Ready for the Big one?

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Dual Voice
By FEDERICO A. ESPIRITU

Filipino-Americans in California harbor jitters when that long spanning San Andreas Fault shakes. But Kababayans back home equally bear tremors in their chest if the 100 kilometer West Valley Fault trembles. Expanse variance between First World and Third World disaster responses trigger worries in large extent. Foremost in the bothered minds: Are FilAms ready when the Big One strikes at both ends though surely at different time capsules? This week, foreign-based Filipinos in the United States and around the globe got glimpses right in their living room courtesy of The Filipino Channel, GMA 7 and the internet on the state of preparedness in their homeland should a 7.2 Magnitude earthquake strikes, triggered by West Valley Fault’s unpredictable movement. At 9 a.m. of June 22, sirens blared in Metro Manila and many provinces signalling the commencement of multifaceted simulation drill dubbed #MMS Shake Drill 2016, a levelled up version of of the July 30, 2015 preparatory exercise. Disaster managers and participants in the next minutes tried to get their acts together in executing planned protocols and procedures, hawkeyedly unearthing flaws for correction in the process. Traffic and motorists in Guadalupe Bridge in Makati ground to a halt in cooperation as response teams addressed what could be real life scenarios once The Big One hits. Rescue operations in 911 fashion were simulated should the MRT track and the retrofitted bridge itself collapse into the Pasig River down below as two emergency response choppers hover around monitoring the unfolding situations. Firemen retrieved a driver from stuck and burning car, people being extricated from fallen concrete debris or trees and riverine rescuers fishing out supposed frantic people jumping into the Pasig in panic. One actor impersonating cardiac arrest scenario had a real heart attack, trembling on a stretcher as he was rushed by medical personnel to nearby hospital. Elsewhere, images of emergency actions unfolded before reeling news cameras, journalists and plain observers.

Months of preparation unearthed what have been anticipated in the drawing boards of engaged experts. Mass media was bombarded with advance regular advisory, notices and vital information. No less than Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) DIrector Renato Solidum Jr., National Disaster Response and Relief Management (NDRRMC) Executive Director Alexander Pama and Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Emerson Carlos acted as tireless beacon of knowledge to generate participation and support for #MMS Shake Drill 2016. Three MMDA constables went the rounds for television and live performances of their ‘Duck, Cover & Hold’ dance promo spiel. Hence, it helped school kids and older people easily remember and execute the ‘Duck, Cover and Hold’ protective act while evacuating their buidlings. Even hearing impaired school children were directed through hand signals by their teachers as they were instructed at open field on drill day. Malacanang, other public and private offices, the local government units even outside Metro Manila and usually crowded malls also had their own simulation exercises. Possibility of business establishments being invaded by looters was also addressed. Metro Manila was divided into North, South, East and West Quadrants with designated evacuation centers, command structures and disaster response elements with positioned resources, all triggered into simulation as programmed. Golfers swinging at the Veteran’s Golf Course, Villamor Golf Club and Intramuros Golf Course, Aguinaldo Golf Club have been conditioned in their mind that someday they will have to relinguish their fairways once they are transformed into open evacuation field as planned. Firefighting assets were in major deployment as raging fires in vast areas of Metro Manila are anticipated to cause ravaging damages as what was experienced in the 1906 San Francisco great earthquake. A National Command Center was promptly set up in Camp Aguinaldo, together with alternative communication equipment and vital equipment as telecommunication and mobility will be severely impaired for days as projected.

The 7.8 Magnitude earthquake and liquefaction disasters in Dagupan City in 1990 that also brought the Hyatt Terraces Hotel n Baguio City and the 7.2 Magnitude destructive tremor in 2013 in Bohol were sources of valuable lessons learned for what could be commonly experienced by Metro Manilans. Preparations in #MMS Shake Drill 2016 was certainly great improvement than the blueprint we studied and simulated as graduate scholars at the National Defense College of the Philippines way back in 2005 as curriculum framers were cognizant that the disaster West Valley Fault brings upon the affected areas can aggravate into national security threat. It heaves sigh of relief that tsunami is being discounted by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences Director Mario Aurelio since the earthquake is inland in nature. The UP professor however forewarns of lesser worrisome shake up and spill over of waters in west of Manila area . Renowned Architect Jun Falafox calls for continuous structural audit to verify strength integrity of aging buildings. Retrofitting of older edifices and engineering structures that started in 2002 was prescribed as prime priority. This recent earthquake drill was done in broad daylight. What if the West Valley fault acts up violently at night? It entails variant protocols and procedures and therefore should be considered in future disaster simulations. I wonder how many Filipinos have emergency ‘Go Bags’ in their homes, especially among poverty stricken families who worry more about the availability of the next meal. I packed mine six-years ago upon verifying my Ciudad Real home in San Jose del Monte City near La Mesa Dam is within the distant periphery of the 100 kilometer West Valley Fault snaking from Dinggalan, Aurora to Laguna.

FilAms are oceans apart from their families when this potent disaster could strike. Are we ready for The Big One? Have we thought of how we would correspond with our loved ones in Manila when telecommunications options are down and mass media becomes impotent to update us as journalists and rescuers can become victim themselves? Will it be a waiting game in panic mode? How can we track if beloved kins are survivors or victims? Have we planned on how we can send financial and logistical support to needy relatives when when banks and balikbayan boxes forwarders are closed or simply when disaster chaos last longer than expected? Are the Phillipine embassies and diplomatic services prepared for the eventuality just as foreign embassies in Manila have been prodded by drill organizers to adopt their own protocols in evacuating and assisting their nationals? There may be more stones that needed to be turned to attain efficacy and acceptable results. #MMS Shake Drill 2016 is the needed catapult for better preparations to come. And yet, we ourselves in Calfornia have San Andreas Fault to mind likewise. Just as the Boy Scouts say, ‘Be prepared.’

(You may correspond with Dual Voice at dvoicefilamstar@yahoo.com)

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