Bhutan is situated in the seismically active Himalayan mountain belt. One of the most devastating historical earthquakes in Bhutan was the great Assam Earthquake registering magnitude 8.7 on the Richter scale that occurred at 5:06pm on June 12 1987. The epicenter was located 80 km south of Bhutan in Assam. The earthquake devastated the Dzongs in Punakha and Linzhi and severely damaged other Dzongs. Bhutan must come to terms with the fact that given its location in an active earthquake zone, earthquakes are unavoidable.
Realizing this fact, the Government of Bhutan has undertaken several initiatives. One of them was to enhance emergency response capability of schools. In this context the government had already circulated guidelines to prepare school disaster response plans and requested that mock drills be conducted in schools.
Schools are densely populated places, with many small children, who are one of the most vulnerable groups in the society. It has been proven time and again that during disasters schools and school children’s are the most affected. To reduce the vulnerability particularly for schools, it is important to have a School Disaster Management Plan. Schools if better prepared for disasters can also play a lead role in the community responding to disasters. Therefore, as community nodes, and as integral part of a society, a school has its responsibilities towards immediate locality, just as the neighboring community is linked to school.The Department of Disaster Management has started the School Safety Program.
The Department of Disaster Management has always been emphasizing that all schools in Bhutan should have their school disaster management plans which should be updated and practiced regularly. The Department has formulated Guidelines for Preparing School Disaster Management Plans and till date has received more than 300 School Disaster Management Plans. All school authorities should work towards being prepared to face any kind of disasters and also build capacities of their different teams in responding to disasters.
Structural mitigation is also one of the important components in providing safe environment for the students and the teachers. Authorities should be aware that safety measures are inexpensive when implemented consciously and diligently during design and construction of each new school. As it is often said that earthquakes do not kill but unsafe building do, therefore the quality of the school buildings should not be compromised at the cost of lives of students and teachers. Concerned authorities should supervise the construction of school buildings and work towards providing safe schools for students and teachers.
It is also important to engage the school communities in disaster prevention activities like practicing regular drill also to create awareness on different hazards and the dos and donts if there is a disaster.
Therefore the Department of Disaster Management will continue to work towards making schools a safer place for students and teachers and we hope that the Ministry of education will continue to support the DDM in taking the initiative of providing safe environment for teachers and students ahead.