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SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau

House Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation Congress summit zeroes in on harmonizing disaster response plans
15 November 2018 05:53:44 PM

Government leaders and experts on disaster preparedness gathered at the House of Representatives on Wednesday for the Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation Congress summit to discuss the various initiatives and projects by the government and private sector to prepare, respond, and mitigate natural hazards.

The summit, attended by former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was spearheaded by the House Committee on Metro Manila Development chaired by Rep. Winston Castelo (2nd District, Quezon City). It was part of a week-long initiative to educate and inform the public on disaster preparedness and to provide private organizations and government agencies the chance to share insights and knowledge.

Castelo emphasized that the summit served as an opportunity to create a comprehensive, unified, and harmonized plan of action for calamities, whether natural or human-induced.

"Yes, we admit there are certain programs, activities, and preparations. However, [it's on an] individual basis—the government has its own, the NGO (nongovernment organization) has its own, the corporation has its own, the barangay has its own," Castelo said. "However, I think there is a need so that we will synchronize all these efforts."

The summit featured talks from heads of government agencies that play a critical role in preparation for disasters and the mitigation of their effects. The event also featured discussions by local community, nongovernment organizations (NGO), and corporate leaders on their protocols and strategies.

Renato Solidum, Jr., Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director, stressed that the possible effects and damages must be learned to ensure that the efforts to prepare are indeed comprehensive and exhaustive.

Solidum cautioned that there must be preparations not only for "The Big One," a 7.2-magnitude earthquake generated by movement of the West Valley Fault and predicted to ravage lives and infrastructure in Metro Manila, but for other large-scale calamities.

"But that is only one scenario that we are preparing for. The other scenario is an earthquake offshore, which would not cause the large shaking, but we need to prepare for a tsunami," he said.

According to Solidum, areas far from an active fault can still suffer effects such as strong shaking that can damage buildings and homes that are not well-built. It can also trigger after-effects that are more destructive than the quake itself.

He said the potential damages and losses are far-reaching, primary of which is the possible loss of lives. The devastation will also include the loss of property; interruption to the food supply; and disruption to water, power, and telecommunication services, transportation system, and medical and other government services.

Moreover, urban areas face increased vulnerability in comparison to rural areas.

"There is increased vulnerability in urban areas. There is unprecedented concentration of people and organizations in a small, confined area. There is also concentration of capital investment. There is also high incidence of poverty as poor people flock the metropolis to find fort," Solidum said.

For his part, Arnel Rivera, Department of Health (DOH) Response, Recovery, and Rehabilitation Division Chief, educated the event attendees on the functions of the DOH and its divisions so that they would know who best to call upon during and after a disaster.

Rivera also discussed the partnerships of the DOH with relevant organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), specialists, and experts to handle any medical eventuality.

The DOH offers trainings and seminars both for emergency responders and professionals and the general public.

Meanwhile, Climate Change Commission Policy Research and Development Division representative Ayesha Sarapuddin talked about adaptation and mitigation in the context of climate change.

"Simply put, adaptation involves actions taken to manage the eventual and unavoidable impacts of climate change while mitigation involves reduction in human anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases," Sarapuddin said.

She reported that the Philippines' National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) covers seven thematic priorities: food security, water sufficiency, ecological and environmental stability, human security, climate-smart industries and services, sustainable energy, and knowledge and capacity development.

The NCCAP is now being updated through a government and society consultation process to ensure its continued relevance, responsiveness, and inclusiveness.

"Our starting point is that climate action should protect the most vulnerable members of society including women, the indigenous peoples, and the urban and rural poor," Sarapuddin said. "This is climate justice: that those who are most vulnerable, who suffer the most from the adverse effects of climate change, and who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are empowered and enabled."

Barangay Blue Ridge B Chairperson Susan Castro-Lee shared her insights on effective and efficient community-level preparedness. She shared how her barangay enforces and invests in a cloistered evacuation approach in the event of a disaster.

Lee said their barangay has actively invested in disaster preparedness by beefing up its disaster preparedness equipment and vehicles as well as ensuring that all the barangay staff are equipped with the necessary skills.

It also employs a neighborhood buddy system so that all households will have another family to rely on during a disaster.

Most importantly, Lee said Barangay Blue Ridge B relies on a clustered evacuation plan wherein a safe area to gather is allocated for each street. Each area, called a street camp, is equipped with solar lamp posts.

The street camps are also stocked with basic tools and supplies. The supplies are refreshed as necessary and gradually supplemented with more equipment such as handheld radio units, additional first aid supplies, sanitation and hygiene kits, kitchen supplies, linens, and tents.

According to Lee, this ensures that rescue and relief work can start on each street as soon as possible.

The members of each household are trained on how to act in an emergency by doing a headcount, clearing out debris to set up camp, and prioritizing the sick, injured, elderly, and children. Lee added that the barangay takes into consideration even the youth and kasambahay, as they are most likely to be the ones at home during a disaster.

"Kung 'di mangyari, mabuti. Hindi kami manghihinayang sa paghahandang iyan. Pero kung mangyari, [we're] ready," Lee said.

Moreover, Globe Telecoms Inc. Sector Relations Director Robert Aquino discussed the company's protocols as a public utility provider, particularly as a member of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Emergency Telecoms Cluster.

Aquino said that, as Globe learned from the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban in 2013, it is vital for the telco to be among the first responders.

The company has also invested in technologies such as more compact and wider range Cellsite-on-Wheels (COW), Network-in-a-Box (NIB), portable very small aperture terminals (VSATs), and Cellular-on-a-Light-Truck (COLT).

Globe also established regional support organizations internally and externally, set up arrangements with critical suppliers through a foundation called the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), and automated the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Outage Report.

In addition, under Republic Act 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, Globe sends out free mobile disaster alerts and has set up a Cell Broadcast System that is more accurate and useful for emergencies.

The symposium was capped with a round table discussion where the speakers further elaborated on their presentations and engaged the inquiries and observations of the symposium attendees. Members of the House, such as Reps. Bayani Fernando (1st District, Marikina City) and Geraldine Roman (1st District, Bataan), also participated and shared insights. | Czarina Engracia