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Plan for the worst before it happens

Although disasters are rare in the UAE, we all have a responsibility to know what to do when they strike.

Earthquakes are not an everyday occurrence in the sands of the UAE. Yet, in the past two weeks, the shocks of two violent tremors just across the Arabian Gulf have swayed buildings from Ras Al Khaimah to Abu Dhabi, and across the region, and sent thousands of people fleeing into parking lots awaiting instruction. So here it is: go back inside.

In nations with strong building codes and quality construction, the best place during a quake is indoors, on the floor with your head down and protected, not streaking down the stairwell in mass panic. For people already outside, it's best to try and move away from overhead objects, like trees or power lines.

The fact that many office workers fled into the sunlight after the second quake this week should serve as a wake-up call on disaster preparedness in general. Why weren't these lessons learnt the first time?

The risks of a devastating earthquake bringing down buildings in the UAE is extremely low; the country doesn't lie on the type of fault lines that Iran and Pakistan do. But disasters do not differentiate; being prepared for all eventualities, be it flood, fire, terrorism or something else entirely is a joint responsibility for first responders, government officials, private business owners, school administrators, homeowners and everyone else. We all need a plan to follow when disaster strikes.

Officials say that we are in safe hands. The National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority said last week that the UAE is ready to face any kind of disaster as "some threats may be avoided before occurring"; preparedness can greatly reduce the impacts of emergency.

The confidence is reassuring, but preparing for disasters is a never-ending process. Knowledge, training and dress rehearsals like evacuation drills can save lives in the event of a real emergency. Official efforts like programmes for schools and offices would also help. Moreover, regional and joint cooperation efforts could be stepped up to ensure that when one city, emirate or GCC state needs aid, help can be delivered swiftly.

We are lucky to live in a country where disasters are rare. But we all have a responsibility to know what to do when they strike.

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