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Don’t Be a Disaster: What to Do Before, During, and After a Calamity

By: Orlando G. JavierDon’t Be a Disaster: What to Do Before, During, and After a Calamity

What’s a disaster anyway?

Disaster, as defined by the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), is ‘an occurrence disrupting the normal conditions of existence and causing a level of suffering that exceeds the capacity of adjustment of the affected community.’ Rather, it refers to a crisis situation, such as a natural catastrophe, that causes widespread damage going far beyond the ability of the affected to recover.

The three most common disasters in the Philippines are typhoons, earthquakes, and fires. Typhoons are predictable, while earthquakes are not. Fires, on the other hand, are generally preventable as they are mostly man-made. In observance of July as the National Disaster Resilience Month, nothing seems wiser than to be kept alert and vigilant by some important reminders relating to these three.

What to Do Before, During, and After…

A Typhoon

General Preparations

  • Be familiar with typhoon terms such as names, signal numbers, strength of winds, etc.
  • Be aware of your location characteristics (e.g. elevation level).
  • Check the relative durability of your house. Have it repaired if necessary.
  • Have an emergency kit or go-bag ready for instant pick-up.
  • If your house is flood-prone, attend an evacuation orientation or drill if one is conducted.

When a Strong Typhoon is Announced

  • Orient your house members regarding evacuation procedures and their roles in the evacuation.
  • Double check the contents and condition of your go-bag.
  • Keep a battery-operated transistor radio ready in case of power cut. Have extra batteries on hand.
  • Ensure that all equipment that needs charging are adequately charged.
  • Assemble your house keys and keep them in your pocket or in your bag.
  • Fill your refrigerator with ready-to-eat or microwavable foods.
  • Secure all movable objects that are outside the house.
  • Trim the surrounding trees and shrubs of leaves and branches that may cause damage to the parts of the house if the winds become fiercer.
  • If you deem that your house is not strong enough to resist the announced typhoon strength, decide to evacuate much earlier than upon instruction.

During a Typhoon

  • Keep your flashlights and candles handy and ready to be used, in case of blackout.
  • Keep tuned in to the news for updates.
  • Keep telephone lines open. Use the telephone lines only for emergencies.
  • Turn off the LPG tank. Turn off electrical utilities, or even the main switch, if instructed.
  • Stay away from glass windows and glass doors.
  • If you live in a building, move to where it is safest and most practical: the ground level.
  • Do not use elevators.

After a Typhoon

  • Continue to watch or listen to the news for updates.
  • If it is quiet outside, be wary of the calm before the storm. Be alert to continuous rainfall and possible flooding.
  • Check for electricity then assess refrigerated foods for spoilage.
  • When conditions are clearer, check inside and around the house for possible breakages, leaks, loose wires (do not touch unless you are sure they are not live), branches that fell on the roof, etc.
  • Evaluate the damage. Take pictures of your house highlighting the damage wrought by the typhoon.
  • Clear your surroundings of debris.
  • Call your insurance agent to inform him or her of your situation. File your claim for typhoon damages with your insurance company by attaching the photos of the damage.

An Earthquake

Unlike a typhoon that is predictable and gets announced before it hits, earthquakes occur instantly without notice. We must make sure that preparation is renewed and updated at all times.

General Preparations

  • Plan your earthquake response together with the whole family and conduct an earthquake orientation and drill with them.
  • Awareness and readiness are key. Emphasize these critical points to all members of the household.
  • Locate your place in relation to the closest earthquake fault line.
  • Find out if there is an earthquake evacuation plan for your area. Attend an earthquake drill if one is held.
  • Have an emergency kit or go-bag ready at all times.
  • Secure all important items or objects that are overhead to prevent them from falling.
  • Identify locations in the house where a member must go during an earthquake.

During an Earthquake                                                                       

  • If you are outside your house, run to an open space or open field. Stay close to the ground.
  • Stay away from structures (buildings, walls, trees, etc.).
  • If you are inside your car, pull over to an open area but stay inside your vehicle.
  • Contact your family members and find out their statuses.
  • If you are inside your house or a building, drop, seek cover, and hold on to something sturdy, such as a desk.  

After an Earthquake

  • If you are inside your house during the quake, pick up your go-bag and get out of the house.
  • Evacuate all family members.
  • Once you’re out, stay away from structures. Head to an open space.
  • If there are aftershocks, drop to the ground, seek cover, and hold on.
  • Do not attempt to go back to your house or the building unless it is pronounced safe to do so.
  • When given the go signal to go back to your house, assess the damage done and take pictures of your house before touching anything for purposes of insurance claim documentation.              

A Fire

Among the three aforementioned calamities, fire is the most preventable one. The top three common causes of fire are faulty electrical wiring, lit cigarette butts, and kitchen fires. Although tremendous headway has been achieved in the area of fire prevention over the years, there is still the continuing need for heightened awareness and adequate preparation to keep the numbers and figures going down.

Before a Fire

  • Have a fire escape plan at home. Orient household members regarding this plan by conducting a fire drill.
  • Make sure your place is equipped with a smoke alarm or a fire extinguisher that is regularly checked.
  • Get an electrician to check on your home’s electrical, especially connections to appliances.
  • Be careful and alert when cooking in the kitchen. Never leave stoves, ovens, and grills unattended.
  • Close LPG tanks when finished with your cooking.
  • If you cannot avoid smoking indoors, make sure ashtrays are available for cigarette butts.
  • Ensure that candles are put off before you sleep.
  • Keep important emergency numbers posted in a visible location in the house.
  • Prepare an emergency kit or go-bag and position it in the house where it can be grabbed easily in case a fire breaks out.
  • Have flashlights in each room ready with the required batteries.

During a Fire

  • Check on household members and try to evacuate quickly and safely. If you can, grab your go-bag as you run out to safety.
  • If trapped inside, go to a room with windows to the outside. Gather bedsheets for your escape through the windows.
  • As you move, stay low to the ground. Cover your mouth and nose with clothing to prevent inhaling toxic fumes. If you live in a building, pull down fire alarm on your way out.
  • Proceed to the agreed meeting site as in the escape plan.
  • Ask a neighbor to call the emergency or fire department.
  • Do not go back to the burning structure. Check the status of the other members of the household through their cellphones.

After a Fire

  • Make sure all household members are safe and properly attended.
  • Assess the fire’s damage to your house. Take photos of the whole house and the inside before moving anything.
  • Contact your insurance agent to inform them of the fire and ask him or her to send an appraiser or adjuster.
  • File your insurance claim.

Disaster Preparedness

As we enter the Philippines’ rainy season, let it not be said that we have not done enough to make us ready for anything, even for the worst. Certainly, honest-to-goodness preparation is the order of the day. The preparation may not stop the calamity, but we will not be caught with our pants down, so to speak. Saving you will be equivalent to saving more.

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