• The term “Biological Disaster Management” refers to the emergency plans in place in the event of a planned or unintentional biological release. The nature of the occurrence determines the response.
  • A biological disaster is a disaster caused by the rapid spread of disease among humans, animals, and plants, caused by microorganisms like bacteria, toxins, or viruses. It is explained as the devastating effects produced by a vast spread of a certain kind of living organism – that may spread disease, virus, or infestations of plant, insect, or animal life on an epidemic or pandemic level.
  • Cholera, influenza H1N1(Swine-flu), and the most recent COVID-19 outbreaks are examples of biological disasters.
  • Biological Hazards
    • It refers to the biological substances or organic matters produced by parasites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protein that threaten the health of living organisms, primarily that of humans—also known as Biohazards
    • This comprises the medical waste and samples of a microorganism, virus, or toxin from numerous biological sources that can influence the health of the human body
  • Biological Warfare (BW)
    • Also termed Germ Warfare, it is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi to kill or incapacitate humans, animals, or plants as an act of war
    • Biological weapons (often termed “bioweapons,” “biological threat agents,” or “bioagents”) are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses, which are not universally considered “alive”) that replicate within their host victims
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is the nodal ministry for Biological Warfare and associates with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in its management
    • MHA is in charge of evaluating threat perceptions, setting up deterrent mechanisms, and providing intelligence inputs
Biological Disaster Management

Biological Disasters – Classifications

  • Biological Disasters can take the following forms:
    • Epidemic: Epidemics impact a disproportionately large number of persons within a group, community, or area at the same time. Examples include Cholera, Plague, Japanese Encephalitis (JE), and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).
    • Pandemic: A pandemic is an outbreak of existing, new, or reemerging illnesses and pestilences that spreads across a broad territory, such as a continent or even the globe. Examples include Influenza H1N1 (Swine Flu) and COVID-19.

Biological Safety Levels

Charles Baldwin developed the symbol for biohazard in 1966.

symbol for biohazard

The US Center for Disease Control classifies biohazards into four biosafety levels as follows:

  1. BSL-1: Bacteria and Viruses including Bacillus subtilis, some cell cultures, canine hepatitis, and non-infectious bacteria. Protection is only facial protection and gloves.
  2. BSL-2: Bacteria and viruses that cause only mild disease to humans, or are difficult to contract via aerosol in a lab setting such as hepatitis A, B, C, mumps, measles, HIV, etc. Protection – use of autoclaves for sterilizing and biological safety cabinets.
  3. BSL-3: Bacteria and viruses causing severe to fatal disease in humans. Example: West Nile virus, anthrax, MERS coronavirus. Protection – Stringent safety protocols such as the use of respirators to prevent airborne infection.
  4. BSL-4: Potentially fatal (to human beings) viruses like Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Lassa fever virus, etc. Protection – use of a positive pressure personnel suit, with a segregated air supply.

Biological Disaster Management System

  • The nodal agency for handling epidemics – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
    • Decision-making
    • Advisory body
    • Emergency medical relief providing
  • The primary responsibility of dealing with biological disasters is with the State Governments. (Reason – Health is a State Subject).
  • The nodal agency for investigating outbreaks – National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD)
  • Nodal ministry for Biological Warfare – Ministry of Home Affairs (Biological warfare is the use of biological agents as an act of war)
  • The NICD/Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) imparts teaching/ training, research, and laboratory support

Biological Disaster – Legislations

The following legislations have been enacted in India for the prevention of biohazards and implementation of protective, eradicative, and containing measures when there is an outbreak:

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  2. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
  3. The Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Rules (1986)
  4. Disaster Management Act 2005 – this provides for the institutional and operational framework for disaster prevention, mitigation, response, preparedness, and recovery at all levels.

Legal Framework

  • The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897
    • The act was enacted to manage the bubonic Plague of Mumbai in 1897.
    • The law provides legal frameworks to manage disasters by providing special powers:
      • State Governments: Regulation and Framework to manage Endemic affected regions, including Travel restriction
      • Central Government: Power to form regulations and prescribe framework and restriction on travel.
      • Penalty Under Sec 188 of Indian Penal Code.
      • People acting under the Act to be protected against any legal proceedings.

Prevention of Biological Hazards

The basic measure to prevent and control biohazards is the elimination of the source of contamination.

Preventive Measures for workers in the field (medical):

  1. Engineering controls – to help prevent the spread of such disasters including proper ventilation, installing negative pressure, and usage of UV lamps.
  2. Personal hygiene – washing hands with liquid soap, proper care for clothes that have been exposed to a probably contaminated environment.
  3. Personal protection equipment – masks, protective clothing, gloves, face shield, eye shield, shoe covers.
  4. Sterilization – Using ultra heat or high pressure to eliminate bacteria or using biocide to kill microbes.
  5. Respiratory protection – surgical masks, respirators, powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR), air-supplying respirators.

Prevention of Biological Disasters

Prevention includes the following measures that should be taken before (preventive), during, and after any outbreaks.

Environmental Management:

  1. Safe water supply, proper maintenance of sewage pipelines – to prevent waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, dysentery, etc.
  2. Awareness of personal hygiene and provision for washing, cleaning, bathing, avoiding overcrowding, etc.
  3. Vector control:
    • Environmental engineering work and generic integrated vector control measures.
    • Water management, not permitting water to stagnate and collect and other methods to eliminate breeding places for vectors.
    • Regular spraying of insecticides, outdoor fogging, etc. for controlling vectors.
    • Controlling the population of rodents.

Post-disaster Epidemics Prevention:

  1. The risk of epidemics is increased after any biological disaster.
  2. Integrated Disease Surveillance Systems (IDSS) monitors the sources, modes of diseases spreading, and investigates the epidemics.

Detection and Containment of Outbreaks:

This consists of four steps as given under:

  1. Recognizing and diagnosing by primary healthcare practitioners.
  2. Communicating surveillance information to public health authorities.
  3. Epidemiological analysis of surveillance data
  4. Public health measures and delivering proper medical treatment.

Institutional Framework and operational framework

National Disaster Management Authority:

  • The DM Act, 2005 was adopted on December 26, 2005, with the goal of providing for better disaster management.
  • The Act aims to establish procedures at the national, state, and district levels to plan, prepare, and respond quickly to natural and man-made catastrophes and accidents.
  • The Act mandates the following: (a) the establishment of a national apex body, the NDMA, with the Prime Minister of India as its Chairperson; (b) the establishment of SDMAs; and (c) the coordination and monitoring of DM activities at the district and local levels through the establishment of district and local level DM authorities.

National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC):  

  • The NCMC, which reports to the Cabinet Secretary, is responsible for coordinating and monitoring disaster response.
  • The NCMC is made up of 14 union secretaries from several ministries, as well as the Chairman of the Railway Board.
  • In the aftermath of disasters, NCMC ensures excellent coordination and implementation of emergency and relief actions.

National Disaster Response Force:

  • The NDRF was established by the DM Act of 2005 to provide specialised response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster.
  • The NDMA is in charge of the force’s overall supervision, direction, and control, while the Director General of the NDRF is in charge of its command and supervision.

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