Duck, go | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Duck, go

Remember the large earthquake drill we had two years ago in Metro Manila? It was quite successful, spurred in part by people’s fears about grim warnings about the “big one” — an earthquake induced by movements in the Marikina Valley Fault system — happening soon.

I worry at times about these doomsday warnings turning out to be like the moral tale of the boy who cried wolf too many times, meaning when you keep warning about disasters that don’t happen, people become desensitized and won’t believe you when disaster does strike and you call out.


This is not to downplay the possibilities of a large earthquake. It will happen but we don’t know when. Much more predictable are typhoons and supertyphoons and storm surges and tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Disaster warnings for such phenomena have saved many lives, but we need to do much more in general for preparedness.

It seems there will be a major earthquake drill for Metro Manila later this month, and I hope it will be better publicized than the one last year or than the call last week for a nationwide drill. Over at UP, officials were not notified until the night before the scheduled drill. We did mobilize, using sirens and getting our security teams to “evacuate” offices. People cooperated, somewhat bewildered, but I know we could have done much more.


I live inside the Diliman campus and before leaving for the office drill, I did instruct household staff to do their own drill, and to do this dramatically. When the university’s siren went off, three household staff ran into the house to alert my 11-year old son that an earthquake was about to happen and that they had to follow the “Duck, Cover, Hold” routine. By my son’s account later on, the drama was so convincing that he ran and ducked under a table. Our dog, Dr. Tissot, was convinced too, taking cover under the table. So my son, the household staff and our ducking dog did their routine until the second siren sounded and the household staff explained to my son that it was just a drill. Dr. Tissot was not convinced, deciding to stay under the table a while longer.

The mini-drama at home alerted me to the need to bring disaster preparedness to the household level, and to children especially. My son is streetwise, almost a cynic, but he felt the urgency of the earthquake drama and is convinced we should do more to prepare people not just for typhoons but all the other kinds of disasters …including terrorist attacks.

Quack, quack

That means reviewing past drills and people’s responses. For example, UP Professor May Datuin, who is from Arts and Letters, told me they’ve been developing catchy songs to get disaster preparedness messages through. No stone is left unturned when looking at which messages are important. They’ve found that even the English calls can be misinterpreted: students ending up waddling around like a duck (no quacking reported) and putting their palms over their heads (like all Filipinos do when it’s showering or raining) with the call to “cover”. I can’t remember how people respond to “hold” but my son said in their home drill he held on to one of the attendants, one of the attendants held on to one of the legs of the table and poor Dr. Tissot, well, didn’t have anything or anyone to hold on to, or to be held by. No wonder he had mild post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Seriously, we need to get the messages refined, and procedures streamlined. In the office drills, we had to do a roll call to see if any office staff were left behind. We realized one staff was missing and so I whipped out my phone to call. No answer. I began to get worried wondering if indeed something had happened. She did show up, sheepishly smiling and explaining she didn’t know there was going to be a drill.

People need to be drawn in with these activities, feeling they have stakes, and a voice. A good activity that can be done any time of the year is to prepare the “go bags,” i.e., stuff that you will need right after a disaster.

Some private schools already have their own prescribed go bags, complete with school logo. I think it’s time for family members to meet and to decide what should go into the bags, and who takes responsibilities for keeping the bags useful.


I’ve seen go bags being sold in National Bookstore (more of basics, intended for students to bring to schools) and some sophisticated ones in stores with camping supplies, running into several thousands of pesos. I think doing your own go bag—individual ones, and a family one — can become an exciting household activity.

I haven’t seen local website guides yet but you can look at two American government sites for some very useful advice: the Department of Homeland Security ( and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, the latter even launching a tongue-in-cheek warning about a disease outbreak that had produced Walking Dead-like creatures roaming around.

The sites agree, more or less, about the basics and which are well summarized in a New York Times article, “How to Pack an Emergency Kit for Any Disaster.” I’ve modified the list somewhat: potable water plus disinfectants or filters when the water runs out, at least three days’ worth of food after which, presumably, you’ll have to raid supermarkets or start hunting, lighting (headlamps highly recommended), batteries, an emergency whistle, dust masks, chargers and power banks (preferably solar), first aid kits, medicines, a radio (I love the ones which you have to crank up, and solar ones so you won’t depend on batteries), a multi-tool (for example a Swiss Knife with everything from screwdrivers to toothpicks built in), matches and cash (credit cards will probably be useless).

First aid kits can be complicated. Again, I’ve seen several ready-made ones complete up to digital thermometers, scissors, tweezers and assorted over-the-counter medicines like pain-killers.


You need to tailor the go bags or kits. Note how we might have blinders and forget women’s needs (sanitary napkins) and those of the elderly (maintenance medicines, reading glasses so they can read the papers, smile). I would die without pen and paper to do my columns and other stuff. The New York Times’ list refers to young children’s needs: infant formula, books, games, puzzles and I can relate to that. Children have the most difficult time at night without electricity.

Then there’s eating utensils.

And yes, pets’ needs, including their medicines. (Hmm, I thought, Dr. Tissot may be old but he doesn’t have maintenance medicines.)

The go bags are not a one-time deal. They have to be checked for expiration dates, especially medicines and batteries. Stuff can get moldy too, or mice and cockroaches may have made their homes inside the go bags if you don’t keep them secured, and regularly checked.

The typhoon season’s arrived so now is a good time to get those survival bags going, and reviewing what duck, cover and hold means.

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TAGS: disaster preparedness, earthquake drills, Inquirer Opinion, Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi
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