By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – With the onset of summer in Rio de Janeiro comes the risk of heavy rains, which often flood roads and entire neighborhoods. In the past, summer thunderstorms have also led to deadly mudslides in some of Rio’s poorer communities, which are often built on unstable hills and mountains. To avoid fatal incidents authorities are once again drilling communities on what to do if there is imminent danger.
On Thursday, January 15th, ten favela communities in the region of Lins participated in testing emergency siren operations, which is part of Rio de Janeiro’s Alert and Alarm System. A little before noon the sirens rang, followed by messages informing residents of possible risks and advising them to head to more secure locations. The operation was conducted remotely, from the Operations’ Center.
Operational superintendent of the Defesa Civil (Civil Defense) department, Rodrigo Bissoli, told Agencia Brasil that the objective of the drill is to guarantee the population’s safety during this time of the year.
“The period between December and March, and which could be extended until April depending on meteorological conditions, is when greater attention [to floods and mudslides] should be given, due to the greater volume of rainfall,” he said.
The city’s Alert and Alarm system works in places pointed out by the Geo-Rio (Geotechnical Institute) as areas of high risk of facing mudslides due to torrential summer rains. Currently there are 103 communities which have 165 sirens and 194 support centers.
In all, there are 7,000 people living in the communities trained by the Civil Defense to work in those areas and help residents until professional help arrives. Since the system was implemented in 2011, sirens have sounded on several occasions and no deaths have yet to be reported in those locations since the system has been implemented.
The system relies on one meteorological radar to help analysts determine the volume of rainwater to reach a specific area. If the volume is excessive, the Civil Defense teams are put on alert and community leaders receive cellphone messages from city officials asking them to warn their fellow citizens. In emergency situations telephone messages are also sent out to residents directing them to leave their houses and seek safer locations.