Prepared for the worst | Inquirer Opinion

Prepared for the worst

/ 01:41 AM May 31, 2015

Big business is ramping up disaster preparedness, as well it should. Recent events in the Philippines and abroad point to the urgent need for the public not only to be aware of but also prepared for possible disasters and other contingencies.

Last week’s Earthquake Resilience Conference brought together some of Philippine business’ top guns. Oscar Lopez, chair emeritus of the Lopez Group of Companies, called for the declaration of a “National Preparedness Day,” saying that his OML Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management would lead the charge to make the public more aware of the country’s particular vulnerability to disaster, whether earthquake or typhoon.


“We envision a country that is well-prepared for disasters,” Lopez said. He pointed out that vulnerability to seismic hazards is not the same everywhere: “Urban areas, for instance, are the most vulnerable with their concentration of buildings, infrastructure and population. If the earthquake that happened in Bohol [in 2013] had occurred in Manila, the losses would surely be much higher and the effects could have been more devastating.”

Manuel V. Pangilinan, chair of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and cochair of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation, said that “more than typhoons, earthquakes can be damaging and dangerous because they cannot be predicted.” He said everyone must come to grips with the possibility of tragedy occurring and make corresponding plans for an effective and collective response. “We have seen the calamities in Nepal and Haiti,” he said. “We need to do better.”


Zuellig Family Foundation president Ernesto Garilao identified five areas in Metro Manila as “highly vulnerable” in the event of a 7.2-magnitude quake, and estimated that 5 million of its 12 million population would be at risk. The sheer magnitude of the disaster would render the current local management capability “inadequate,” he said, and emphasized the need for local government units and the private sector to work together to ensure survivors’ access to food and emergency supplies.

The April 25 earthquake in Nepal has focused attention on the Philippines’ state of preparedness for a temblor of similar proportions along the 100-kilometer West Valley Fault. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is preparing to conduct inspections in the areas at risk in the metropolis and neighboring provinces, as identified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino has also announced plans for a Metro-Manila-wide earthquake drill on

July 30 as part of the preparations for the “Big One,” the likes of which have not been seen in 400 years. “We need actual simulation to feel the real effects of the disaster,” he said.

All the discussions and preparations are not intended to merely raise the anxiety level but to make Filipinos aware of what can possibly occur. Examples abound overseas. The earthquake in Nepal killed over 8,500 people. The toll continues to rise and Nepal faces a truly challenging path to recovery. The 2011 earthquake in Japan—one of the world’s most developed countries—embedded the word “tsunami” in the world’s consciousness: The massive waves generated by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck 231 miles northeast of Tokyo killed more than 15,000 people. San Francisco’s own “Big One,” 7.8 in magnitude, struck in 1906, leveling the City by the Bay and killing more than 3,000 people.

These are warnings that should be taken seriously. It’s important to realize that we’re all in this together. Given the Philippines’ unenviable status as one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, it’s way past due that the public and private sectors combined their efforts and resources to boost disaster preparedness. Saving lives and cutting losses should be the objective of everyone—from high-ranking government officials and top corporate warriors to ordinary citizens and frontline volunteers. The enormousness of the tragedy brought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” remains a searing example.

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TAGS: disaster preparedness, Ernesto Garilao, Francis Tolentino, Manuel V. Pangilinan, MMDA, Nepal earthquake, Oscar Lopez, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, Tsunami, West Valley Fault
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