in Lebanon. The UNDP’s DRM Unit at the presidency of the Council of Ministers, with the support of donor agencies, is currently developing a national operations room and mobile operations room with the objective of improving the Lebanese Government’s capacity for emergency preparedness and response to man-made and natural disasters and crisis. This will benefit the Lebanese population that may be directly or indirectly affected by any type of disaster, and will safeguard hard-won development gains.
Lebanon is on track in building its resilience to disasters, and this simulation should be taken as a success story and a model for future exercises, demonstrating adherence to the National Response Plan and its successful application. Through the scope of this project, many future actions are projected to continue developing national capacity to respond to disaster, and further cooperation between all involved agencies, in line with the National Response Plan.