Addressing hazards in homes, offices and communities

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FURTHER to my article last week titled “The Big One” (and thanks to the overwhelming response in social media), I tried to describe impact assessment of a major earthquake when it hits Metro Manila (National Capital Region or NCR). I revisited the Metro Manila Earthquake Reduction Impact Study (MMEIRS) done by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in partnership with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) back in 2004.

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Our region’s urban vulnerability to earthquake damage paints a grim picture, and this may happen if we fail to plan and prepare. “The Big One” may divide Metro Manila in quadrants, north and south Pasig River, and east of west of the fault line. High intensity of the earthquake may cause bridges crossing the river to collapse and roads and utilities to be damaged, especially those situated on top of the fault line.

Instead of viewing the quadrants as isolated, based on potential mobility challenges, there is an opportunity to decentralize Metro Manila and develop sub-centers for disaster response, businesses and governance.

Despite our urban vulnerability, there are a lot of things that could be done to prepare and to reduce risks. We should not place the responsibility solely in the hands of the government but view the preparation against and reduction of the risks as a shared responsibility between the government and its citizens. Residents have the opportunity to plan and brace for hazards before the disaster in their own homes, offices and businesses.

The government should make sure that buildings, bridges and infrastructure are regularly maintained, with structural audit and retrofit, among others. There should be updating and implementing of land use plans and zoning ordinances including hazard zoning overlays, transportation, resilience and making our cities and communities smarter, safer and sustainable. Non-buildable, non-developable and non-saleable areas must be identified and be designated as open spaces. These areas are usually situated on fault lines, along river banks and estuaries, and other places vulnerable to liquefaction, erosion, etc.

I wish to share with you some of the 145 recommendations for addressing hazards before disasters that were put forward by Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group. They are the same recommendations that were sent to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and incumbent President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Decentralization, delegation and preparation
First and foremost essential in developing a disaster emergency management plan is de-centralization. As a student in Harvard, I made a study called Manila Megalopolis 2020 wherein I proposed that growth centers outside the metropolis should be identified, planned and developed as counter magnets to the already congested Metro Manila. The Philippine economy focuses heavily on the NCR, with 40 percent of our national economy, government businesses, schools, etc. located there. The government, schools and businesses should be encouraged to move outside of cities, or at least have satellite offices in the cities outside Metro Manila for the purpose of continuity.

Local government units (LGUs) cannot count entirely on the national government to extend assistance in emergencies. Barangay and neighborhoods should coordinate with the local government for rescue operations. It will be physically impossible to cover all areas and the entire population.

There should be publicly known designated open spaces that will serve as evacuation centers per barangay. There should also be prepared relief goods because lines of communication, mobility and flow of resources will be cut off after a disaster strikes. For disaster-prevention purposes, it is at the level of the LGUs that effective implementation of structural audit could be done and the creation of a disaster-preparedness plan and mapping could be developed.

An office or a household should not be dependent on a single person to oversee entire operations during emergencies. For example, each employee of Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture is given a pocket flashlight and a whistle. These are essentials to be able to see in the dark, as power outages occur, and they are communication tools to use for help if one is stuck under debris. The Palafox employees are also required to read and attend seminars regarding the office’s disaster emergency response management plan.

Next is delegation. In the LGU and barangay levels, there should be an effort to identify and locate all professionals within the area such as doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, construction workers, electricians and off-duty policemen and firemen. It would be ideal to enlist these people as responsible for specific areas during the calamity.

It is important to note that according to international experience, it will take at least 72 hours for national and international help to arrive. So it is important that each person knows how to survive, put out fires and apply first aid. In the office or home, it is important to update and maintain a number of fire extinguishers, first aid kits, even axes, hammers and rappelling rope, and food and water to last for three days.

Inside the home and office, it is important to reinforce fragile and heavy items that may fall. During evacuations, persons should be assigned tasks. For example, one should be designated as leader of a group so that confusion and panic can be avoided.

Last but not least is proper planning and preparation. To be able to properly prepare, make a priority checklist of things that would be immediately needed. Preparedness starts from awareness, so it is very important that dialogues and planning among residents, neighborhoods, barangay and LGUs are constant.

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