Sunday, October 04, 2009

We Were Prepared for an Earthquake, Not a Flood

Think about this…what was the last disaster preparedness campaign that the government conducted which you heard about?

As far as I’m concerned, the last one was about earthquake preparedness. In fact, I remember the government campaigning only about earthquake preparedness. They even conducted numerous earthquake drills in schools, communities, government offices, etc.

There has been an annual earthquake drill conducted all over Metro Manila, especially after some scientists warned of the inevitability of The Big One hitting the country’s capital region.

Students were trained to do the DUCK, COVER and HOLD, a simple earthquake survival procedure and the drills were even dramatically covered by media.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing such preparations ( in fact, we should be more alarmed if it’s not being done), there seems to be a gap in the disaster preparedness that the government is doing.

Earthquakes, killer ones at that, are somehow a rare occurrence in our country, even though the Philippines is in the Pacific Rim of Fire. Unlike Los Angeles and Japan where quakes have been so common people tend to ignore the smaller temblors, quakes happen so infrequently here that people tend to be complacent. Hence, the regular drills are quite welcome.

But what is glaringly obvious now, after typhoon Ondoy deluged Metro Manila, is that the concerned government agencies have failed to prepare us for a calamity which actually happens every year---flooding.

Recent years have seen heavy rains which brought about flooding and landslides in various parts of the country ---Ginsaugon, Southern Leyte (Feb. 2006), Milenyo (July 2006), Frank (June 2008) and the Northern Mindanao flooding in January 2009. There were many other cases of unprecedented extreme flooding which were brought about by exceptionally high rainfall.

But in spite of these recurring extreme weather disturbances and its relative predictability (after all, we expect the heavy rains during a particular season of the year), don’t you wonder why there is no awareness campaign on flood safety conducted by our disaster agencies? (or should it be disastrous agencies?).

No one seems to have really taken seriously preparations against a flood calamity which visits us seasonally every year. This is emphasized by the fact that Anthony Golez, spokesperson for the NDCC, when asked pointblank during in an interview on TV if the governemnt was caught flatfooted, used an analogy to earthquakes, saying, "we were preparing for an intensity 7 and what hit us was an intensity 8". This shows that unlike other countries such as the United States which has a Flood Severity Category system, the Philippines does not have a system of measuring flood severity. Mr. Golez had to use an earthquake scale to refer to a flood.

For example, in the same manner that we have been taught to duck, cover and hold, has there been an education campaign on the dangers of wading into rushing flood waters? Have we been taught that rapidly flowing flood waters may contain debris and other objects which could hit a person in the water and cause injury or death? 

Have we been informed that knee-deep rushing water could knock down a person and carry him with the waves? Were we taught to position ourselves feet first into the current in case you do get swept away by rushing floodwaters?

Are vehicle owners taught that six inches of flood water is enough to cause you to lose control of the vehicle so therefore, driving into rising waters should be avoided? These and many other information on what to do or not to do before, during and after a flood have not been taught to us. In spite of the fact that we experience flooding every year and that climate change and global warming is causing extreme weather patterns. 

Typhoon Ondoy just deluged Metro Manila and Typhoon Pepeng was not far behind. Still, no one in the NDCC or other agencies raised these helpful information that are important for people’s survival.

Here are some measures you can take with regard to risk of extreme flooding (taken from a guide made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States, slightly modified ):

What You Can Do Before a Flood:

• When there is a warning of an approaching storm, you should be aware of potential flood hazards.

• Have an evacuation plan in place BEFORE flooding occurs. Flooded roads may cut
deep. Remember–just six inches of rapidly flowing water can knock you off your feet.

• Know your flood risk and the elevation above which flooding occurs. Do streams or rivers near you flood easily? If so, be prepared to move to a safe place. Know your evacuation routes.

• Find out if you are located in a high, medium, or low flood risk area. 

• Develop an evacuation plan. Everyone in your family should know where to go if they have to leave.

• Discuss flood plans with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing flood plans ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond.

• Determine if the roads you normally travel to reach your home or job will be flooded during a storm. If so, look for alternative routes to use during flooding.

• Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home (if you know that your home is in a flood prone area).

• Keep your automobile fueled; if electric power is cut off, gas stations may not be able to operate pumps for days.

• Store drinking water in food-grade containers. Water service may be interrupted.
• Keep a stock of food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration; electric power may be interrupted.

• Keep first-aid supplies and prescription medicines on hand

What You Can Do During the Flood:

• If advised to evacuate, do so immediately! Families should use only one vehicle to avoid getting separated and reduce traffic jams. Move to a safe area before access is cut off by flood water. Continue monitoring reports in the radio, television or internet for information concerning the flooding.

• Don’t drive if you don't have to.

• Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, underpasses, canyons, washes, etc. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams.

• Never try to walk, swim, drive, or play in flood water. You may not be able to see how fast the flood water is moving or see holes or submerged debris.

• Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.

• Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

• Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.

• Do not drive around a barricade. Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go another way!

• If the vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and move to higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants, sweeping them away. Vehicles can be swept away by as little as two feet of water.

• Children should NEVER play around high water, storm drains, viaducts, or canals. It is very easy to be swept away by fast-moving water.

• If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, STOP! Turn around and go another way. Climb to higher ground. If it is moving swiftly, even water six inches deep can knock you off your feet. Many people are swept away wading through flood waters, resulting in injury or death.

What You Can Do After the Flood:

• Get necessary medical care at the nearest hospital. The government or Red Cross can help by providing shelters, food, water, and first aid, as well as helping you meet your immediate disaster-caused needs.
• Do not visit disaster areas. Your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations.

• If the power is out, use flashlights, not candles.

• Use flashlights, not lanterns, torches, or matches, to examine buildings. Flammables may be inside.

• Report broken utility lines to appropriate authorities.

• Boil drinking water before using. Wells should be pumped out and the water tested for purity before drinking. If in doubt, call your local public health authority.

• If fresh or canned food has come in contact with flood waters, throw it out.

• Take steps to reduce your risk of future floods. Make sure to follow local building codes and ordinances when rebuilding, and use flood-resistant materials and techniques to protect yourself and your property from future flood damage.

For an example of how the government should be preparing us (which it is not doing now) check out this brochure :

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