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Preparing for Disaster

"The 411 in case of emergency"
By: Jose Maria M. Villarama IIPreparing for Disaster

With an average of 20 tropical cyclones passing through the country each year and with active volcanoes and fault lines that make it part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” there is no doubt that Filipinos truly need to be educated and prepared. As of the 2012 World Risk Index, the Philippines ranks third among 173 countries that are most vulnerable to disaster risk and natural hazards --- something which the country is definitely not proud of. What information, then, should common folk be taught and made to remember?

The Essentials

Truth be told, that is a very difficult question to answer.  Even development communicators and social mobilizers find it challenging to identify which campaigns to mount and which information to inculcate to the masses.   Hopefully, these “key words” will be easy enough for individuals or family members to remember and follow before, during, and after disaster strikes. These are:

·         Family – Make sure everyone at home is all accounted for. Of course, this is always easier said than done. In the event of “predictable” disasters like cyclones, rallying family members and assembling them in a common meet up point at home is easier. In cases of fire or earthquakes, this may be tricky.  What if the residence has at least two floors? What if some members of the family are heavy sleepers, immobilized or are not old or young enough to fend for themselves? Contingency measures for these, ones that work for the specific circumstances of the family and their residence, should be carefully thought out.

·         Escape Plan – In an ideal setting, once the all members of the family have been accounted for, it should be a cinch to follow an emergency exit plan, right? Wrong!  To begin with, is there such a plan already in place that everyone is aware of?  Secondly, what if a designated escape route has been blocked by falling debris or a pathway is rendered impassable by rising floodwater or debris?  This is when a plan B is necessary.  

·         Provisions – Obviously, this is prepared before the onset of disaster.  Again, in cases of unpredictable calamities, disaster kits should be prepared way ahead of time and should be within easy reach when disaster strikes.  Many agencies have talked extensively about the so-called “72 Hour Disaster Kit” which contains, among other things, important identification documents, food and water, medicine, flashlights, communication devices such as walkie-talkies, batteries, etc. that will last for 3 days, the critical period for survival, especially when trapped under rubble, in a house or structure.

·         Safe Meet-Up Place – There is a chance that members of the family may not be home all at the same time when disaster strikes.  Others may be separated during rescue or transit to evacuation centers.  It will, therefore, be good to assign a “safe place” for the family to meet up after escaping from disaster.  Usually, these are open areas like basketball courts or town plazas.  But in cases of cyclones or typhoons, these may be inundated in flood water or may be occupied by other people who are fleeing from the disaster themselves. 

·         Communication – Cellular phone communication and electricity will likely be knocked down during disasters so it is always important to have other means of communication. Aside from walkie-talkies, which not many will likely have access to, whistles are a must in the disaster kit.  Having a unique whistling pattern to communicate with members of the family is a practical and important approach to maximizing this means of communication. 

It goes without saying that one should be on the lookout for the latest news and advisories from important sources before, during, and after disasters.  This may be difficult when lines of communication are down but relevant agencies on the ground will be deployed specifically for this purpose. 

Choose What Works

Obviously, this article does not list all the tips for disaster preparedness.  Some may even complain that it is not specific enough or it does not teach anything new.   Again, there is already a lot information out there that has been published by government and non-government organizations that and that is more comprehensive than the information presented here. 

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