Doing storms better

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THERE was no assuring a region that had suffered 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan. After all, a year since there was no sense that any government was in control of their recovery and rehabilitation, their hunger and need and want.

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Faced with Typhoon Hagupit, the fears could only be far bigger than just being hit by the storm. The fear of storm surges, or no relief goods, of violence on the streets, of no one in control, of unsafe evacuation centers, of being separated from family, could only be part of one’s gut reaction.

It didn’t help that during that first briefing on the storm, the President seemed impatient with the members of his Cabinet, asking about exact information about where the storm would hit, and how strong it was going to be. He wanted to put all his eggs in one basket, and wanted to be sure.

We of course now know that as far as the weather is concerned, one can never be sure.

Better praning than sorry
At some point before the storm was to hit, we heard of the media being reprimanded for sowing such fear of Hagupit. Haiyan was far bigger and faster and more dangerous, and Hagupit is nothing compared to that.

And yet what functioned here was a whole lot of paranoia, the kind that might have in fact saved lives. Because people needed to evacuate early, and this time around they were being given the time to pack their things and find refuge in safer places. Having the media talk about Hagupit – and any other storm’s strength and effects – should not be seen as a bad thing. At least we are talking more intelligently about the weather, never mind that there’s so much distrust going around, never mind that there’s contradictory information.

We sift through that information. We find the more credible sources. We navigate social media and share and re-share the information that matters. I’d like to think that having information is better than no information at all. And in the case of Hagupit, having all this information meant being more responsible about what to share and retweet, what to believe and ignore.

It also meant media asking questions better. Getting in touch with local government officials early about disaster preparedness, asking them about needs and expected crises before these even happen.

It might sound like we were getting ahead of ourselves, but really, it’s a populace that is learning to brace itself for a storm and government neglect both. After Haiyan, it’s better praning than sorry.

Hooray for PAGASA and Project NOAH
If there are two government offices that, to me, rose to the occasion of Hagupit they are the PAGASA and Project NOAH.

Before the storm was even to hit, I loved that Project NOAH was actually speaking in terms the public could understand. Mahar Lagmay was warning about storm surges as daluyong, the possible height of flooding to be “kasing taaas ng first floor ng bahay.” Project NOAH’s infographics detailed what the different storm surge warnings meant given how high water could rise relative to a one-story home.

This was such a level-up to the kind of warnings we heard them making for Haiyan, the kind that Tacloban and the rest of Leyte, as well as Eastern Samar, did not understand.

PAGASA meanwhile is faced with information from every-weather-forecaster, hobbyists and media personalities alike. It needs to be said though that for Hagupit, PAGASA people were calm and collected, not ones to sow fear, but also ones to be firm about where the storm was going and when it would make landfall. They implored the public to listen to them, given the great amount of information being posted online, but also they were confidently delivering information themselves, making it more credible than any other source of Hagupit information.

Now that the worst of Hagupit is over, it is clear that PAGASA and Project NOAH, along with the media and LGUs, have learned the lessons from Haiyan well. That is, of course, if we are measuring the smaller number of casualties. Which is the number that matters, but not the only one we should be concerned about.

Doing better by the people
Worried about the Leyte kids I had met through the Surâ project, I posted a Facebook status wishing them well before the storm hit. Some talked about having already evacuated to safety; I tracked their FB statuses as long as I could, before the Internet became intermittent, and was relieved to find that they were posting statuses of hope and courage.

Hooray, too, for cellphone signals that didn’t disappear with the strong winds of Hagupit. Boo! that these services are not free, and that very few actually do have the benefit of mobile internet.

And this is the thing. No matter the amount of information we have about a coming storm, no matter how early we evacuate people, one can’t help but wonder how this government is actually caring for its people, beyond what is expected of them. Like what about warm meals in the evacuation centers? Clean toilets? Comfortable sleeping spaces? What of the needs of children and infants? Of a safe space for mothers who are breastfeeding? A safe space for children to play?

Are there health workers keeping track of illnesses and ailments. People in charge whom evacuees can run to for their every need? A storage facility for non-food needs, like mats and blankets and hygiene kits and medicines?

Making sure that people go back to their homes, and upon finding it in a state of destruction, that materials are available for use in rebuilding. That children are given the proper counseling for the trauma of displacement. That mothers remain focused on caring for their children and keeping the family together.

Yes, one might think these are too much to ask. But Haiyan taught us that in fact, these are basic needs for anyone who has survived a storm. Hagupit teaches us that while we might be doing storms better, there is still much to do better.

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3 Comments

  1. victor m. hernandez on

    Yes, there was better preparedness, and thanks to a less devatating typhoon than Haiyan. The greater challenge is in the rehailation and rebuilding.of areas that were battered. Basic public health and sanitation have to be prioritized. A review of land use and zoning, and house and building design policies are in order.
    there has to be a better s\tructures that should be built to withstand a yearly onslaught of typhoons.

  2. The Manila Times editorial made a good point when the editorial asserted that Hagupit weakened before it struck Pilipinas, and it is Pinoys’ prayers that made Hagupit weaken.

  3. Power restoration in all areas affected by typhoon Ruby has fallen behind NGCP schedules. Most are still without electricity this very minute. Issues with fresh water provide water late and night / early morning at low pressure and none during the day. What ever happened to the build back better concept after Yolanda / Hayian?