Are we ready for the Big One?

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The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) successfully staged the first ever synchronized earthquake drill in Metro Manila on July 30.

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■ Phivolcs Director  Solidum Jr. (center), here with DPWH Secretary Jose Singson and MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, considers the Metro Manila “Shake Drill” a success and believes that exercises like this should be continued.  PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

■ Phivolcs Director Solidum Jr. (center), here with DPWH Secretary Jose Singson and MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, considers the Metro Manila “Shake Drill” a success and believes that exercises like this should be continued. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

After what was dubbed the “Shake Drill,” Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum is positive that the awareness of the Filipinos has greatly increased if the West Valley Fault, which cut across the capital of more than 12 million people and outlying provinces, will shift anytime based on its seismic history.

“We convert this to preparedness and continue it,” Solidum added. “In a real earthquake, the ground will shake and you will not be able to stand up so we need to remember the ‘duck, cover and hold’ practice then evacuate to an open area.”

For Solidum, all the efforts of Phivolcs to educate the public to be prepared in times of disasters including volcanic eruption and tsunami as well are slowly gaining success. This is especially important now that the Phivolcs Data Receiving Center is replete with state-of-the-art equipment like the digital seismograph.

The institution also produced its own software called the Rapid Earthquake Damage Assessment System (REDAS) that maps the earthquake intensity and its possible effects.
Indeed, Phivolcs has gone a long way from using the ancient needle-on-a-roll-of paper seismograph, to being a sophisticated hub of scientific activities. Solidum boasts of what the institution have finally achieved with the highly-advanced equipments they’ve long wished for.

“Our approach is many-pronged. We produce awareness materials. We produce guidelines on earthquake preparedness and tsunami preparedness. We develop tools that can help disaster managers and development planners integrate hazards and risks in their plans so they can also protect themselves economically from the possible impact of a hazard. I think our role is using science and introducing science to have safer communities,” he explained.

With more interesting information about the so-called “Big One,” The Sunday Times Magazine shares this exclusive question and answer with Solidum.

Sunday Times Magazine (STM): You have been quoted to have said that the country is due for a big earthquake. What can you say about this?

  Police officers and employees of the Manila Police District (MPD) practice the “Duck, Cover and Hold On” action to reduce injury and death during earthquake

Police officers and employees of the Manila Police District (MPD) practice the “Duck, Cover and Hold On” action to reduce injury and death during earthquake

Renato Solidum (RS): No one can predict earthquakes but based on historical records, Metro Manila’s West Valley Fault is due for the next “Big One” within our lifetime. A possible 7.2 earthquake looms around the corner if the West Valley Fault along the eastern side of Metro Manila cracks.

The West Valley Fault that runs from the heights of Sierra Madre down to Laguna crosses the eastern side of Quezon City, western side of Marikina, western part of Pasig, eastern part of Makati, and parts of Taguig and Muntinlupa.

Actually we placed a downloadable Atlas of the Valley Fault System in Greater Manila Area in Phivolcs website www.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph for everybody to access.

STM: What would be the scenarios if the Big One happened?

RS: A 7.2 magnitude earthquake can shake the ground even a hundred kilometers away. Meaning, it can shake the whole Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces. Even substandard, poorly designed buildings far from the earthquake fault are still vulnerable to destruction. Grounds can also be affected by liquefaction, a process where loose, sandy sediments behave like liquid. This can cause poorly constructed buildings and houses to subside or tilt, water banks broken. Areas near the waters like Marikina Valley down to Manila de Ba-I and the coastal cities of Metro Manila are more likely to experience stronger ground shaking due to the softer ground they are built on.

STM: How many active faults does the country have?

RS: We have more than a dozen big ones. The longest is the Philippine Fault Zone, from Luzon to Mindanao. You can actually divide it into segments but it would be too difficult to count the exact number.

STM: Are we ready?

RS: The recent Shake Drill is a big leap because it created awareness that we hope to result to preparedness. I’ve been presenting to a lot of companies, organizations and other groups on “Bracing Metro Manila and Vicinity from the Impacts of a Strong Earthquake.” In that presentation, I talk about actions for disaster risk management, an imaginary scenarios of what will take place during the earthquake and so on.

STM: What are your recommendations to be able to cope with these natural disasters?

RS: The most important preparation measure is to make sure that buildings, houses, and infrastructures in Metro Manila are earthquake and fire-resistant.

On the local level, buildings and houses should be assessed. The issue though is some of the buildings are non-engineered and mostly likely no permit so we have to focus on that also.

Water and power supply and communications should be strengthened also and made fire and earthquake proof.

There should be an efficient relief and recovery system after the earthquake where provinces unaffected by the earthquake should help those that are affected.

If there is a medical mission, we should also have a sort of “housing mission” wherein engineers and other real estate developers would give free assessment on buildings and houses so that people can assess their buildings or houses and do something to repair or renovate to cope with these natural calamities.

Preparedness need not only be concentrated in Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces but also to the other regions.

For more information contact the following hotlines 24/7: 929-9254 and 426-1468 local 124 (Earthquake and Tsunami); 426-1468 local 127 (Volcano); or 426-1468 local 128 and 927-4524 (IEC materials).

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