With the primary objective of creating a safe learning environments for children, the ‘Nagaland Disaster Management School Safety Policy 2019’, termed as a step to take the state towards a stronger resilient society by Chief Minister, was launched last summer.
Prepared by the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA) in collaboration with the state’s Department of School Education (DoSE), the policy guidelines, with lofty goals, envisioned to protect all stakeholders in the school community from any kind of risks due to natural or manmade hazards.
The guidelines apply to all schools in the state-whether government, aided or un-aided or private, irrespective of their location in rural or urban areas. Other entities involved in the delivery of education to children, in any form, also come within the ambit of the policy.
One important feature of the policy is the compliance with the National Building Code of India (NBC), a comprehensive building Code, containing “administrative provisions, development control rules and general building requirements; fire and life safety requirements; stipulations regarding building materials, structural design and construction (including safety); building and plumbing services; approach to sustainability; and asset and facility management.” Used as model code for adoption by all agencies involved in building construction activities across the country, it was first published in 1970 and subsequently revised in 1983 and 2005, and the latest revision was in 2016.
The NDSMA’s guidelines stuck with the earlier code (2005). However, given the state of affairs, even this might be taunting, particularly in government schools in Nagaland.
For instance, it stated that all existing as well as new schools need to conform to safety standards prescribed in NBC 2005 under its actionable plans, albeit the application of special provision for construction activities in hilly areas and low-income housing projects therein.
The NDSMA guidelines also stated that all new schools should be located on a site having adequate mitigation measures in place against any imminent natural hazards and all constructions should include disaster resilient features. All existing schools located in a vulnerable location also need to be relocated while existing vulnerable schools need to be repaired to the desired level of resilience.
The disaster management authority in the state must be lauded for bringing out the policy with the primary objective of securing and providing a safe learning environment for children; however, challenges and concerns remain.
The policy itself identified some key changes including provision of fire extinguishers, first aid box, torch, thick rope, ladders, stretcher, temporary shelter (Tents & Tarpaulins), sand buckets, schools, regular awareness trainings, monitoring Committee for scrutinizing the subject for Disaster Management (DM) for different level of class etc.
Another challenge would be the compliance with the building code. While the engineering wing of DoSE as designated as the agency to certify any design adopted for the safety and child-friendly features under NBC 2005, one wonders whether the department is well-equipped to deal with such task.
Consequently, the steps towards making educational institutions disaster resilient and ensuring adherence to the highest standards of safety, among others, are two foremost concerns.
The guidelines provide for joint monitoring by DoSE and SDMA at the state level and the District Education Officer and DDMA at the district level, but it is unclear how the process is being implemented and tackled on the ground level.
As the new academic session of the most schools in Nagaland begins, it is pertinent to revisit and refresh the safety policy guidelines adopted and disseminate the same among all stakeholders - state government, concerned departments, parents, students and school management. In doing so, the objective of securing a safe and sound learning environment for children would be ensured.