The Big One | Prepping the people

Hazard map made by trainees at a counter-disaster planning seminar in Roxas City, Capiz (Photo from the Panay Center for Disaster Response Facebook account)
Hazard map made by trainees at a counter-disaster planning seminar in Roxas City, Capiz (Photo from the Panay Center for Disaster Response Facebook account)

“What if the school building is already old, will the drop-cover-hold on still apply?”

Second of two parts
First part: The Big One | Having equipment, vehicles helps but not the key


In Japan, even small children are in a state of constant preparedness as the country regularly gets shaken by earthquakes. The public is also regularly trained on what to do.

“Is it instinctive? No, it should be repeatedly drilled,” said Carlos Padolina, deputy executive director of the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC).

For 30 years, CDRC has been implementing earthquake and other disaster-preparedness trainings, in communities, workplaces and schools.

Maria Elena Serato, CDRC research and public information officer, said CDRC currently implements a project which aims to spread practical information on earthquake preparedness in public schools in the National Capital Region (NCR).

“It saves lives and is easy to understand. It doesn’t take experts to explain, which means, anyone can ‘cascade,’” Serato said. She said the teachers who took the training will be able to give it to other teachers and students.

CDRC recently finished a trainors’ trainings for teachers representing 222 public elementary schools, in 16 divisions in the NCR. These were joint efforts with the Department of Education (DepEd-NCR).

The trainings are part of the child-centered, disability-inclusive, and school-based disaster-preparedness project that CDRC is implementing with assistance from the German NGOs, Arbeiter Samariter Bund (ASB), Action Medeor, Telekom, and Germany’s relief coalition, Aktion Deutschland Hilft. The NCR-based NGO, Community Response, Enlightenment, Service and Transformation (CREST), is CDRC’s co-implementor.

“Safe room setting”

In their training, teachers were taught about the “safe room setting,” where they need to identify and remove potential hazards. They may need to screw to the wall a big cabinet that may fall over students or block the door, remove an overhead projector, TV or other objects on shelves that might fall and harm people.

They should also identify any hazardous electrical connection and fire hazards, with fire being a most likely occurrence after an earthquake.

In a safe room setting, the class should face the door for easy access. It should also be “disability inclusive” – any students or teachers with special needs, such as, visual, hearing or speech difficulty, should be identified, as well as the person who will be in charge of assisting them in an actual disaster.

A disaster-preparedness plan includes having the whole school mapped out, identifying potential risks and hazards, resources that may be used for emergency needs, as well as exits and safe evacuation routes to the converging area, where students will be accounted for, before they are turned over to their parents.

Teacher-trainees "take cover" under chairs during a trainors' training in NCR. (Photo from CDRC Facebook account)
Teacher-trainees “take cover” under chairs during a trainors’ training in NCR. (Photo from CDRC Facebook account)
‘Just pray’

Quoting ASB, Serato said that preparedness addresses “information and structure.” The trainings can only give information, but structure requires long-term solution.

In one of the trainors’ trainings, a teacher asked: “What if the school building is already old, will the drop-cover-hold on still apply?”

Another teacher answered: “Magdasal ka na lang!” (Just rely on prayers, then).

“It was just a joke, but the reality is really sad,” Serato said. She said that in some cases, the whole school building is a hazard because it is already old and decrepit.

In preparing for The Big One, the DepEd is focused on schools that sit on the West Valley Fault. But Padolina said even those outside the ridge should be concerned.

“The structural design of school buildings is for classrooms for 35 to 40 students, but they fit in up to 60 or even more students. There will be problems of students getting hurt in the crush in an emergency situation,” Padolina said. It also means the building is taking on more weight than it was designed for.

“A crowded classroom is disaster-prone,” Serato said. She said teachers also worried that the standard school desks are too low, even for small students, and have no space for them to take cover underneath. The desks are also made of light, plastic material, and may not serve as sturdy “cover.”

Serato said many teachers expressed concern about the structure and other hazards in their schools, such as emergency exits which they had locked to prevent students from escaping classes. Some realized that their school do not have enough exits, and would be prone to stampede.

Teachers also shared that students with special needs are excluded from school drills, held twice a year. “What will happen to them in an actual disaster?” Serato said.

Community-based plan

“Children will be released to their parents, back to their community. After that, what’s the plan?” Serato said, adding that there is a “disconnect.” There should be an integrated disaster-response plan, with the school as part of the community, she said.

She cited the Bagong Barrio Elementary School in Caloocan City, as an example of good practice, because the school administration had the mind to invite the village officials and other people from the community to the trainors’ training. At the training, the village officials recognized the need to have a plan and to work together with the school.

Bicol students create a hazard map of their school (Photo from
Bicol students create a hazard map of their school (Photo from

Capability, vulnerability, hazard

“CDRC has always maintained that the root of vulnerability is poverty,” said Ma. Elna Corazon Jazmines, CDRC training department coordinator.

People become vulnerable to disasters when they lose the capability to overcome the hazards which occur in nature.

“If you have a strong home, a typhoon can hit, but you’ll be okay.” But for the impoverished, Jazmines said, even in fair weather, “they’re already living in a disaster.”

“We say that disaster is that which occurs beyond what is normal. Is it normal not to eat three times a day? Is it normal not have anything to wear? Is it normal to live in a shanty?” she said.

Jazmines said people know they shouldn’t live in the danger zones, but they take the risk, because their poverty gives them no choice.

“Why are they vulnerable in the first place?” Serato said that it boils down to capability-building.

Landlessness, joblessness, lack of government services, corruption in government, and other contributing factors – all come down to people having no control of resources.

“The key is to answer the root cause of vulnerability, which is the existing system in society,” said Padolina.

To build people’s capability, they must wrench control of economic resources and political power from the monopoly of landlords and big business partnered with foreign investors, they said.

When that time comes, then “preparedness” will take on its true meaning, and disasters may indeed be managed.

Read also: The Big One | Having equipment, vehicles helps but not the key

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