Shaking things up
There’s nothing like practice to prepare for an anticipated event, particularly if it’s something as critical as the “Big One,” which is predicted to result in untold devastation to lives and property. The government’s earthquake drills in Metro Manila and other parts of the country are an acknowledgment of that adage as well as an exercise to aid and abet the culture of preparedness still in its infancy in the country.
The “Big One” refers to the powerful earthquake expected to hit Luzon at any time, leading to an estimated death toll of over 35,000, most of them occurring in Metro Manila, according to the 2013 Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study. Phivolcs, or the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, raised the alarm early this year when it made public current and detailed maps of the 100-kilometer West Valley Fault that runs through Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Rizal and Cavite.
The collective concern over being unprepared for such a massive natural disaster triggered immediate action. In May, big business and government agencies plotted initiatives to adequately prepare the metropolis for the contingency during the first ever Earthquake Resilience Conference held in coordination with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Websites were launched, volunteer organizations formed, and drills held in schools and offices; there was even a mobile earthquake house on a touring truck that showed residents what the expected temblor would feel like.
The biggest and most ambitious endeavor was clearly the “Metro Manila Shake Drill.” When Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino began talking about simultaneous earthquake drills in May, it seemed like a pipe dream given the logistical challenge it represented. But the private and public sectors came together and agreed that it was a worthwhile activity. The big drill was held on July 30 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.; to simulate what would happen if the temblor struck after dark, another was conducted at the Ortigas Business District from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Separate drills were also held in Legazpi City and other areas.
Two hours before the simulated earthquake, a text blast went out in the Metro. Public and private schools and offices pulled together at the appointed time, with students and office workers heeding the alarm and performing the “duck, cover and hold” exercise before moving through identified exits to designated open areas. Local government units threw their resources into action. The drill at the Ortigas Business District, because conducted in the dark, delivered a dramatic message.
Noteworthy is the participation of certain Cabinet secretaries and other government officials: Nothing like setting a good example for the rest of the citizenry to follow. “This is not just a drill fulfilled, this is a dream fulfilled,” an exultant Tolentino said. He announced the participation of an estimated 6.5 million people in the Metro drill, and rated the level of preparedness at 7 from a pre-drill 5.5. The exercise also enabled vital government agencies to get a clear grasp of the “Big One’s” possible effects.
The drill participants went through the motions but also giggled and took selfies. That’s par for the course. But there is a very real urgency in these steps toward disaster preparedness. Today, for example, marks the 47th year since a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck in Casiguran, which is most remembered for toppling the six-story Ruby Tower in Binondo, Manila, and killing some 260 people. And the 7.8-magnitude Luzon earthquake on July 16, 1990, which is said to have resulted in as many as 2,412 dead, is too recent, and too grim, to be forgotten.
The essential point is to shake things up in order to get everyone to pull together, with the government making sure of and strengthening its capability to get everyone through the worst scenario and onward to rehabilitation.
Households are called upon to draw up their own contingency measures and drill everyone involved on the necessity of proceeding according to plan. It can well be that the anticipated disaster will not be as bad as imagined, but there is just no sense in leaving things to chance.
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