Yolanda: Post-disaster management innovations

By Rosalie O. Abatayo |November 06,2018 - 10:09 PM

The houses built for families displaced by Super Typhoon Yolanda at Barangay Maya Daanbantayan town (left) and the housing project by the Philippine Red Cross in San Remigio town./CDN file photos

Five years after

Uncoordinated response, a lack of equipment, and a lack of able personnel.

These were among the challenges faced by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) during its response to the havoc inflicted on Northern Cebu by Super Typhoon Yolanda in November of 2013.

“Before Yolanda, we did not have any system. The office was there but it was only more on response. When there’s a calamity, I would still have to call and look for Capitol employees who can help us out,” recalled PDRRMO head Baltazar Tribunalo.

Five years since Yolanda’s wrath left a trail of devastation in 16 areas of Northern Cebu, much has been improved; but there is yet a long way to go.

The rescue trucks equipped with emergency response equipment procured by the province.
CDN photo/ Rosalie O. Abatayo

Early Warning System

Compared to PDRRMO’s data access and efficiency of warning half a decade ago, Tribunalo said their office now has a more comprehensive, real time and reliable data monitoring and early warning system that can readily relay distress calls to PDRRMO’s counterparts in the local disaster offices of the different municipalities and cities of Cebu.

In the PDRRMO monitoring station at the Capitol conpound today, are LED monitors that are synced with data from Department of Science and Technology (DOST) attached agencies, particularly the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs).

“Our early warning system now is more than just alarms or sirens, we have the text blast [system]. The text blast is sent to all LDRRM (Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management) officers and mayors in order for them to act upon the information. This was one of the things we lacked before,” Tribunalo said.

Response

Aside from the early warning system, PDRRMO also heavily invested on equipment that would make disaster response operations, whether on land or in water, more efficient.

In October, two state-of-the art rescue trucks from Japan were procured by the disaster management office.

Each vehicle, including the rescue equipment that are in it, costs at least P17 million.

Tribunalo said the rescue trucks are akin to an emergency response equipment kit that is needed during operations.

For underwater search and rescue missions, each rescue truck has a diving equipment such as buoyancy control devices and swimming gears. PDRRMO also has two speedboats and one floodboat for water rescue operations.

“Kung naay mapiit, naay machine nga spread sa objects unya alsahon ang biktima. Kanang mga medyo complicated nga response, like collapsed structures, naa pod tay equipment nga mobungkag, mo-cut og mga semento (If there is a person squished underneath, we have a machine that spreads the objects and then we can lift out the victim. For complicated responses, we also have equipment that can demolish or cut cement),”
Tribunalo explained.

The rescue trucks have individual generator sets for the power requirement of tower lights which are necessary during rescue operations at night.

The provincial government is the second local government unit in Cebu to have this type of rescue trucks, next to Danao City.

Tribunalo said they are looking at purchasing two more units to be stationed in accessible areas both in the northern and southern parts of the province.

Budget

In the proposed P200-million budget of PDRRMO for 2019, disaster prevention and mitigation got the highest allocation at P96 million.

The budget will be used to fund studies on climate change, impact on agriculture and fisheries, best practices in disaster management, training programs for land use, planning, and climate smart development initiatives.

The purchase of seven emergency vehicles worth P18.4 million which includes two ambulances, one fire engine, one traffic response vehicle and three motorboats is also being lined up for next year.

But more than the availability of equipment, Tribunalo stressed that having the right people with the right skills is vital in their operations.

“What is important is that there are people who can handle the equipment. There has to be staff assigned and trained to handle the equipment because they can’t just sit there idle without an operator,” Tribunalo said.

PDRRMO currently has 36 employees assigned to do inspections, education campaigns, linkages, and other administrative functions.

The office also trained about 40 emergency responders from the Provincial Capitol and around 800 personnel from the different LDRRMOs from 54 component cities and municipalities of Cebu.

All towns and cities in the province, Tribunalo said, have activated their LDRRMOs with at least 15 personnel.

However, some are still starting to procure warning devices and response equipment.

Tribunalo added that PDRRMO is looking at technical personnel like geologists or geodetic engineers to help them with geohazard assessments.

“We have a mining engineer from PENRO (Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office) but more for the monitoring of mining activities. I have requested for personnel who can do technical assessments like determining carrying capacity and others. I cannot do that. We need personnel who have technical knowledge and capability,” he added.

Community involvement

Tribunalo said that the disaster preparedness of a community through a strong “purok system”will greatly help PDRRMO.

The purok system, inspired by the Bayanihan spirit of cooperation among neighbors, is an approach in organizing and empowering communities to work together for their common needs.

According to the PDRRMO head, some purok systems in the province were notably weak because they were organized simply for compliance.

He credited the strong purok system in the town of San Francisco, Camotes Island, one of the areas badly-hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda, for having greatly contributed to the town’s zero casualty at the height of the disaster.

Tribunalo also noted that in the Naga City landslide last September, the purok system helped PDRRMO to identify the victims buried under the rubble.

“In Naga, we based the names of the missing on their purok profile. In their spot map and profile, we could immediately see who else were missing and where,” Tribunalo said.

Partnerships

For a more holistic approach on disaster preparedness, the provincial government has forged alliances with international disaster resilience initiatives and local agencies.

Gov. Hilario P. Davide III, inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SEEDS Asia to promote disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) in 10 school divisions of Cebu province.

Aside from SEEDS Asia, PDRRMO is also linking up with higher education institutions for school-based DRRM education.

Learning from the bitter tragedy of Typhoon Yolanda and other calamities, Tribunalo marked the serious need for each person to take a step towards preparedness and disaster resiliency.

“Every disaster is a wake up call. The problem is nakamata na ka pero makatulog og balik. Dapat unta pirmi ta nga gamata (The problem is you have awaken but then you go back to sleep. We should always be awake),” said Tribunalo.
(to be continued…)

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