On July 12, a flash flood occurred inside Deer Cave at the world famous Mulu National Park, trapping nine tourists and a tour guide.
Eight managed to scramble to higher ground except for one tourist, whose body was found the next morning, and the guide yesterday (July 15).
Miri Fire and Rescue Department chief Supt Law Poh Kiong said his department was informed last Friday evening but only deployed a helicopter to the scene, 200km away from the city centre, the following morning.
Search and rescue (SAR) had to be called off last Saturday afternoon due to heavy rain and resumed the next day, with SAR teams from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department’s Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Team, police, national park guides and locals.
While combing the deepest parts of the enormous cave, including the dark and treacherous underground river, they discovered a 75-metre passageway and a deep, dark pool, which had never been explored before.
Immediately after the tragedy became known, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said a fast response team was needed at the northern part of Miri, especially at the Mulu National Park.
On June 30, 46 participants from the Malaysia Civil Defence Force Sarawak (APM) completed the Civil Defence Emergency Response Team (CDERT) training. Works Ministry press secretary Abang Zulkifli Abang Engkeh said the CDERT course was a platform for training the local community to be prepared, alert and ready for any form of disasters.
The CDERT training was started on March 16, 2006 to reach out to local communities on safety issues and natural disasters and will be organised throughout Sarawak, especially the rural areas.
Perhaps elite squads could be formed by training the cream of CDERT participants to complement personnel from Bomba, police and armed forces in search and rescue missions.
Although it is necessary to have fast response teams on standby or swiftly mobilised, it is more important to set up contingency plans to deal with incidents, accidents or disasters.
Activating a contingency plan within seconds or minutes could mean the difference between a minor occurrence or a major catastrophe.
Containing a disaster would minimise injuries or death, damage to properties and reputation, financial losses and lawsuits, and most of all, untold sufferings of the victims and their loved ones.
Grandiose vision and mission statements are hollow without a contingency plan and achieving own key performance indicators are more like syiok sendiri (self-absorbed without regard for others) exercise.
Every organisation has a standard operating procedure (SOP) for routine matters. A contingency plan is a SOP to handle incidents, accidents and disasters. Therefore, every staff must be briefed or trained to play their roles effectively in emergencies.
Only the top management should have access to full contingency plans, which are likely to contain highly confidential and sensitive information, with different versions disseminated down the line.
For example, frontliners, including those on the field such as tourist guides and tour leaders, are given standard instructions on handling contingencies and customers on tour given information that is applicable for the trip.
For the staff, it can include what action to take immediately should a client on tour suddenly fall very ill or injured, as every second counts and minutes can determine whether a patient survives or lives. A tourist in a foreign country is likely to panic upon discovering his passport is lost or stolen.
A contingency plan in PDF format could be sent in advance to the staff or client’s phone and easily retrieved should incidents, accidents and disasters occur, detailing steps to take and who to contact with accessible phone numbers round the clock.
Such contingency plans cannot be bought off the shelf as it can only be developed in-house based on an organisation’s policies, operations, human resources, business suppliers and nearest local public facilities.
In any case, prevention is always better than cure and it would be wise to learn from disasters that occurred in other parts of the region. The ferry disaster that happened in Phuket last July can serve as a timely reminder.
To start the ball rolling, contingency plan workshops should be organised to raise awareness for all.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.