Are Filipinos prepared for disasters and emergencies?

In Photo: A woman cries in desperation at the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda, leaving thousands of Taclobanons homeless and hungry.

By Leony R. Garcia

DISASTERS and emergencies, whether man-made or natural, come in many forms. Like many countries in the world, the Philippines has had its share of disasters one after another.

Notable and still fresh in the minds of the Filipinos are the recent devastating earthquake in Bohol in October 2013, the world’s strongest super typhoon, Haiyan (local code name Yolanda), which hit Tacloban City in November 2013, and Typhoon Ruby, which hit Eastern Samar in December 2013.

With the country barely recovering from these catastrophic events, various agencies and authorities have stepped up readiness for “The Big One.” This is after the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed more than 8,800 in Nepal on April 25, and the extremely deep tremor of equal magnitude off Japan on May 30. Moreover, authorities have conducted drills and visited quake-prone districts in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, forewarning them of the probable impact of a strong tremor due to the West Valley Fault.

The Philippines straddles the Ring of Fire, an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. It is, therefore, of paramount concern to equip every Filipino with necessary skills that can save our lives.

Government plans and programs

July is National Disaster Consciousness Month by virtue of Executive Order 137 signed by former President Joseph Estrada.

Faced by the growing concerns about uncaused events, such as typhoon, flood, earthquake, tornado, landslide, volcanic eruption, tsunamis and drought, the government, through the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), formerly known as the National Disaster Coordinating Council, recognized the value of setting aside a designated period for people to focus their attention on the need to prepare for natural disasters.

Prior to the Bohol earthquake, Congress has already passed Republic Act 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, mandating government agencies to create programs aimed at reducing risks from earthquakes.

For one, the Department of Science and Technology has launched the Geohazard Mapping and Assessment Program, which was cited by President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address in July last year.

The NDRRMC, on the other hand, has published the National Risk Reduction and Management Plan for 2011 to 2018 period, which states that the Philippines is highly prone to earthquakes, and experiences an average of five earthquakes per day.

Moreover, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has highlighted the need to strictly impose the regulations on buildings and structures in order to minimize the impact of earthquakes, citing a study that half-a-million residential buildings in  Metro Manila area will be heavily or partly damaged if a magnitude-7.2 earthquake occurs in the West Valley Fault, also known as the Marikina fault line, which runs through Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite and Metro Manila, as well as Quezon City, Pasig, Taguig and Muntinlupa.

Amid these government plans and programs, various groups and individuals see the need to assess whether Filipinos have already conformed to the requirements of the new Building Code and other pertinent regulations, including the retrofitting of houses, buildings and other structures.

There’s also the need to check if the country has enough essential resources at the event of earthquakes, in the form of hospitals, disaster-management centers, roads, broadcast media, fire and ambulance stations, and telecommunication facilities.

The NCR-wide #MMShakeDrill on July 30

According to some sectors, a powerful earthquake in Metro Manila similar to the 2013 Bohol tremor could spark hundreds of fires all at once.

Based on initial projections by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), more than 500 fires will likely be triggered all over the National Capital Region by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake, according to the party-list group LPG Marketers’ Association (LPG-MA).

“To put this in perspective, we usually have around 300 fire incidents every month in Metro Manila. So, if we suddenly have more than 500 blazes all at once, it will be like having fires over a two-month period all occurring at the same time,” Party-list Rep. Arnel Ty of LPG-MA said, as his group vowed full support for the MMDA’s Metro-wide earthquake drill on July 30.

With the massive campaign on the impending earthquake, both public and private sectors, including education institutions, are embarking on an annual and regular conduct of disaster-risk drills.

Public schools all over Metro Manila, especially those lying within the West Valley Fault, have been doing the risk drills.

The MMDA, on the other hand, will be conducting a Metro-wide earthquake drill on July 30. At 10:30 a.m., throughout the entirety of Metro Manila, and at 8 p.m. in the Ortigas business district, a warning siren will sound on the radio to signify the beginning of the shake drill.

At exactly 10:30 a.m., all radio stations have been asked to broadcast “earthquake sounds” for 45 seconds. All churches have been asked to ring their bells and all the stations and local government unit offices will activate their sirens and fire alarms.

Also at the designated time, traffic enforcers will go into the streets with “earthquake drill” signs to inform motorists of the ongoing activity. Vehicles will be asked to stop their cars for 45 seconds. Public-utility jeepneys, Asian utility vehicles and most public transport will be joining the activitiy.

For Rep. Rolando G. Andaya Jr.  of the First District Camarines Sur, the drill should be a regular thing among children and in all educational institutions.

He explained that educating children with safety measures at the event of natural and man-made disasters through awareness and participatory learning promotes a culture of safety and resilience.

The drills shall include practice and instruction concerning the location, use and operation of emergency exits, fire exits, extinguishers and other facilities provided for such purpose in buildings, as well as the proper evacuation of persons from buildings at the event of fires, earthquakes and other hazardous phenomena, he said.

“The drills shall include complete evacuation of all persons from buildings, if necessary. Teachers and personnel shall be trained in assisting students in the evacuation of a building in times of disasters,” he added.

Having said and done all precautions to prepare for disasters, are Filipinos prepared yet?

Each type of emergency, which also includes acts of terrorism and epidemic or disease outbreak, among others, requires different measures to keep us, and our loved ones, safe. As always, the best defense against casualties is knowledge and right preparation for these unforeseen forces.

News and thoughts of impending chaos already send bad vibes and panic to many Filipinos. Known for resiliency and deep faith in God, the Pinoy spirit soars and declares, “We have the biggest one, we have God!”

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