Cave rescue provided lessons in disaster management

The joint effort by Thai and international volunteers to rescue a Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave offered essential lessons in disaster management, said several Thai rescue volunteers and disaster response experts last week, with some calling for establishing a more detailed and varied database to help in future emergencies.

“When we went to the cave, we firstly surveyed the needs of the rescuers, evaluating critical technology that was lacking and how we could help,” said Varayuth Yenbamroon, founder of Mu Space Corporation of Thailand, a private satellite company. Varayuth visited the rescue site and reached out to foreign counterparts for technological expertise to aid the mission.

The value of that collaboration and making use of local knowledge were among the most significant lessons. “Teamwork and collaboration with others are important – that’s my main takeaway from the cave rescue mission,” Varayuth said. Moreover, it was knowledge of the cave layout and its labyrinth of passageways by local people and a British diver who had previously explored it, that proved crucial in the search to find the boys.

Thailand has a strong record on disaster management. The Kingdom was praised for its response to the Asian Tsunami of 2004. Bangkok is also the headquarters of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center. Founded in 1986, the Center engages in regional capacity building, training and provides multi-sectoral technical expertise in risk reduction and risk management. It has advised and consulted governments and organizations during several natural disasters.

There is always room for improvement, however, and Somporn Chuai-aree of Prince of Songkhla University said a more robust collection of data should be assembled for use in future crisis situations. Somporn helped gather data for the cave rescue and said computer modeling of the underground tunnels was an extremely useful tool for planning and execution of the rescue.

He called for the government to launch a project to produce a high-quality map of Thailand for use in future disasters. The map should be accessible to all government agencies and academics, he said.

“This will enable communities to add details of their local areas to the map,” Somporn told the Bangkok Post, adding that the map should also include information about experts who can be contacted in case of a crisis.

“We’ve gone through many trials – tsunami and big floods – and every time we needed updated data for prediction and prevention, including evacuation plans or best practices for working in disaster conditions,’’ Somporn said.