No substitute for preparedness

- The Philippine Star

The thought of another super typhoon slamming the country following the same path as Typhoon Yolanda was like a nightmare to the survivors, who could not believe that Mother Nature could be so mean and so cruel. Even CNN weather forecasters were astounded, showing the initial path Typhoon Ruby (international codename Hagupit) would traverse is almost exactly the same path that Yolanda traveled coming from the western Pacific Ocean, cutting a swath across the Visayas and the Bicol regions with predictions that it could also pass through Metro Manila and Southern Luzon. A forecast from the Japan Meteorological Agency even categorized Typhoon Ruby’s intensity as “violent.”

By this time, it’s become obvious that the lessons of Yolanda have sunk deep into the consciousness of Filipinos, and we were glad to see President Aquino himself taking the lead in the preparations that began as early as Thursday when news about Ruby broke. At the NDRRMC meeting where key government agencies were gathered, the president told officials that he would not take excuses, grimly warning that failure to prepare would be unforgivable.

I’m sure we have learned so much from the past that preparations would no longer be confined to mere paperwork as every challenge and eventuality is prepared for: identifying priority areas, making sure that rice warehouses are stocked, deploying rolling stores to ensure the availability of basic commodities, putting troops on red alert and positioning policemen in key commercial areas to maintain peace and order. It’s good to hear the leadership taking the DSWD to task for giving their reports regarding food pack preparations in the “future tense,” warning that everything should be in place by the time the typhoon makes its landfall.

Our communication system is just as critical and important at this time, so I assume the key people in government are already equipped with satellite phones to make sure they can contact other government agencies in case cellphone sites are damaged by the typhoon. Many can still remember how Mar Roxas and Voltaire Gazmin rushed to Tacloban the day before Yolanda made its landfall to oversee the preparations, only to be stranded later without any means of communication with no satellite phones. We’re told command centers are now installed in areas located along the path of the typhoon, with responders also equipped with appropriate communication equipment.

Although the president expressed exasperation at what he described as “alarmist” media reports claiming Typhoon Ruby’s strength as comparable to that of Yolanda’s — stressing that Typhoon Pablo is a more accurate basis for comparison — we have to admit that the regular updates given by media people especially over the radio has been helpful in terms of information dissemination not only in tracking the typhoon’s progress but in helping convince residents especially in coastal areas to evacuate.

Loren Legarda, who probably “lost (her) voice singing the same tune” about environmental disasters for over a decade now, said every barangay should have officials going around to inform their constituents about the effects of the oncoming typhoon and the corresponding measures every family should undertake. “Are we expecting a storm surge? Then we should warn our communities of the expected height of the waves and how far inland the flooding would reach,” she said, adding that this would ensure that people are evacuated in safe places. As a result, local executives did not have to force their constituents to leave their homes, with thousands voluntarily evacuating to designated evacuation centers.

The private sector is also doing its share, with many bus companies suspending trips to destinations plying roll-on roll-off routes even before the LTFRB issued cease and desist orders. Power distribution utility Meralco has also asked outdoor advertisement owners to take down tarpaulins and billboards to prevent damage to power lines in case the ads fall because of the strength and wind speed of the typhoon, while electric cooperatives in Bicol and Visayas have also announced that they will cut off power supply as a preventive measure. Meantime, PLDT is also prepositioning personnel and restoration equipment in Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Southern Luzon.

Even as we write this column, the MVP Group’s Tulong Kapatid group has launched “Operation Hagupit” with 5,000 packs of relief goods on standby, while a prepositioned team has been dispatched to the cities of Tacloban and Palo in Leyte to provide cooked meals for the families in evacuation centers. Sacks of rice were delivered to coastal municipalities in Quezon province, soup kitchens in Davao Oriental and Albay have been organized while trucks in Sorsogon are ready for dispatch to Samar and Leyte.

Those who continue to demonize the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA – calling the pact one-sided in favor of the United States and conjuring all kinds of hypothetical scenarios – are forgetting the humanitarian and disaster response component. The US was the first country that responded in the wake of the Yolanda disaster, and now with Typhoon Ruby, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg told us that six C-130s from Okinawa are ready for dispatch to conduct rescue and relief operations – without waiting for an official request from the Philippine government. With or without any defense pact or treaty, all our allies will do what is right and come to our succor to save human lives.

While there is a possibility that Typhoon Ruby could change its course and the storm surge height could be lower than expected, there is still no substitute for preparedness because it could mean the difference between life and death. In the end we can only do our best and let faith and prayer save us from Mother Nature’s wrath.

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Email: [email protected]

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