The Air Blue air crash in Islamabad has brought tragedy to the families of the 152 unfortunate victims and plunged the entire country into mourning. Leaving aside the question as to what caused the crash: weather conditions, Airbus malfunction, inadequate ground support or technical failure, the first question in everybodys mind is whether the disaster relief response was as timely and effective as it should have been. Natural disasters by definition are unexpected and despite planning, the relief response depends on the emergency resources available and closeness or distance from the site. The October 2005 Earthquake disaster by magnitude in terms of intensity, area, fatalities, casualties and property damage galvanised the entire Pakistani nation to respond and rapidly forced into being a new disaster relief mechanism and its subsequent institutionalisation. When the earthquake struck, the Interior Ministrys National Crisis Management Cell and then the Cabinet Divisions Emergency Relief Cell were tasked to coordinate. Both lacked the resources to adequately respond and under Maj Gen Farooq, in the Prime Ministers Secretariat, a fully empowered coordinating structure was established, the Federal Relief Commission, which subsequently grew into the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The Foreign Ministrys Emergency Coordination Cell, created to interface between international assistance and onsite relief efforts, utilised some 25 percent of the Ministry headquarters strength for several months into 2006. It became clear at once that the only organisation with the self-contained ability to access and operate in the affected areas with logistic backup to deliver relief, evacuate the injured and coordinate national and international efforts including shelter and supplies was the Pakistan army assisted by naval and air force units. The core institution within the Pak Army GHQ specifically capable of carrying out these vital activities was the Military Operations Directorate. Subsequently, the NDMA activated a process of capacity building, provincial sub-offices and the preparation of a comprehensive manual for coordinating responses to different disasters. The test of such plans and procedures though is judged by how they deliver when disaster strikes. During the earthquake, the Deputy DG Military Operations deputed to the FRC was Brig Nadeem, now a retired Lt Gen heading the NDMA, having earlier as Corps Commander Mangla overseen the massive Swat IDPs relief operation which for security related reasons had not been given to the NDMA. In the case of the plane crash of July 28, 2010, the location was within the territory of the Capital City, Islamabad. The approach in the wooded and steep hills overlooking the city presented unique problems for the relief workers. The Prime Minister immediately ordered the mobilisation of all relief efforts, charged the NDMA to coordinate, vide its statutory 2007 legislation mandate to act as the implementing, coordinating and monitoring body for disaster management. He duly surveyed the site by helicopter. Relief units, workers on foot from the nearby emergency services from the Capital, the NDMA and volunteers from civil society swung into action. An Army Aviation helicopter was first to overfly the site to assess the damage and what assistance the army could provide. Within the Pak army at such times the Chief of General Staff through the Military Operations Directorate and possibly the Engineer-in-Chief would be responsible for tasking military units to provide air, medical, equipment and troop assets for assistance and securing the area for uninterrupted relief operations. Lt Gen (R) Chairman of the NDMA, quickly reached the scene, and fairly soon requested for army assistance. More helicopters were sent and a battalion of 800 troops plus a naval special services contingent moved in, securing the area and assisting relief activity. As in all such disasters there is speculation and criticism of the responses timeliness and effectiveness, particularly in transporting any survivors to hospital ASAP. One can only go by what one knows. When the plane passed very low over our house, I feared the worst and tried to contact the Air Force Operations Centre forgetting that I no longer had the inter-governmental telephone system I could utilise before I retired. Nonetheless, I spoke to the Prime Ministers Secretariat, the MO Directorate and others in the GHQ and texted Chairman NDMAs staff officer to check that army assistance was en route considering that since a democratic regime had replaced a military dispensation the army would be naturally looking for orders from the political leadership. The army was indeed gearing up to send in relief assets and personnel. Commandos rappelling down from helicopters, as done in the Swat counter terrorism operations, would have reached the site earlier and should have been attempted. The lesson drawn from ones knowledge is that the top civilian officials should always keep at their side a list of the key military commanders and their coordinates to access them immediately and conversely the military should likewise instantaneously propose and obtain their requisition for emergency assistance, as one hopes was done by both sides. During the earthquake, the FRC was headed by a serving army officer who could easily liaise with the military, a task more tenuous for its successor the NDMA, given a democratic governments takeover and its being headed by a retired military officer. The NDMA Ordinance states, the federal government may take all such measures it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of disaster management including requisition and deployment of armed forces, civil armed forces or any other civilian personnel or foreign contingents required for the purposes of the Ordinance. The defining term is requisition in the context of the armed forces. The federal government not the NDMA has to do this, and the armed forces would expect such a formal requisition. This should be remembered in future by otherwise stretched policymakers given lack of institutional memory. A telephone call backed later by a one liner fax on the PMs authority would take no time and would suffice. On the media side, more sensitivity should be shown to victims families and viewers overall by avoiding distressing coverage and exploitation of affected families grief. Both media and officials should also have avoided raising hopes of survivors without clear evidence. The performance of the Civil Aviation Authority, airports and airlines needs to be improved. A detailed report on the causes of the crash must be prepared and made public utilising specialised assistance from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, as sanctioned by the NDMA Ordinance: coordination with the UN agencies. Disasters of any type severely test a nations capability to respond. On balance what could be done apparently was done, as generally recognised by extensive national and international real time media coverage. However, policymakers both civilian and military should examine this tragic incident in order to refine and fast track the system for improvement in future. This is the least that is owed to the unfortunate victims and their grieving families. The writer is a retired diplomat and headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emergency Coordination Cell, in the national response to the 2005 Earthquake disaster.