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An ounce of prevention

We recently inaugurated the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation’s Emergency Operations Center in Clark, Pampanga. This center was built around the principle that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In fact, for every US$1 spent on preparedness, $7 is saved in disaster response spending.

Why did we do it? The Philippines faces risks from natural hazards, climate change, and health risks. We encounter 20-25 typhoons every year. We have 22 active volcanoes. The country is also laced by a number of fault lines, including the West Valley Fault and Manila Trench Fault on both sides of Metro Manila and for which preparations are constantly being set for The Big One. The world has seen a number of pandemics in the last decade. With so many Filipinos abroad, whether stationed as overseas workers or simply traveling for business or pleasure, we must be aware of the potential risk we face from outbreaks of disease.

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The Philippines is ranked the third most disaster-prone country in the world and among the Top 10 countries with the most people affected by disasters over the last 20 years. We endured 274 calamities from 1995 to 2015, causing loss of life, property, assets, and economic productivity.

The PDRF was born after Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) in 2009. Our original mission was to engage in recovery and relief. In 2013, the Bohol earthquake and Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) forced us to stretch that mission and expand our response and recovery efforts.

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It also led us to think that there had to be a better way of dealing with natural disasters, which were so constant and so damaging, which have made lives more miserable, and which have driven more people back into poverty. More frustratingly, a reactionary posture caused years of progress to be wiped out or swept away in an instant. Yolanda was our wake-up call.

Our search for solutions led us to think more about resilience, the ability to bounce back to one’s original state after a crisis or calamity. But we wanted to do more than bounce back. We wanted to be able to move to a better state than we were originally in. We wanted to be prepared and prevent disasters, but ultimately we wanted to mitigate them and create benefits. We wanted to set the stage for a resilience dividend, a benefit that could be felt even when disasters didn’t strike, by way of better infrastructure, better public services, and better opportunities to build an economy.

We needed to build a culture of preparedness and prevention. The building of the Emergency Operations Center started long before this physical structure was completed. It started with people and a network of organizations. It started with the principle of cooperation, partnership, and interoperability. We had to learn to work together and to seamlessly move into each other’s world of tasks. We developed training programs and business continuity programs targeted at small and medium enterprises and government services. We also trained individual employees and their families. Our work revolved around building up a corporate ecosystem that could provide assistance across eight clusters of resilience: infrastructure; logistics; telecommunications; power, energy, and fuel; water and sanitation; food and nonfood emergency supplies; insurance and financial services; and medical and search-and-rescue services. We also focused a lot on data and mapping and to make that a part of our toolbox for disaster preparation, prevention and mitigation.

We envision that the Philippines can be a regional hub for disaster risk reduction management work. The country can serve as an education and training hub for the region and a logistics and manufacturing hub for humanitarian supplies. This is the promise and potential which we think the PDRF brings to the table—the ability to anticipate and prepare for natural disasters as well as the ability to create benefits as a result of investing in resilience.

Guillermo M. Luz ([email protected]) is chief resilience officer of the PDRF and private-sector cochair of the National Competitiveness Council. This column was adapted from remarks delivered at the inaugural of the PDRF Emergency Operations Center.

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TAGS: Clark, Disaster, Emergency, Pampanga, resilience
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