Big earthquakes: Are we prepared?

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Suddenly the ground was shaking. In the first few seconds, confusion. Then, the slow realization that it was an earthquake. Fear followed. For few minutes, it was a combination of more fear and further confusion while feeling dizzy and struggling for balance. Would you run, duck or follow the rest for what could be a common route to safety amidst falling debris?

The strong tremor, magnitude 6.8 according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), that hit Mindanao naturally caused panic. The ground-shaking was felt in all the provinces of Regions 9, 10, 11, 12, BARMM and CARAGA. The hardest hit were Regions 11 and 12, especially the provinces of Sarangani, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, Davao City and South Cotabato.

At least 12 road networks were badly affected. Three of which, in Region 12, still remain unpassable as of this past Sunday. More than 70 infrastructure were damaged; 54 houses, ruined. Several bridges were damaged too, although still usable for traffic. A minimum of 180 families were directly distressed. Unfortunately, eight persons perished. Falling rocks and concrete directly fell on most of them. Two died by landslide.

The whole of government approach was employed. The national government was quick to respond, particularly the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Health (DOH) and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).

The personnel and assets of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) were on full alert for any emergencies that the local government units (LGUs) would need. Leaders of the national and local governments, to their credit, responded well in full coordination.

No less than Vice President Sara Duterte presided over the emergency meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on the day after the earthquake. Quick responses to the tragedy were reviewed and the needed additional actions identified to ensure that the communities would be assisted well.

President Bongbong Marcos Jr., taking a respite from his official visit in the United States, digitally convened via zoom conference, the top officials of the DND, DILG, DOH, DSWD and the OCD.

The Chief Executive emphasized the importance of providing the essential support for Mindanao that are surely still in trauma. He instructed that the personnel and the emergency equipment must still remain in the area and should be in full alert because of the aftershocks and the rains being caused by the low-pressure area (LPA) and sheer line in the eastern portion of Mindanao and the Visayas.

Continuous preparations and strengthening of our collective capacities are crucial. Vigilance is important. Commitment to save the vulnerable communities must be unwavering.

Relatively speaking, the damages that were seen as an aftermath of this strong earthquake were not as devastating compared to what happened recently in Libya where dams collapsed, in Afghanistan where landslides and weaker residential structures gave way and in Turkey where more than 160,000 buildings and houses crumbled. Thousands died in these areas, the worst in recent modern history.

However, our country must not relax. On the contrary, the more that we must continue pursuing the resilience of our societies. We are in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Around 20 to 30 tremors are recorded daily in our instruments. Many of these are not felt because they are less than magnitude three. However, these regular tremors undeniably mean that we are prone to earthquakes. Hence, we must be constantly prepared and fully aware of our susceptibility.

Policies, protocols and drills must be institutionalized. Our people must be constantly oriented and practiced on what to do during earthquakes. Panic usually overcomes rationality. Muscle memory must be developed. Almost without thinking, our instincts must be geared towards how to survive the first few minutes of a major tremor and be able to move quickly to the open grounds. It is not the shaking of the ground that endangers us, the falling debris and heavy concrete are the ones that are deadly.

Buildings and houses, particularly the older ones, must be checked for their structural integrity. Those that have yet to be built must be strictly subjected to the scrutiny of our building code. There should be no short cuts in acquiring permits and no cutting corners in granting quality assurance for the construction materials, especially steel products.

Architects, engineers, property developers and regulators hopefully, will be patriotic enough to value the safety of our people first before any commercial interest. Saving lives is the job of everyone.

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Email: [email protected]

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