Resilience culture

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

The preparations for earthquakes, the strong and potentially deadly tremors, must go beyond the usual “duck, cover and hold” drills. Indeed, engineering solutions, consistent adherence to the provisions of the National Building Code and the strict prohibition on construction in areas that are vulnerable to landslides are crucial if we are to prevent the loss of thousands of lives when serious ground-shaking incidents would occur in our major cities.

I’m pleased that our officials from the Philippine Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and other national government agencies are now advocating the same comprehensive solution to minimize the number of projected casualties during a major earthquake.

No less than Director Teresito Bacolcol, the chief of Phivolcs, clearly explained during his media interviews that we must do more in preparing our country to handle natural calamities such as earthquakes and tsunamis. I personally know him as a hard-working and competent scientist who diligently helps in making our communities ready for all the hazards that we regularly experience from typhoons, floods, El Niño, daily earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, La Niña and surges.

In my emails and phone messages, I received quite an unusual number of queries and clarifications on the last two articles that I wrote. It seems that the topic of earthquakes has made many of our readers bothered and more concerned. This is perhaps also because of the 7.4 magnitude earthquake that happened in Taiwan recently.

Hence, I decided to write probably my last discussion on this. At least for now. We have fairly covered the rationale on why the usual “duck, cover and hold” drills are not sufficient in saving our communities.

We have identified engineering solutions, among others, as the top defense against killer quakes. Meaning, the buildings and houses that will be built must conform to the safety standards of our relevant laws and ordinances which compel designs and the construction materials to withstand an 8.3 magnitude challenge.

Likewise, old structures must be inspected to determine their conditions, if they are still safe or would already endanger their occupants.  And for the nth time, there must be no residences, work places or any structure in “no build zones” that were already identified by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Phivolcs and the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute (UPRI), which is headed by my college friend, former secretary Mahar Lagmay. Our local government units must be at the forefront of this prohibition.

However, we admit that this is easier said than done. There are at least two million structures that are at risk from collapsing, according to the scientific study done by Phivolcs and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2014. This study was undertaken 20 years ago. I’m sure that the numbers have increased, not decreased. In this study and from other similar sources, at least 30,000 to 52,000 people may immediately perish if the West Valley Fault System causes a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. More than 100,000 can be seriously injured amidst sporadic fires, massive destruction, collapsed bridges, paralyzing debris and social unrest.

Wider public awareness must be pursued. Our private citizens must be awakened to the danger that they are exposed to. Continuous discourses and campaigns must happen so that everyone would know what they ought to do. For example, they must check available internet apps such as HazardHunterPh and Faultfinder that would accurately tell them where to build or acquire houses.

Everyone must demand from their architects and engineers to design and build earthquake-proof structures. Seismic isolators and rollers are available. The life-saving value attached to these technologies must be given the premium and proper recognition until such time that the property development market will already show preference to earthquake-resistant establishments.

It must be difficult to violate the Structural Code of the Philippines. The processes involved in securing building and occupancy permits from the local government units must be free from short-cuts and accommodations. The public officials responsible for these must see the consequences of allowing infractions. Lives are literally at stake.

The applicants for permits must, on the other hand, not be the cause of any corruption or undue cutting of corners. Common sense dictates that they are putting themselves at risk for the violations that they themselves induce.

The essential lesson that we can learn from Japan and Taiwan, is their resilience culture. When it comes to their safety from natural calamities, they take everything seriously. They leave no room for mistakes. Rules are automatically followed. Inspections are periodically accomplished.

Their desire to be safe from calamities is paramount. Their collective values serve as the natural shield that will save them.

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