Mock drills prepare Kosovo* for earthquakes

mock drills in Kosovo
Firemen go through a mock earthquake drill. Photo: UNDP Kosovo.

As the earthquake alarm sounded, students at the Selami Hallaqi primary school in Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kosovo, scrambled to take cover, hiding under tables and in doorways. Once their teachers declared the environment safe enough to walk through, they led the students outside to wait for emergency services.

This was a drill, but that made it no less serious. Gjilan/Gnjilane, a densely populated town of 133,724, is highly prone to earthquakes, like much of Kosovo. In fact, the drill was held in 2013, the 50th Anniversary of the devastating Skopje earthquake that killed over 1,700 and caused enormous infrastructural damage to Kosovo and the rest of the region.

Highlights

  • The project’s objective is to improve disaster and emergency response in Kosovo and build capacity of key staff.
  • 400 representatives of different emergency management structures were trained to conduct local level risk assessments.
  • Mobile apps, websites and social media engage citizens to participate in reducing risks, managing emergencies and help develop community resilience.
  • Earthquake drills are now mandatory once every two years in primary and secondary schools.

“Whether it’s in a village during a storm, or in a building during an earthquake, these kinds of mock drills have been proven to expedite the time it takes for people to react and respond,” says Mr. Shigehiro Shibata, UNDP’s Programme Officer for Disaster Risk Reduction in Kosovo. “People want this training; strengthening disaster preparedness saves lives and protects communities.”

Back in the classroom, which was rearranged to simulate damages caused by an earthquake, emergency personnel attended to the needs of the “injured” (students who simulated injuries that would likely be sustained in the event of an earthquake). Classes were brought back inside to observe the administration of first aid, and students were instructed about the challenges to expect during a disaster, such as rubble and hazardous zones.  

Since 2013, UNDP has worked with the Municipality of Gjilan/Gnjilane and other international partners to ensure that students and the wider community are better prepared for earthquakes and disasters. Following the 2013 drill, a national strategy for school safety was put in place, which obliges every primary and secondary school to conduct an earthquake drill once every two years.

The 2013 earthquake drill in this town was just the beginning of a new era of disaster resilience in Kosovan schools. Preparatory workshops have been held for teachers, school staff, and emergency management authorities; and emergency preparedness assets—such as evacuation plans and informational posters on how students should behave in the event of earthquakes and fires—have been distributed.  

“Everyone takes this seriously”, says Mr. Ahmet Aliu, the director of the Selami Hallaqi primary school. “It is an extremely good exercise because students are being informed and through them their families know how to act in case of an earthquake”.

This is just one part of Kosovo’s wider effort to strengthen its disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategy and capacity. Officials have been working to improve legal and regulatory frameworks that relate to DRR (including a National Platform for DRR). Disaster risk management strategies have been implemented Kosovo-wide, and innovative platforms for improving DRR have been introduced (including mobile phone, social media and Web 2.0 solutions), allowing public institutions and citizens to engage more effectively in reducing disaster risks.

Thus far, 400 local representatives of different emergency management structures have been trained to conduct local level risk assessments.

“There has been a lot of progress, that’s for sure,” says Ms. Zana Hoxha-Edip, Project Manager for UNDP’s Kosovo Disaster Risk Reduction Initiative. “In just a few years Kosovo has made significant strides in how to plan and prepare for disasters. The next step will be strengthening and enhancing that capacity further, and including risk reduction in development plans.”

*All references to Kosovo are in line with UN Security Council 1244 (1999)

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