When disaster hits: Salceda’s advice to local execs

Among Albay Governor Joey Salceda's tips: Use the maps, don't quarrel with other officials, reward constituents who cooperate, this doesn't come cheap

EXPERTS. Officials with experience in disaster risk reduction and recovery hand out tips to ensure rehabilitation in Typhoon Yolanda-affected areas go smoothly. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Albay Governor Joey Salceda has been making the rounds a lot. On TV, in print, in seminars and briefings, he talks about the art and science of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Albay, after all, boasts of a practically zero casualty record in most of the major disasters since Salceda came into office.

Recently, Salceda once more shared Albay’s tried and tested ways to prepare for a disaster, with reconstruction experts and local officials from areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) as his audience.

At the “Build Back Better” briefing organized by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency on Friday, January 24, he gave these lessons on what to do when you’re leading communities hit by disasters:

Know your goals…

Salceda told the audience, which included Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Tanauan Mayor Pel Tecson, that the first step is clearly defining your goals.

Albay, in Salceda’s own words, is the “Vatican of disasters.” Located along the “typhoon belt,” the province is a reluctant host to several typhoons every year. There’s also the “beautiful but dangerous” Mayon Volcano, whose lava and lahar flow threatens two major towns.

For the provincial government, the goal was to reduce uncertainty, and to identify and reduce risks. A lot of research happened even before the provincial government executed any plans.

…and your maps.

Maps are a curious thing. In the world of big data and the Internet, maps are a dime a dozen. But it’s what you do with the maps that spells a world of difference.

“We have all the maps. The difference between Albay and the rest is that we use them,” Salceda said. Every year, the province conducts a Disaster Risk Assessment and talks to different government agencies – weather bureau PAGASA, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the Philippine Volcanology and Seismology Bureau, to name a few.

Having maps and understanding them is an obvious but often neglected step, said Salceda.

“Local government units (LGUs) have no excuse not to do hazard mapping.”

Offer rewards.

Casualties are non-existent in Albay mostly because residents are removed from hazard zones as soon as the threat is established. When a typhoon nears the province, communities at risk are evacuated up to 3 days before the storm.

Residents are also made to stay in evacuation centers after the storm, just in case it’s not safe yet to return to their homes. During Yolanda, for instance, evacuees stayed in the centers up to 2 days after the storm made landfall.

Evacuation in the Philippines, though, is easier said than done. Many evacuees insist on staying behind for many reasons – fear of looting in their homes, a mistaken belief that the storm won’t be that bad, or the worry that they’ll be worse off in evacuation centers.

It’s the reason why the provincial government of Albay makes sure its emergency shelters are clean and safe. As a bonus, families are guaranteed 5 kilos of rice upon entering the centers.

“You have to reward them for cooperating. Otherwise, what’s the basis? They have lives to live. Hangga’t walang reward, chika lang,” he said. (Until you offer them rewards, they won’t take you seriously.)

It may be a costly method, but Salceda says it’s better than the alternative – having to bring people to safer ground during a calamity. “Movement during the event itself is not evacuation, it’s rescue,” he said.

Salceda also doesn’t believe in “forced” and “willing” evacuees. “Evacuation should always be mandatory. If you’re at risk, evacuate!” he added.

Own the risk.

The local chief executive can only do so much before, during, and even after the storm. That’s why Salceda makes sure Albay locals not only understand but own the risk.

“I won’t be there to protect them once it’s there. It’s either they know what to do, or they don’t,” he said.

The provincial government started household-based risk mapping in all barangays. Each citizens knows what sort of hazards they face during a natural calamity, and they know where to go.

They start them young in Albay – during pre-school, even. Little kids are taught and later quizzed about what they should do during a disaster. Yes, all bases are covered.

Don’t fight with other officials.

In disasters, communication lines – especially between community leaders and officials – are just as important as food and shelter. Communication lines are something the provincial government set in place early on. There’s an infoboard for barangay officials through which Salceda sends out important alerts with one click of a mouse button.

They also err on the safe side when it comes to sending out info – they allow “up to 3, but not more than 5” redundant systems. Social media is also a huge help for Albay, since most of its residents get information from the Internet.

“I’m the most popular person on Facebook during a storm,” joked Salceda.

But all those communication lines mean nothing when there’s quarreling. Here’s another disaster response basic from Salceda: “Don’t quarrel with anyone.”

Even then, said the governor, communication should be institution- and not personality-oriented. “Write a letter to the mayor’s office, not to the mayor,” he said.

Spend. Remember.

Salceda says Albay’s “zero casualty” comes with a hefty price tag. “It’s very expensive. Kailangang tumambling,” he added. (It doesn’t come cheap.)

Aside from the maps from national government, Salceda also goes through research by private institutions – “The Manila Observatory makes very good maps, but they’re very expensive” – and relies on the latest technology to get the best information.

For a politician, it also means taking risks. In Albay, it means not being afraid to spend its DRR fund on things the government thought was necessary.

And there’s one more thing: Make it a point to remember. Salceda cites massive flooding in Metro Manila during Typhoon Ondoy as an example.

“Look at Ondoy, nobody remembers Ondoy,” he said.

Will local officials be quick to forget Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)? – Rappler.com