Disaster imagination: 3 steps toward disaster preparedness
MANILA, Philippines – "If not for disaster imagination, your preparedness may not be appropriate."
This was the statement of Renato Solidum Jr, Department of Science and Technology undersecretary for disaster risk reduction and climate change, during his speech at the Agos Summit on Disaster Preparedness on Saturday, July 8.
According to Solidum, while disaster preparedness is important, people will only be convinced to prepare after they have internalized what can happen to them and their family in times of disasters.
"We need [imagination] for disaster preparedness. We need to have science-based – not only based on experience – hazard and risk scenarios for extreme events like earthquakes, super typhoons, tsunamis, storm surges, and big volcanic eruptions," he added.
But Solidum emphasized that risk imagination needs to be applied not only at the local level, but also at the regional and national levels.
"Extreme events cannot be prepared for singly by the local government. Extreme events must be prepared for, orchestrated at the national or regional level; otherwise, if we don't have these scenarios and no conductor, our efforts we think are good, but these will not be aligned. And when these large-scale disasters will occur, we will find out that we are not working as a whole to prevent large-scale disasters."
Here are 3 things to do when imagining a disaster:
- Identify all the hazards in the place of interest. This can be one's house, office, building, or in the case of a mayor, the town.
- Depending on the scale of the hazards, determine the areas that can be affected. In the case of an earthquake, Solidum said one must find out which areas will be affected or not.
"You pinpoint those areas that will not be affected to be the ones helping those that will be affected."
- Assess not only the hazard but also the impact. This means counting buildings, houses, and structures that will be damaged, the number of people who will die or get injured, and even the economic losses and social interruption. "We need to do that so that we can prepare plans to save lives and countermeasures like engineering and non-engineering solutions to reduce the risks."
The assessment of impact also involves evaluating critical facilities such as ports, airports, and hospitals, and preparing plans on how to respond so that these facilities can be operational immediately after a disaster.
"We have to define what we call a recovery time objective, a deadline when we will operate these. If we don't put a deadline... it will be a slow process, and people will complain. And this has been the most serious sickness in many of our plans. If we have a preparedness to respond before a disaster, then we also have a preparedness to recover and everything will be tackled and be back to normal as soon as possible."
Imagining a Metro Manila quake
During his speech, Solidum gave an example of disaster imagination by imagining a West Valley Fault earthquake in Metro Manila.
"Let us say if, for example, we transport the Leyte earthquake to Manila, the death in Leyte is so far two, the death in Metro Manila will be 23,000. Why? Because of the number of buildings and houses, the number of people, and the fact that there are non-engineered buildings here," Solidum said, referring to the magnitude-6.5 earthquake that struck the province of Leyte on Thursday, July 6.
The casualties are estimated to be higher in the event of a magnitude-7.2 earthquake: 31,000 deaths. Thousands are also estimated to sustain serious to very serious injuries during both scenarios.
"What we should do though is reduce the number of victims by strengthening the houses and buildings. That's a lot, and we will need P2.3 trillion ($45.45 billion)* to recover and build back houses and buildings, and that is almost 1 year annual budget of the government – budget intended to be distributed in all regions of the Philippines," Solidum explained.
He added: "So a big earthquake affecting Manila will not only directly affect Manila and surrounding provinces; it will indirectly affect the whole country."
Solidum then urged the audience to monitor hazards, warn areas that can be warned if the event can be forecasted, and share information that is important to people.
"[Our] role [is to] properly and timely respond to this information. We need to make sure we are in a safe location, that our houses and buildings have been done so that we have a safe construction. We need to prepare our own lives, our own assets and businesses. We also need to prepare in case this event would happen, and most importantly recover as soon as possible."
Doing all these based on disaster imagination "can not only make the Philippines a place that is more fun to visit, but a place which is more safe to live in," Solidum added.
Solidum's speech concluded the two-day Agos Summit on Disaster Preparedness organized by Rappler's civic engagement arm MovePH. – Rappler.com
*US$1 = P50.61