Here’s a challenge: Take disaster preparedness seriously

Raisa Serafica
Here’s a challenge: Take disaster preparedness seriously
I witnessed a major disaster response drill and I was disheartened with what I saw.

Loud sirens roused the busy streets of Manila. Policemen, fire and rescue teams, volunteers, and disaster responders wasted no time and quickly filled a major street in the country’s capital. The man on the radio just announced that a very strong earthquake hit Manila. 

Fortunately, it was all just a drill.

Recently,  the Manila city government, together with national agencies, tested the government and community response in case ‘the big one’ strikes.

Watching the earthquake drill from the sidelines, I couldn’t help but notice the dissonant responses from the people.

While rescuers and responders rushed to various disaster scenarios, only a few took the city-wide tsunami and earthquake drill seriously – the rest either took selfies, welcomed the much-needed break from work, or ignored the drill all together.

Bigger disaster

I neither had to look for the missing fire in the buildings nor check for the debris that should be obstructing the major highways. The short and slow strides, calm expressions, and almost stoic responses of the people were enough to remind me that it was just a drill.

I was disheartened. Considering the country’s long history of typhoons and the combo mega disasters that recently battered the nation – Habagat, the Visayas earthquake, and Super Typhoon Yolanda – I hoped for a more informed and cooperative response from the people.

The drill made me realize that disasters don’t always become natural calamities. More often than not, disasters happen because of wrong policies.

But in the case of the Philippines, the bigger disasters that it faces are, first, the lack of an innovative and sustained information drive; and, second, an uninvolved citizenry. 

What if there were a real earthquake? Would they respond differently? More importantly, would people know what to do and where to go?

SCENARIO. Hazards in case of a strong earthquake in Manila include fire, building collapse, liquefaction, and tsunami. Photo by John Uy/Rappler

Perennial problem

According to Manila disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) chief Johnny Yu, this is a common problem whenever local government units (LGUs) conduct emergency drills.

“Many civilians don’t take emergency drills seriously. They only become serious when the actual disaster scenario happens,” Yu explained in Filipino.

This is the reason why the  Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director Renato Solidum emphasized the importance of a sustained information drive coupled with an effective capacity-building of communities. 

After all, how can individuals and communities prepare for disasters if they are not made aware of the consequences they will face and what they can do to avoid these? How can they appreciate the importance of the drill if they don’t see its significance to their lives and the lives of the people they love? 

“You have to think of the potential effects of the earthquake to Manila – fire, building collapse, tsunami and liquefaction. Given that situation, people should not expect that immediate help will come right away. It is a must for communities to respond immediately,” Solidum said during Rappler’s TalkThursday interview on July 10.

In building more disaster-resilient communities, there are many innovative and comprehensive programs national agencies and local government units can employ. 

In fact, Solidum suggested at least 3 ways for government agencies to capacitate communities: 1) have professional engineers and architects in each community conduct their own ‘medical mission’ for ‘sick houses’; 2) train more volunteer responders; and 3) have the education department institutionalize an assignment for students to prepare and outline an evacuation plan for their own homes. 

Shared responsibility

Disaster experts have – time and again – emphasized why it is important to prepare for disasters. Doing so could save thousands of lives, properties, and livelihood. It could even spare the nation billions of pesos in economic loss. 

However, we often associate – or reduce – disaster preparedness to a plethora of national programs: flood mitigation, relief operations, evacuation programs, and etc. 

But the truth is, an effective national disaster preparedness program goes beyond that – it is an individual responsibility as much as it is a national obligation. 

Having said that, here’s a challenge for everyone: take disaster preparedness seriously. 

Prepare your disaster kit. Read on what to do before, during, and after a flood, an earthquakefire, storm surge, and tsunami. Know your internet etiquette during disasters. You can even check the earthquake-preparedness of your house and workplace. 

More importantly, spread the word. 

After all, earthquakes and typhoons are inevitable – but our lack of preparedness is something we can change today. – 

You can be a hero! Sign up for the MovePH community to receive regular updates on how you can help change the world. You can also visit Project Agos microsite for more details on disaster preparedness and response 

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Raisa Serafica

Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.