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Maharashtra Communication Network for Disaster Management

By N.K.Chhibber, Secretary General, PTC India Foundation, India


The countries of the Indian subcontinent suffer continually from natural disasters such as drought, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, forest fires, hailstorms, and locusts. These disasters have a devastating impact on human life, economy and environment. Lack of proper telecommunication infrastructure in suburban and rural areas, and the virtual absence of any disaster management plan, has served to compound the suffering, loss of life and property damage resulting from these natural catastrophies. The Indian state of Maharashtra is the first state in the region to implement a comprehensive, multi-hazard disaster management plan. Supported by The World Bank, UNDP and UK Department for International Development (DFID), the emphasis of this multifaceted program is on disaster management response, disaster awareness and education. The construction of a disaster communications network has been carried out as an integral component of the plan. The network, based on VSATs and VHF networks in each of Maharashtra’s 30 districts, is also planned to be used for general state government administration and rural development programmes. The Maharashtra disaster management project was implemented at a cost of US $ 11 million and became operational in March 2000.


1. Introduction
2. Maharashtra Disaster Management Plan
3. Disaster Communication Network
4. Project Cost
5. Conclusion
About the Author

1. Introduction

The Indian subcontinent has a tropical climate and unstable landforms. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are prone to natural disasters of various kinds on a continual basis. Coupled with high population density, poverty, illiteracy and lack of infrastructure, the natural disasters kill thousands of people and leave a devastating impact on economy and environment.

The importance of telecommunication in disaster management has been widely accepted since the early days of the development of radio communication. Disasters can strike without warning at any time of the day or night. On the Indian subcontinent, the pressure from population increase and over-exploitation of resources for haphazard development has disturbed the ecological balance, in turn causing degradation of the natural environment, deterioration of the ecological system, and widespread destruction of the natural resources on which human life and well-being depend. As a result, most of India's 26 states (or provinces) are disaster prone.

Technologies, particularly in the telecommunication field, can help minimize disaster losses as well as the very scope of the disasters. But in most of the less developed countries, these technologies have not been adopted to the fullest extent because of the lack of trained manpower, organization and institutions at various levels who could evolve a coordinated approach to these modern communication technologies.

The suffering and loss of human life is highest in remote rural areas due to lack of basic infrastructure and poor, or non-existent, disaster management plans. Within India, two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas where telecommunication facilities are scarce. Of 600,000 villages, 45% do not have any telecommunication services at all. Therefore, the state governments are planning their own communication networks as part of disaster management plans.

2. Maharashtra Disaster Management Plan

Maharashtra is one of the largest states in India, containing 30 districts and the state capital at Mumbai. The state has had two major earthquakes in recent history which caused loss of life and destruction of property in small towns and villages, the Koyna quake in 1967 and the Killari quake in 1993. Disasters due to tidal movements on the sea coast and typhoons are very frequent.

Maharashtra is one of the first states in India to have planned, designed and implemented a dedicated communication network for disaster management. As part of the Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Programme (MEERP), one of the mandated activities of the Government of Maharashtra was the preparation of a comprehensive, multi-hazard disaster management plan for the State of Maharashtra. The World Bank, UNDP and UK Department for International Development (DFID, formerly ODA) are supporting complementary components of this multi-faceted effort. It is an ambitious program, which emphasizes disaster management response, disaster awareness and education.

The Maharashtra disaster management plan has a state-wide plan at its core and a superstructure of district-level plans. These disaster management plans identify administrative and technical measures essential to disaster preparedness, response, and mitigation efforts. These plans have crystallized into an implementation program comprising a number of components, which are simultaneously under execution. Global Tele-system Limited, an Indian Company, is implementing the project.

The Disaster Management Plan (DMP) has three components:

(a) Risk Analysis & Vulnerability Assessment

Risk analysis and vulnerability assessment involves the creation of a scenario for each potential disaster in terms of exposure, loss of life, property damage, and the geographic distribution of each hazard. Any monitoring facilities, regulatory regimes, and countermeasures available for each disaster are accounted for in this analysis.

