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Are We Safe?

By Raymund Magno GarlitosSeptember 10, 2017

Yes, according to the disaster risk reduction and management office of Metro Manila’s largest city

DISASTERS, BOTH natural and man-made, are unfortunately inevitable.  Try as we might, we cannot foretell when an earthquake, volcanic eruption, typhoon, storm surge will strike a location.  While those caused by humans – fires and vehicular accidents, among others – can be prevented, these incidents will unavoidably cause not only loss of lives but also damage to property and infrastructure, and to a greater extent, the environment and society.

At the same time, disasters caused by nature are aggravated by man’s ecologically destructive activities; that is, climate change triggers more destructive storms and cyclones.  As we speak, even developed countries such as the United States are as vulnerable to these atmospheric disturbances as calamity-prone nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, we can prevent loss of lives especially if our localities are prepared and equipped with the necessary mindset and tools to mitigate, at the very least, the effects of these disasters.

In Metro Manila, Quezon City is the largest city in terms of area, population and economic activity.  It is also one of NCR’s most flood-prone, and part of its territory lies in the West Valley fault line.  The former capital also has to contend with a rising population due to migration, aggravating problem of informal settlement, rising criminality and vulnerability to civil disturbances and possible terrorist attacks.

Given these challenges, Quezon City is addressing these concerns head on, answering the call to disaster readiness through an effective and sustainable disaster risk reduction and management.  It is one of the first Metro Manila cities to have its own Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) headquarters and operations and monitoring center, and an effective DRRM program that addresses these.

In this edition of Focus Feature, the city’s DRRM head Karl Michael E. Marasigan shares the rationale behind the creation of the city’s top emergency agency and the need for a comprehensive disaster risk reduction program as part of the progress of NCR’s biggest city.

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QC Mayor Herbert M. Bautista inspects new ambulances that will be distributed to the barangays.

Simple Yet Effective Formula

Instrumental to the creation of the DRRM Council is Mayor Herbert Bautista, who recognizes the fact that the city is very much vulnerable to the natural and man-made hazard.

“It was actually the vision of the Mayor for the city to have its very own fully functional and city-funded agency that will prepare the city toward major disasters and calamities,” Marasigan said.

It was under the Bautista administration that the institutionalization of a city-level DRRM Council was realized. Upon the effectivity and implementation of Republic Act 10121, also known as the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, a 2010 City Ordinance called for the creation of the Quezon City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which integrated elements from the city’s Department of Public Order and Safety (DPOS).

However, it was in 2014 that the City Council crafted Order No. SP- 2290 (Series of 2014), which instituted the Quezon City National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (QCDRRMO), under the Office of the City Mayor, which Marasigan now heads.

Marasigan said that Mayor Bautista has a simple yet effective formula for a disaster risk reduction and management program.

“Urban development is a combination of good DRRM programs and practices coupled with conservation of our existing natural resources, climate change mitigation and disaster resiliency,” Mayor Bautista said.  “It may look complicated but a city of our size and population has made great strides in mitigating the effects of natural disasters to the communities that are most prone to them.”

The city allocates five percent of its gross income to the DRRM-related programs and projects, including the QCDRRMO’s daily operations and management, now housed under the newly-constructed DRRM Building within the City Hall complex.  It also houses a state-of-the-art operations center and emergency response vehicles or ambulances.

“Indeed, Quezon City is far more progressive in the area of disaster risk management and is more pro-active as far as climate change adaptation is concern,” said City Administrator Aldrin Cuña.  “The city has invested in a lot for the acquisition and installation of state-of-the art equipment and technologies needed to beef up the city’s effort to promote human security and in the strengthening of the city’s coping capabilities and resiliency, especially in times of calamities.”

This was seconded by Marasigan who shared that the new DRRM operations center is a product of careful planning and strategy.  The DRRM nerve center is where personnel from the DRRM and various agencies can look at closed-circuit television (CCTV) feeds from cameras installed in various major thoroughfares of the city.

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QCDRRMO Head Myke Marasigan points to the CCTV screen at the Central Command Operations Center.

“It is a one-stop shop.  When you make an emergency call, you are connected to our network of agencies like the DPOS, the Quezon City Police District (QCPD), the QC Fire District (QCFD), and many others. Our operations center immediately assesses the location most affected by a disaster and deploys immediately the necessary units that could respond to that kind of event,” he said.

 

Built for Preparedness

Aside from the expected search-and-rescue operations that are the most visible of all DRRM activities, the QCDRRMO also started prevention and mitigation initiatives, including the construction of retaining walls among major roads and waterways where dense communities are located.

Also, it coordinates the relocation of families and communities most vulnerable to the West Valley Fault, flood-prone and landslide-susceptible areas within the city. Informal settlers are then endorsed for possible relocation through in-city housing projects like the Bistekville.

Part of the office’s strategic planning initiatives include the creation of a 2014-2020 disaster risk reduction and management plan for the city, and a city hazards atlas.  In preparation for the likelihood of major disasters, It also prepared a hazards, vulnerability and risk assessment (HVRA) report in coordination with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Agency (PAGASA) and Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), now integrated with the University of the Philippines. It has also partnered with the Australian Government through AUSAID and Geoscience Australia.

These information dossiers provide the QCDRRMO information on the risk hotspots of the country in terms of physical risks (projected population loss, projected destruction of buildings and infrastructures, and critical facilities exposure to earthquakes and floods), socio-economic impacts (identification of vulnerable sectors of society, coping capacity).

 

Readiness for QC Residents

Marasigan emphasized the need for community awareness and education, noting that it is also the hardest part of their job.

“No DRRM effort can be successful if our targets – especially the communities that are most prone to risks and hazards – will not be responsive,” he explained.  “This is the reason why we have reached out to all. We have conducted DRRM trainings for senior citizens, differently-abled people, the youth, and LGBTQ members of our society.”

He elaborated that it takes time and the cooperation of the barangay heads that helps them convince the informal settlers that live on these hazard zones. “In many of the hazard-prone communities like those that live near esteros, it is always hard to convince them to move to a safer residence.  They always complain of the inevitable loss of their livelihood and that relocation always inconveniences them in getting to work because they now live farther.”

Bistekville, according to him, is the Mayor’s answer to the housing needs of the city’s informal communities.  “In the past, relocation was very much dreaded because it meant being sent to a faraway place with no water, no electricity and no sewage system,” Marasigan added.  “But convenience in commuting to work is the major reason why they find it hard to relocate.  Now, they don’t need to be put in places like Montalban or San Mateo in Rizal; they will still be in QC, but only they have more decent housing.”

The action response officers of the QCDRRMO are also given special trainings on DRRM and rapid damage assessment, which in turn conduct barangay-level emergency response teams (BERTs).  The barangays are also provided with their own emergency response vehicles.  Flood-prone barangays are also given fiber glass rescue boats and BERT members are given boat handling and rescue trainings.

 

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The monumental strategies that the Quezon City government and the QCDRRMO have implemented are now considered a paragon not only to the country’s local governments but even to foreign observers and visitors.

“We take pride that our DRRM practices, through the QCDRRMO have become a paragon of excellence to other LGUS,” said Cuña. “Our counterparts from developed countries have seen our emergency operations center and they are now looking up to us on how to replicate some of our practices. Even our Asian neighbors now partner with us as they set up their own emergency responsive systems.”

“For us in Quezon City, preparedness is measured not only in terms of the city’s capability to recover from a disaster that has already happened,” Mayor Bautista said. “It all depends on our city residents’ individual capacity to be ready in the event of a disaster.  We want our DRRM responses to be more pro-active instead of reactive.  After all, it is better to have an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure.”