Chief of the Armed Police Force SHAILENDRA KUMAR SHRESTHA is known for his skills and training capabilities. He has worked in the force for more than a decade since he joined it from Nepal Army. Shrestha spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on various issues related to disaster management and APF’s capabilities. Excerpts from a half-an-hour interview:
As you know Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of disasters, particularly the earthquake, how capable are the Armed Police personnel in times of major earthquakes or disasters?
Well, given Nepal’s fragile geography and its location between Asia’s two tectonic plates, the country is vulnerable and it is the primary duty of the Armed Police Force to launch rescue, search and rehabilitation work in any kind of natural disasters. Along with maintaining law and order, Armed Police Force has also been focusing its attention in the areas of disaster management. Despite the limited resources, we have already turned our organization towards the management of natural disasters.
What is the level of preparedness?
This country is vulnerable to earthquake and other natural disasters. It is a disaster prone country. Thus, the level of preparedness needs to be enhanced. What I can say is that we are capable enough to meet a certain level of preparedness. Since we are legally mandated to carry out rescue and search in times of disaster, it is natural for us to enhance our capability.
Do you have any special plan to mobilize the local people?
We need to work with local people at the time of major disasters like earthquakes, floods, landslides and fires. Community participation is essential to successfully carry out rescue and search operations.
How much has the system changed compared to the past?
In the past, we used to work on traditional basis. We used to call various agencies whenever there was a major disaster. Most of the time, we followed the traditional practices. Now the situation has changed as we are now dealing disasters with appropriate methods, including trained manpower and equipments.
What is the method of the Armed Police Force?
So far as the method of the Armed Police Force is concerned, we are making efforts to deal disasters by employing appropriate methods with trained manpower. Thanks to our training and upgradation of level of knowledge, personnel working in the Armed Police Force are able to carry out rescue and rehabilitation works effectively and professionally.
How did you improve the level of capability?
We are holding training to make our rescue, rehabilitation and search operation effective. The trainings also enhance the capability of our force. In one word, we are trying to institutionalize these efforts. We have already formulated five years planning to enhance the capabilities and efficiency of our personnel.
Do you have any training centers?
The Armed Police has established a Disaster Management Training Center in Kurintar temporarily. We are requesting the Home Ministry to make it permanent. We want to add disaster management and preparedness as a part of our training.
How trained are your manpower?
Till now we have already trained 156 personnel, including officers and non-officers. Following the completion of training, they are now capable to handle disasters and conduct the training for their colleagues. As we need to train more manpower, this process will continue.
Is this short or long term planning or strategy?
This is a five year strategic planning. The five years’ planning includes training expert manpower at central level and district level. These experts, who get training at central level, can also be used to conduct the training program at various other levels later and they are capable to handle the rescue and search operation at the time of crisis. After training these manpower, we will conduct a series of training to train manpower from various parts of the country. After providing them training, we will send them to regional level and later to the district level.
What is the focus of the Armed Police Force now?
Our focus is now to train the officers and non-officers at the regional level. Following the completion of regional level training, we will launch training for district level where Armed Police Force has battalion, border and outposts. APF’s Regional Training Center will provide training to district level and outposts. Within five years, all our personnel will have basic knowledge about disaster management including rescue, rehabilitation and search.
How about the equipment?
Of course, we don’t have big equipments and APF has to rely on the Army. Since taking charge as the chief of Armed Police Force, I have been paying my attention to equip APF with basic goods and things necessary for disaster management at the time of emergency. We need rubber boats, karabiners, ropes and other basic equipments. With our request, the Ministry of Home Affairs has agreed to equip us.
At a time when the organization like APF does not have even basic equipments for emergency rescue and rehabilitation, how would you handle a fire in tall buildings?
Of course, we don’t have any fire brigade to control the flame in case there is fire in over six stories building. We desperately need equipments to meet the modern apartments of the valley. Of course, we lack fire brigade to reach there but we have trained police personnel who climb through ropes. It is said that Kathmandu Metropolis and other municipalities have already ordered fire brigade with a capacity to cope with such disasters.
Let’s assume, there is a flame in a 10-storied new apartment, how would you respond now?
As I have mentioned, we can use ropes to climb the houses to rescue people and control the flame. Our trained manpower have already been deployed to support fire fighters of the valley’s fire brigades. They have been supporting them.
Which are the priority areas of your training?
Along with rescue and rescue components, we have first aid component in our training. Others include conducting search in collapsed structures, search and rescue training (CSSR) and flood rescue, and fire fighting training. We are also conducting the dead body management. We are also conducting the training on how to search and rescue people at the time of major quake. Our thrust is to enhance the capabilities in disaster management and institutionalize it. We have already started the work as a stepping stone. We are utilizing the minimum level of resources to achieve a maximum gain.
As Kathmandu valley is vulnerable to earth quake and experts are predicting that it will face a major earthquake any time, how well is the Armed Police Force placed to face it?
I am proud to say that armed police based in the valley is aware about such a possibility. They have plans and programs to reach the places in case of major earthquake. We have already developed standard operating procedures. In such a major quake situation, we will mobilize optimum level of our personnel in rescue and search operations.
Again, where do you get the equipment?
Frankly speaking, we don’t have big equipment. We are now trying to understand disaster conceptually. After completing this phase, we will go for equipment. We are taking very seriously the warning issued by experts about the major quake.
How can you clear debris, let’s say, in Ason and Indrachwok without equipment?
Our survey showed that the residents living in Ason and Indrachwok areas cannot be in a position to help each other in case of a big quake as it will destroy the houses and obstruct the road. The highway and airport will be blocked, the communication facilities and electricity will be cut off. As our organization works under the guidance of the government, we don’t need to worry about resources.
What is the level of coordination?
We have a very good coordination among various security agencies in maintaining law and order situation as well as at the time of disasters. Our total strength is about 34,000 and we have provided necessary training to them in handling rescue and rehabilitation. I can proudly say that we can deploy all our human resources at the time of disasters in five years.
Now on human rights, how do you look at their violation?
There is zero tolerance on human rights violation. We are committed to protection of human rights. With the support from UN Human Rights and National Human Rights Commission, we have developed a booklet which was distributed widely. We have already internalized the human rights issues and it is a part of our training. We use minimum level of force in any demonstration.
Nepal’s law and order situation is drastically improved now. After taking over the charge of chief of Armed Police, I have introduced a numbers of reforms program to make our organization capable.
How drastically improved is the law and order situation?
It is people like you to feel about the law and order situation. As a chief of Armed Police Force, what I can see is the improvement in overall law and order situation. There is a good coordination among all the security agencies. Compared to last years, the incidents of highway robberies and other such crimes have drastically declined.
Have you launched any special operation?
With the operation of Highway Immediate Response Vehicles (HIRV), the number of criminal incidents along the east-west high way was drastically reduced. We have deployed HIRV in more than 60 places along the highway. Along with armed vehicles, we also have ambulances. In case of accidents, our ambulances also provide primary treatment as well as take the injured up to hospitals. Since the launching of the operation on August 18, our team has already rescued the injured. As soon as they received the call, our HIRV team reached the spot. This makes highway driving safer. This was mobilized by operation department. After the beginning of the operation, the incidents related to loots came to an end.