Pasig City: Bonding communities key to disaster mitigation
MANILA, Philippines – The people of Barangay Santolan in Pasig City are vulnerable but not helpless.
A low-lying village near the Pasig River, Santolan is the catch basin for rain run-off coming from neighboring cities Antipolo and Marikina. Flooding is inevitable during typhoons.
Of all the storms it weathered, however, the community will never forget Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009 as the typhoon submerged almost the entire community.
According to village councilor Dino Raymundo, in spite of the preparations to evacuate citizens and coordinate with the city government, they still felt Ondoy's wrath.
"Wala talagang nakaligtas. Halos yung buong barangay ng Santolan ay inabot ng baha," Raymundo said. (Typhoon Ondoy spared no one. Almost our entire baranggay was submerged in flood.)
Around 30,000 residents were evacuated during the typhoon. The evacuees returned to their damaged homes, but they were kept safe because they complied with the city's early warnings. Despite being the hardest hit community in Pasig, there were no casualties.
Raymundo said the mindset to evacuate for safety needs to be instilled before disasters strike. (READ: The calamity of mistrust)
"Mayroon kaming mga yearly seminars para maaga palang alam na ng mga tao," said Raymundo. (We conduct yearly seminars so that people will know what needs to be done beforehand.)
Learning from the past
Learning from past typhoons like Ondoy and Yolanda, Pasig's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO) conducts table-top simulations to prepare community leaders for various hazards like floods and earthquakes.
This year's exercise, held last February 24 to 28, had over 300 attendees coming from the communities and the city hall. (READ: Are we ready for another Ondoy?)
"Kailangan consistent ang reminder at training, yung pinaghahandaan mo ay hindi naman pang-araw-araw na pangyayari,” Pasig DRRMO chief Ritche Van Angeles said. (You need to be consistent in reminding and training because what you are preparing for is not an everyday occurrence.)
The program tackled disaster workflows before, during, and after disasters. A clear list of vital data needed for search and rescue operations was presented. Officials were given a walk through of worst-case scenarios of different disasters.
"We need to follow, listen, and have discipline and cooperation. We have to be aware of all things coming from the local government, the barangay level, and the national level," Raymundo said.
According to Angeles, the biggest challenges to the city's DRRM plan are the varying resources and levels of capacities of the different barangays.
In order to solve this problem, Pasig created a clustering system for more effective disaster response. The system works like a miniature Incident Command System (ICS) – it focuses on how barangays can systematically help each other in times of need, and clarifies the roles and functions of each community leader during disasters.
Camaraderie and brotherhood are essential to this system. Before disasters strike, officers are acquainted with those from other communities, strengthening ties that will be tested during emergency response.
According to Angeles, clustering will help solve the common problem of confusion in roles and leadership during disasters. (READ: Typhoon Yolanda: Confusion or weakness in operational leadership)
ICS is a tool initiated by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to manage on-scene, all-hazard disasters and incidents.
The ICS is able to mobilize and coordinate local responders in the event of a national calamity. (READ: SBMA fire and rescue team: A model for the country)
Angeles said that complacency is an enemy of effective preparation.
“We don’t claim that we’re 100% ready, you never know with natural disasters. What we can say is that Pasig City regulalry conducts trainigs. We never stop learning. It’s a continuous cycle,” he added.
He said the lack of resources is no excuse for the number of lives lost in a disaster.
Given that the entire workshop simulated worst-case scenarios with minimal resources for response, the training helped leaders prepare themselves mentally without relying too much on existing technology or resources.
"It's very important that you practice as if you lack resources. So in the deluge, if there are loopholes, or unforseen problems, you can assess what you have and what you don't have, and you can still work. Everyday, every month and every year, disaster preparedness programs need to be updated for different situations," Angeles said in Filipino.
As for Raymundo, he is confident that Barangay Santolan is ready for any kind of disaster because they are in constant communication with outside communities.
"Lahat ng pangangailangan namin naibabastahan na namin dahil doon sa scenario na ang tanong na nalaman naman natin ay hindi nawawala sa Pilipinas yung bagyo," says Raymundo. (We anticipate all our needs already because we know that the Philippines will never stop having storms)
Angeles said the city aims to prove that even with incomplete resources for disaster operations, lives can be saved if LGUs capitalize on preparation and on each other. For Pasig City, bonding communities paves the way for disaster resiliency.
Watch this report by David Lozada.