(b) Response Plan

The response plan defines the organizational and structural relationships of all the state, central and non-governmental agencies involved in dealing with a disaster. It identifies functional areas such as relief, communications, information, transport, health services, etc.; proposes assignments for various departments; and identifies lead and supporting organizations. The response plan also lays down preparedness checklists, standards of services, operating procedure guidelines and reporting formats. in a co-ordinated and quickest possible manner to mitigate the impact of disaster during and after its onset.

(c) Mitigation Strategy

The mitigation strategy and plan focus on the long-term planning for disaster reduction. It deals with the issues of continued commitment to hazard identification and risk assessment, applied research and technology transfer, investment incentives for mitigation, and leadership and co-ordination for mitigation. The mitigation strategy makes an argument for better land use management, building codes, traffic, standards and health standards. These objectives are to be secured through disaster legislation, mitigation regulation, and incentives for mitigation.

At the state and district levels, the same structure is followed. The Disaster Management Plan calls for the creation of a variety of facilities and resources which provide support in the nature of infrastructure and organizational requirements. The GOM has begun the implementation of all these activities as follows:

  • Emergency Operations Centre;
  • District Control Rooms;
  • Communication network comprising wireless (VHF) and satellite (VSAT) networks covering the entire state;
  • Computerized disaster management information system using geographic information system (GIS) applications;
  • Community disaster preparedness programmes;
  • Training.

Emergency Operations Centre (EOC): The Emergency Operations Centre is a well-equipped and modern facility located at the state government headquarters in Mantralaya. The EOC is the hub of activity during a disaster. Its systems and procedures are designed in such a way that information can be promptly assessed and relayed to concerned parties. As the master co-ordination and control point for all counter-disaster efforts, the EOC is the centre for decision-making under a unified command.

District Control Rooms: District Control Rooms are established in each collectorate of the state. The control rooms serve as nodal facilities for directing operations in an emergency situation. The total cost of establishing control rooms all over the state was Rupees 45 million (US $ 1.1 million). This component of the plan was also supported by the World Bank.

GIS-based Disaster Management Information System: The GOM has undertaken a very ambitious programme to create a Disaster Management Information System (DMIS) for the state of Maharashtra. The DMIS database will contain all disaster-related spatial and non-spatial data at the Taluka level. Statistics for potential natural calamity zones have been compiled for the purpose, including records of tidal movements, potential typhoons and earthquake-prone zones. The DMIS will be used by district administrations not only for risk analysis and vulnerability assessment, but also for organizing response operations. In addition, the DMIS will be of great functional value for development planners since it will be accessible to all government agencies with proper networking and updating facilities. This system will be the first of its kind not only in the country, but probably in the world. The total budget for creating the DMIS for all the districts of Maharashtra (except Mumbai) is about Rs.140 million (US $3 million), which will be met with assistance from the World Bank and DFID.

Training & Community Preparedness Programmes: The GOM has also taken up an extensive programme of training for disaster preparedness and response. The training programmes have been designed for the officials of the government at different levels, NGOs, and elected representatives of Local Bodies. The Disaster Management Centre, YASHADA is playing a pivotal role in developing the training literature and organization of training programme. In the next two to three years, an intensive training schedule will be drawn up for orienting all the concerned agencies in different areas of disaster preparedness and response. The GOM also proposes to take up community disaster preparedness programmes on a pilot basis in different areas of the state. This programme will be implemented through the selected NGOs for identified disaster spots in the state and is aimed at building up the mitigation measures into community life.

Seismic Hazard Map: The GOM has also undertaken to prepare a seismic hazard map for the state of Maharashtra. This assignment is being carried out by the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. The seismic hazard map will be useful for micro level locational decisions and for developing proper building design regulations.

