Metro Manila businesses told to prepare for the ‘Big One’

In Photo: Solidum

Businesses in Metro Manila should prepare and craft a postdisaster recovery plan in the event that a “Big One”, or a 7-2-magnitude earthquake, strikes Luzon, an official of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said.

Dr. Renato U. Solidum Jr., DOST undersecretary and director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), noted that the Big One could cause damages amounting to P2.3 trillion in Metro Manila. Solidum cited figures from a 2004 Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction study.

“Businesses should be seriously preparing for it [the Big One],” he told the BusinessMirror in an interview. In a plenary session during the 17th Conference of the Science Council of Asia held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City on Thursday, Solidum said Phivolcs has been urging businesses to plan carefully so they can cope with the impact of the earthquake.

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake generated by the West Valley Fault could result in the death of 34,000 people sans a disaster-preparedness plan in place.

“Most of the damage will be on the lifelines, including water, infrastructure, roads, ports and telecommunication. Ensuring that these lifelines are up and running following the Big One is of utmost concern,” Solidum added.

He said various transport systems must be established to lower risks. In his talk, Solidum made a pitch for the construction of new roads from the North and South to Metro Manila. He said there is a need to establish Metro-wide emergency road networks and establish heavy equipment arrangements for road clearing.

Solidum added the government should further decongest the Port of Manila and to identify alternative ports that businesses could use after the Big One strikes.

“Airports outside of Metro Manila, for example Clark, should be fully developed and utilized,” he said. Of the bridges in Metro Manila, the Phivolcs chief said only two need to be retrofitted to withstand a strong earthquake.

“Briges in Manila have been retrofitted, except for the Guadalupe Bridge that connects Makati and Mandaluyong and Lambingan Bridge along J.P. Rizal in Makati,” Solidum added.

The two bridges are vital connections for residents and business people who cross Pasig River. Retrofitting Lambingan Bridge, Solidum admitted, will create a “traffic mess”.

“If we retrofit it, we need to have alternative smaller bridges across Pasig River,” he said.

Integrity of buildings

Owners of houses and buildings were also urged to ensure that their structures are earthquake-resilient. The West Valley Fault, however destructive, will not “crack Manila open”, as it is not an open fault.

“The buildings on top will be damaged or collapsed, and if you’re there, it is dangerous, but beyond the fault, the major problem is the ground shaking,” Solidum said. “And as the building will fall, or parts of it will collapse, there will be casualties.”

The Phivolcs chief added residents in Manila are also aware of the Big One and have been prepared since 2004.  “But if you talk about building resiliency, we have around 13 percent of residential buildings that can suffer heavy damage. Around 40 percent could suffer slight damage.”

Metro Manila is regarded as one of the densest regions in the world, where around 12 million live in an area of only around 61,000 hectares.

Solidum, however, noted that the real problems are not the houses and buildings that have been built in recent years.

“By looking at two studies that we [Phivolcs] have conducted in 2004 and 2013, the construction industry has done better,” he said. “Our real problem is the nonengineered buildings.”

Solidum urged engineers to provide model designs and a list of materials that the public can use to construct an earthquake-resistant house, “so they can have one without having to consult an engineer”.

Phivolcs has also developed many applications and tools to help people realize and imagine the impact of the Big One. “We have the Faultfinder, we have the Geoportal for hazards and the ‘How safe is my house?’ questionnaire.”

Collective effort

Solidum had three reminders to the public. “The first thing is to ensure that their houses, or building that they occupy, will not collapse.”

“Also, ensure that equipment or parts of the building will not fall on them during the earthquake so they must respond by doing the drop, cover and hold,” he added.

Last, Solidum urged the public to secure emergency kits or “Go” bags containing food, water and first-aid kits, and to identify contact persons. “Many people have asked what the government is doing, and it’s a good question but, the most important question, here is ‘What are you doing?’” he said, adding people should be mindful of their
own safety.

“We have the science, we have the tool to imagine, we have to convert the imagination and awareness into action,” Solidum added.

Image Credits: Stephanie Tumampos

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Stephanie Tumampos has a Bachelor's degree in Applied Physics obtained at the University of the Philippines Los Baños and a master's degree in Environmental Engineering obtained from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is currently a correspondent and a photojournalist for more than 3 years in BusinessMirror and writes under the Science, Biodiversity and Faith pages.

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