Oh Serbia, But Not For Her Politicians

Part 1 The Beginning

Serbian Floods 1

It seems that not only the world, but Serbia’s own government has forgotten about the disaster that befell the country less than a month ago. The rain that fell on the Balkans in early May led to the largest natural disaster in Europe in over a century. Floods ravished towns and villages from Croatia to Serbia. While Croatia was moderately impacted do to its upriver locale, Bosnia and Serbia were not so fortunate. The land and people that still have scars healing from the wars that broke up Yugoslavia were freshly ripped apart with rushing rapids spilling over river banks and rain soaked hills crashing down under the weight sending lives and hopes flowing out of sight with the deluge.

From various sources and reports it appears that voter apathy during the last election resulted in an incompetent and impotent government, at least so far as natural disasters are concerned, which is the one time, above all others, that citizens need their leaders to step up and do right by them. Yet, there was an apparent stunned ‘deer in the headlights’ freeze that occurred in Belgrade, thus snowballing the impact of what was an unpreventable act of nature. I am sure I can speak for most intelligent persons when I say, the flood was not the fault of the government; that being said, there is much in their action and more weighted their inaction that is their responsibility.

Serbian Floods 2
Obrez, Serbia, on Saturday, May 17

It always amazes me that when weak governments are faced with such situations as acts of nature, especially ones that can be observed in their formation and development, government inaction is always based on the fear that knowledgeable persons panic. The exact opposite is the case! Knowledge prevents panic. An informed public is a calm and responsible public, of course that is only true when the information given is honest and truthful and given in a timely manner. As we know, this is not how Vucic or the rest of the government acted. As a matter of fact it appears that they almost did the exact opposite. Instead of looking at elevation maps and previous flood zones as well as consulting with meteorology and geology experts and issuing timely warnings and watches, in which, the police and military, as well as, civil leaders of each locale could prepare and assist in maintaining the safety of their residents and coordinate with their regional and national counterparts to ensure not only that all affected persons could evacuate in a timely manner, that they also would be removed to areas that were not under threat, specifically, not to remove persons to other locations down river or in the possible flood zones of other rivers, nor into the danger zone of landslides due to excessive rain undermining the structural integrity of hills and mountains. It would appear that the existing foundation of an Emergency Response Team or plan or even thought was not in existence in Serbia. While I understand that the current government is ‘somewhat’ new, there should have been in place for some time now the existence of an Emergency Management and Response team that was not political in nature; thus that it ranks were filled with experts in the various fields needed to ensure proper reaction to various Emergency situations with a focus on natural disasters. I have since seen a news article that remarked about Serbia working on plans to be ready for an earthquake; I sincerely hope it is better in application than their flood response was! But that merely reiterates the initial assessment that there was not already in place any comprehensive natural disaster plan.

How does one know you might ask; simple, the skeleton of all response plans to natural disasters is the same. You have to know your high risk areas and your safe areas and what your risks are. You have to know your infrastructure, its sources, its limits, its centers, its age, its repair status, its redundancy capacities and all available backups to all parts of the infrastructure. You have to know your transportation capacity and capabilities for each type of event. You have to know your medical capacities, your hospitals and their level of care, their capacities and triage/mass incident abilities, as well as any special care or focused treatments that could be highly valuable during specific events. You have to know your lodging/feeding capacities for evacuees, how many locations can be converted and the capacity of each as well as the level of lodging/feeding that it can facilitate along with the coordination of volunteers that can assist in the setup, operating and clean up of said sites. You have to know your manpower resources, their locations, their abilities, their training levels and the location and numbers of specially trained and or focused teams, to ensure maximum use for minimal causality numbers. You have to know your equipment resources and capabilities, you have to also have prep locations to move equipment to prior to known disasters to facilitate rapid response in the face of the disaster; focusing on using the proper equipment for the various situations to ensure maximum response with minimal damage to property or equipment or person. You have to know your communication resources and have the systems in place to ensure flow of information even if other parts of your infrastructure collapses and insure that all members of Emergency Response Teams are trained in the use of all possible, not just probable equipment systems. You have to know your monetary resources and set up priority with regard to acquiring and upgrading equipment while understanding the limits of your personnel and the ability of your support systems to run such acquisitions. You have to require and provide training for essential personnel, while also encouraging and facilitating the training of support staff and volunteers that will be as important in implementation as main teams are in time of need. You have to set up and run various training scenarios, these should be on local, regional, national levels with focus being on different aspects of need so as to constantly assess and redefine your progress and development to ensure maximum results. You have to keep up to date with other partners within the region and world, facilitate the inclusion of your teams in training under partners and encourage outside teams to train within Serbia; this provides not only exposure to different and broader experience, knowledge and ideas, it also establishes report that can be vital when disaster occurs.

The next concern after resolving all the above issues are that you have to ALWAYS have a Plan B that can be applied instantly! For example if your telecommunications goes down how will you coordinate with teams in the field and command posts as well as keeping those affected informed to lessen the number of causalities. If your primary roads or railways are damaged or destroyed how will you move persons out of danger zones. If the initial disaster instigates a secondary disaster how will you focus your resources and divide your manpower to handle both events. All of this is primary knowledge for anyone that has any training, education and or experience with natural disasters, yet it appears to have been almost wholly non-existence at the Interior Ministry.

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