Manual for Seismic Strengthening of Non-engineered Buildings: There are well established I.S. codes for engineered buildings and structures which take into account seismic factors. But the majority of buildings in the rural areas are non-engineered, with wide variations in the type of construction and materials used therein. They are seismically unsafe. To implement a strategy for seismic strengthening and retrofitting of damaged houses in the earthquake-affected Latur and Osmanabad districts, the Government of Maharashtra has prepared a manual, with the help of I.I.T Mumbai and international seismic expert Dr. Svetlana Brzev, for strengthening all types of non-engineered buildings in rural areas. This manual is profusely illustrated in colour and is written in a very simple, easy to understand way. It can serve as a valuable handbook for engineers, administrators and the general public for seismic strengthening of non-engineered houses. It is hoped that this manual will be received as a popular set of guidelines on quake-resistant technology and will help provide a new dimension to housing technology in rural Maharashtra. The manual is the first of its kind in India.


3. Disaster Communication Network

On the strength of feasibility surveys carried out by the Government of Maharashtra, it was decided to establish a VSAT network linking the Mantralaya HQ with divisional and district headquarters, and a VHF radio network linking district headquarters with sub-divisional and Taluka headquarters. A separate VHF network was designed for Mumbai to meet the extensive needs of the city during disaster situations.

International bids were floated for the installation of these systems, and both the VHF and the VSAT networks were fully commissioned in March 2000. An amount of US $5 million was spent on this activity, which was funded by the World Bank.

VSAT Communication Network

The Maharashtra disaster communications VSAT network consists of a hub station in Mumbai, a backup hub at Pune, and 37 remote stations distributed mainly among the district-level offices. Six remotes are located at divisional Commissioner’s Offices in Nasik, Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Nagpur and Amravati. Each of the state’s 30 districts also has a VSAT terminal at district headquarters. Batteries and uninterrupted power supply system have been provided at each site. Transponder space on Intelsat has been leased by VSNL to the state.

The contract for the project implementation was awarded to Global Wireless Technology Limited. The design details were worked out along with the customer’s consultant (MELTRON) and the lead supply partner Scientific Atlanta, USA. A design review was conducted and the orders were processed on the vendors. Once the equipment was manufactured, the equipment was tested at the factory and clearances were given for shipment. At the same time, the acquisition of land and other civil works were initiated. Throughout the process, the consultant played an essential role in deciding various issues for successful completion of the project. The project has been completed and acceptance testing finished in March 2000.

The network can be expanded with another 200 VSAT terminals without any additional hub. The network is also being utilized for maintaining on-line records of each district-level transaction, after adding a LAN at each district headquarters. It is also planned to be used for computerized land records, agricultural inputs, commodity price movements, help in drought-prone areas and other rural development programs.

Additional technical and configuration details of the VSAT communication network are as follows:

Mumbai Hub Station: The Mumbai hub uses 16-Watt power amplifiers for uplinking. A standby hub at Pune provides redundancy for the main Mumbai hub ensuring there is no total breakdown. Five signaling units (MSCU) are provided to manage network control through connection to the Network Management System (NMS). A continuous outbound carrier from the Mumbai Hub is monitored by all remote channel units as a pilot signal. This is used for data communication from the NMS to remote channel units for system control, call assignments & M&C poll queries. In addition, an EPABX is connected to 7 modems (VCU) in order to provide 32 Satphone connections in Mantralaya. An e-mail router is connected to 3 SA modems (VCU) with a 64 KBPS data interface. There are 2 SA modems (VCU), one connected as a service channel and another as a data link with the Pune standby hub.

The main power supply for all equipment is derived from a 5 KVA UPS which operates for a two hour duration.

YESHADA – Pune Standby Hub: The Pune standby hub consists of a 4.5 m antenna with prime focus antenna feed similar to the Mumbai Hub. Indoor equipment and signaling systems are similar to the Mumbai Hub. Pune becomes the Master station in case Mumbai fails for some reason.

Remote VSAT Stations: The remote VSAT equipment consists of 3.8 m antennas and 4W Ku band transceivers in redundant mode, mounted outdoors below the antenna. Other hardware configuration is similar to the standby hub station in Pune. Terminal equipment configuration allows 3/8 EPABX, five telephones, e-mail and video conferencing facilities. A UPS supplies 8 hours of standby operation when power supply fails at a remote station.

