Butuan disaster official: Information key to risk reduction
BUTUAN CITY, Philippines — “Kahadlok (Scary). Traumatic.”
These were the first words that Philippine Coast Guard Captain of Arms Randy Gallarion stated as he recalled his experience in rescuing people during the flashfloods caused by Tropical Depression Agaton, last January 2014 in Butuan City.
People were trapped inside their homes, helpless and waiting for the rescuers to come.
To extract the victims, Gallarion, together with his team, had to dive into the murky waters, dodge trees and rooves that were sticking out, not sure if they themselves would survive.
“Dili lalim ang pagrescue. Kadto ganing naa pa ko sa CDO sa Bagyong Yoyong sa 2009, nacapsize among rubber boat,” the officer expressed. “Abi nila sa HQ, patay na mi, kay wala na mi ni-report. Naghulat na lang mi hantod sa kamaayo sa ginoo, naay niabot.”
(It is not easy to be a rescuer. When we were in Cagayan de Oro City, during Tropical Storm Yoyong back in 2009, our boat capsized. The Army Headquarters thought we were dead, because we didn’t report back. All we did was wait, and by God’s grace we were rescued.)
Instead of being the rescuers, they became the victims. Mother Nature took its course and hit their boat hard, while the officers were rendered helpless.
Butuan City is no stranger to disasters. It has been hit by several typhoons in the past few years. But in 2014, Agaton ravaged Butuan City and the CARAGA Region, where there was a total of 29 deaths, 4 injured and 38 missing people.
As Bong Catedral, the city's Disaster Response and Early Warning Officer, recounted, 126,000 individuals were displaced, and floodwaters reached 4.6 meters. The worst experience, however, was of a community along the Agusan River, Butuan City’s main waterway, that refused to be evacuated amidst the warnings, Catedral said.
He narrated how families from the distant barangay refused to be evacuated the day before, because every time they are told to evacuate, nothing bad ever happened to them.
“Nakahilak ko kay daghan na kaayo ug tawag, pero di na lang nako ginatubag kay mao ra gihapon pirmi. Wa na mi madeploy,” he said as he described the scenario in the operations center of Butuan City.
(I felt helpess because there were a lot of people calling yet we don't have people to deploy.)
"Mas grabe ba untana to ang flood kung wala lang nakit.an ang sinkhole sa dike,” Catedral commented, as he remembered how this whole event could have ended up much worse.
(The flood could have been so much worse if we did not see the sinkhole in the dike.)
He was thankful that the information was reported to them, and they were able to attend to the problem in Butuan’s dike system. Without the information, hundreds more could have been affected along the riverside.
“We move forward by making sure that information is always present. Information is key,” he concluded.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Operations Officer Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Sadang also emphasized the importance of public awareness in the grassroots level.
“You will be reverberating the preparedness if every member of the family is aware. Hindi na enough ang family level lang (Family level information is not enough),” he said
Sadang then gives an alternate situation of what could happen without it.
“If a lot of neighbors are not prepared, it would be like the walking dead. There would be looting, and many other complications if information is not present.”
‘Whole of Nation’ approach
In order to forward this public awareness, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and National Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), together with groups from various sectors, shared good practices and used technology in disaster communications during the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) “Bayanihan” Summit on Thursday and Friday (July 14-15), in Butuan City.
The event focused on building frameworks on how each sector and region would respond in the event of a disaster. This involved using traditional means of communication such as radios and satellite phones.
The CARAGA Region was lauded by Bong Grajo, Managing Director of Emergency Response Integration Center (ERIC), for having one of the most organized internal communications systems, while being equipped with the most number of satellite phones, generators and laptops.
However, beyond the internal and traditional communications, the event also highlighted NDRRMC’s disaster information mobile app Batingaw, volunteer-created ERIC, as well as Rappler’s Agos-eBayanihan, which were introduced and tested by the participants.
Rappler MovePH Executive Director Rupert Ambil provided a different perspective with the use of social media.
“We are like an audit system of what the government provides,” he said.
With the use of social media, Ambil added that the world of communication has changed. Social media has become a tool for social good, which allows a normal citizen to report events happening on the ground.
Lt. Col. Sadang, acknowledges that the government needs all the help they can get. Times have changed and the “whole of nation” approach is already called for.
“We need the 3Ps. P+P+P=0. Mathematically wrong, but in disaster response it is correct. People + Public + Private = Zero Casualty,” joked Sadang in a mix of English and Filipino.
He iterated how important it is for multiple sectors to work together to produce the zero casualty during disasters. If there was one P removed from the equation, then it would no longer equate to zero.
“Hindi kami ang Harry Potter ng DRRM. Hindi namin kayang mag-isa. Kung kaya namin eh di sana ganun na lang (We are not the Harry Potter of DRRM. We can't do it alone. If we could, we would do it like that),” the AFP officer added as he acts like he is wave a wand. — Rappler.com
Born and raised in Butuan City, Pocholo Espina is a Rappler Mover and a Health Science student of the Ateneo de Manila University.