Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Using local knowledge in case of emergencies

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

No sooner had the torrential rains of last week stopped than we heard the news that Tropical Storm Talim was approaching Taiwan.

On Monday, Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) broached the idea of drawing local disaster maps that would show residents how best to evacuate affected areas.

The heads of the Jiasian (甲仙) and Anli (安里) neighborhoods in Greater Kaohsiung agreed that this would be a great idea.

However, legislators have pointed out that local residents have concerns about whether these disaster maps will be clear enough to read, easily accessible and whether they will all be drawn using a similar format.

Despite these reservations, the creation of disaster maps drawn by experts is a good idea. They will be a reassuring presence for the people living in potentially affected areas.

However, to make these maps more effective, authorities should devise a way to have local residents participate in the map-creation process.

For any given area there will be a number of residents who will have lived in that location for many years, perhaps several decades. It is these people who will know about the risks, obstacles and pitfalls that in that area, and which roads are safest to use in the event of an emergency.

A disaster map drawn solely by experts will be more of an archetypal professional map, the result of putting together all kinds of amassed data and knowledge from different fields of expertise. Local residents who have lived in a given area for many years will be able to add knowledge that experts do not have, resulting in a more practical map.

If experts sit down with local residents to discuss the making of a disaster map of their own area, they could perhaps arrive at a version that incorporates expert and local knowledge — the professional aspect and the more practical aspect. This would certainly make the map more effective.

The point is that a disaster map that results from cooperating with locals is one that can more effectively be imprinted in the minds of local residents. This means that people can identify more readily with the map, which makes it easier for it to be used for its intended purpose.

More importantly, if local residents become involved in the map-creation process, it would mean they are being actively engaged in disaster and emergency evacuation training, which would provide an additional level of assurance for them in case of a natural disaster striking their neighborhood.

Yang Yung-nane is director of National Cheng Kung University’s department of political science.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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