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12 July 2011

Big upgrade for Western Cape Disaster Centre


SAYING THANKS: Yumiko Fujiwara, centre, Japanese consul in Cape Town, acknowledges the help provided to her country by Colin Deiner, the Western Cape's disaster management director, who headed South Africa's rescue mission after the March earthquake. Here she visits the province's disaster management centre, which is to be turned into a 24-hour, hi-tech facility. Looking on, left, is Previn Govender, the chief fire officer of the Breede Valley municipality. Picture: Sam Clark

CLAYTON BARNES

Political Writer

THE WESTERN Cape Disaster Management Centre, already one of the best in the country, is to be turned into a 24-hour hi-tech facility, comparable to some of the most advanced disaster risk management centres in the world.

Colin Deiner, the province’s disaster management director and the man who headed South Africa’s rescue mission to earthquake-hit Japan in March, has confirmed that the centre, next to Tygerberg Hospital, would undergo an “extensive upgrade” before the end of the year.

Emergency personnel based at the centre include ambulance services, chopper rescue crew, police and army staff, along with specialist climatologists who keep a close eye on possible weather threats.

Deiner, who previously headed the disaster management centre in Gauteng, said staff would be trained to work the advanced weather monitoring systems and other hi-tech gadgets to be installed over the next few months.

The centre falls under the command of the provincial Local Government Department.

“We are getting in large live video screens to monitor the main highways and intersections across the province,” said Deiner. “This will be the main provincial hub.

“We have all the resources, the manpower and expertise to respond to any eventuality – from major accidents to fires, flooding and drought.”

Deiner has headed the provincial centre since last September.

He said his main task was to ensure the growth of the centre’s capacity.

“The Western Cape is the most disaster-prone province in the country.

“If anything happens anywhere in the Western Cape now, our guys should be able to deal with it. I want this centre to become the benchmark in South Africa and on the continent.”

The centre staff and response teams are also set to undergo intense training over the next few months, according to Deiner.

“To prepare us for any eventuality, we will take the team out into a simulated environment – after a tsunami, for example, and have them stay outside in tents, eat the food we prepare in those situations and search through wrecked buildings.”

The rescue mission to Japan in March was Deiner’s seventh rescue mission to a disaster-hit country.

“This one (to Japan) was the most dangerous,” he said. “The amount of preparation was enormous. We had to take our own food and water, and the temperatures were nothing I’ve ever experienced before. (We were) doing rescues in the snow and rain.”

Deiner also headed rescue missions to Haiti, Turkey, India, Algeria and Pakistan, and was last week honoured by the Japanese government for doing “sterling work” during the rescue mission in that country.

Yumiko Fujiwara, the Japanese consul in Cape Town, thanked Deiner, his team and members of the international relief NGO Rescue SA for being one of the first countries to respond within days after the earthquake struck.

She said the people of Japan were “eternally grateful” and now had a permanent bond with South Africa.

“This was a wonderful team of rescuers,” Fujiwara said. “The people of South Africa must be proud of you. You touched the lives of so many people, just by being there in the debris, helping our people.”

In a letter, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: “On behalf of the people of Japan, I extend my heartfelt thanks for the assistance. Their courageous and effective work under severe conditions represented the clear testimony of friendship and solidarity that the government and the people of South Africa have shown us.”

- Cape Argus

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