Space Segment: The satellite segment for this project is leased from INTELSAT satellite 804 at 64 degrees. A bandwidth of three MHz and satellite EIRP of 26.7 dbw is allotted for MEERP utilization. The transponder operates in the Ku band in the frequency region of 14 GHz for uplink and 11 GHz for down link. The system operates in DAMA mode, which enables the frequency and power resources of the satellite to be used only when a caller initiates a call.

Voice, Data and Video Channels: The full network can accommodate 60 voice carriers at 8 Kbit/s (30 simultaneous calls), 6 DATA carriers at 64 KBPS (3 e-mail data calls), and 2 video carriers at 384 Kbit/s (one to one conference).  Whenever an e-mail server calls either from the Mumbai hub or from a remote VSAT, a channel is allotted and data transfer takes place. The network has also been provided with videoconferencing facility between any two stations by prior arrangement. The video picture is provided on two pre assigned carriers. As and when a request is made by the user, the Mumbai hub will switch on both the carriers and the user connects the video call to start the videoconference.

4. Project Cost

The Maharashtra disaster communication project is jointly funded by World Bank, Government of India and the Government of Maharashtra. Financial support has also come from UNDP and DFID.

Breakdown of costs for various components of the project are given below:

(a) VHF network for 30 districts : US $ 3.0 million

(b) VSAT network for 39 sites : US $ 3.0 million

(c) E-mail set up : US $ 0. 5 million

  1. Emergency operations centre
  2. At Mumbai and District control

    Rooms : US $ 1.0 million

  3. Disaster Management

Information System : US $ 3.5 million


Total : US $ 11.0 million

Since the project become operational only in March 2000, long-term data on operational costs is not yet available. The Government of Maharashtra has allocated about Rupees 45 million (about US $ 1 million) towards operational costs. As the equipment is under warranty for the first one year, there will be no maintenance costs in the first year.


5. Conclusion

The Maharashtra disaster communications network will be used as part of an integrated, comprehensive disaster management program to forewarn the government of earthquakes, typhoons, floods and other such natural calamities. is another area of use. It will also contribute to the coordination among hospitals, voluntary organizations, police, fire brigades and the government during post-disaster relief and rehabilitation measures all over the state.

The network enables voice, data, fax, file transfers and e-mail connection anywhere in the state. Videoconferencing between district collectors, divisional commissioners and secretariat headquarters will be available for general state administration.

This is a very well conceived and well planned project, the first of its kind in India. The Disaster Management Plan for the state of Maharashtra thus emerges as one of the most comprehensive programmes in the area of disaster management, which impinges so greatly on human life and society. With the continued support of all the multilateral agencies and NGOs, this programme will represent a great example of the benefits of partnership in this vital area.





  1. Background Paper on the Maharashtra Disaster Management Plan,
  2. prepared by Government of Maharashtra.

  3. Maharashtra Government Contract No. EQR: 1098 / CR-5 / ERC-4

Awarded to M/s Global Wireless Technology Limited, Pune, India.



About the Author

Name : N. K. Chhibber
Designation: Secretary General, PTC India Foundation, India
Address : E C – 246, Maya Enclave, New Delhi- 110064, India
Tel : 91-11-5408029 FAX : 91-11-5619924
E-mail : <>


Mr. N.K.Chhibber is an engineering graduate and a former Air commodore of Indian Air force, where he worked for 32 years as communications engineer. His main experience has been in design and execution of radar and communication networks for the Air Defense. He has also worked in corporate sector after privatization of telecommunication services in India. He is presently, Secretary General of Pacific Telecommunications Council India Foundation, which is an Indian chapter of Pacific Telecommunications Council Hawaii, USA. He has presented a number of papers in India, Singapore and USA on various aspects of rural telecommunications in developing countries and its applications in disaster management.


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