Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Prepare for Disasters

Khumbu icefall (Everest), a small, 'safe'
avalanche approaching my team
 I recall reading a Belgian study stating that Philippines was the most disaster-prone country in the world. This study included earthquakes, frequent typhoons, landslides and mudslides, flooding, political/ civilian unrest, armed conflict among many other things. I think this has been ‘downgraded’ but Philippines may very well still be on the top 5. After Ondoy aka Ketsana (which caused severe flooding in Metro Manila and left hundreds of dead)– I realized that it’s just a matter of time before we, (I mean each of us) become victims of another looming disaster. (I wrote this a while back, then Yolanda/ Haiyan typhoon came - reminding us that more disasters will come).

Not just in this country, but ANYWHERE! Think climate change and its effect of unpredictable strong typhoons. Think armed conflict that seems to never end (despite our so-called modern, civilized society)! Tectonic ‘instability’ (well – I just meant bad earthquakes)! Or volcanoes and tsunamis! Let me tentatively dismiss zombie and alien invasion for now. :P

When my friends in UP Mountaineers established our own Search and Rescue group, one primary objective we highlighted was- awareness and education. Individuals and family have the ‘power’ to influence the outcome of a disastrous event, limited but can still be influenced.

Here are some tips that may help all of us prepare for such unwanted events;

1. Know and plan ahead. Is your home location prone to flooding? At an earthquake belt? Tsunami risk? How was the past 5 years? Knowing your risks and defining counter-measures would be your first step. One may even consider moving out if the risks are too big or growing. See Philvolcs website and check vulnerable or at-risk areas in your city or province.

2. Practice emergency response at home, car, office, other place you frequent. Ex. Fire drills, crime escape, earthquake, flooding. It’s good to do this with your family, practise from step 1 (ex. start of incident/event/accident) to say– step 10 (safe and secure). Involve all family members including small children and their yayas (care takers), and make it fun.

3. Know basic home disaster response and survival skills. Teach your family members when possible. How do you put out a fire? Do you have basic medical care skills? A stranger entered your house with a weapon, what do you do?

4. Have a survival kit in your home, office, car - enough for 3 days to 1 week (or more depending on your worse case scenario prediction). At home, stock supplies good for at least 10 days, but more is better. Examples:

a. water and extra containers (water is man’s primary survival need, ie. not counting air)

b. lighting and fire tools (torch/candles, waterproofed matches/lighters),

c. safety gears (ex. life jacket/floatation for flooding, helmet for earthquake, mask for fire/smoke/dust, fire blanket),

d. emergency food (ready-to-eat, and extra easy-to-cook),

e. cooking/heating device (for cold countries, for boiling water or cooking 'easy food' like noodles and oatmeal);

f. shelter materials (ex. tent, tarp/ big plastic materials used as emergency tent or blanket - especially if you need to evacuate);

g. medical supplies (basic first aid for wound, diarrhea, headache, fever and the like; prescription drugs for on-going medication)

h. bad weather aid (jacket/raincoats, blankets, extra clothing, head gear, boots)

i. communication tools (battery-powered transistor radio to get news + extra batteries, whistle for emergency signalling, 2-way radios, extra battery for your cell phone);

j. MONEY (have few bundles hidden somewhere)

k. Personal/ Family/ Home protection tools (think civil unrest due to supply shortage); many don't like guns and our Philippine gun law (civil protection rights) gets more and more challenging, but think of the benefit when or if a civil unrest happens in your own neighborhood.

l. Various tools and aids (pocket knife/cutter, duct tape, strings/chords, etc.)

m. child’s needs (milk, diaper, water purifier, medicines); even kid’s toys/entertainment (to manage fear/anxiety)

n. sanitary needs (feminine pads, lots of tissues, anticeptic hand gels, biodegradable trash bags)

One doesn’t need to be an extreme “doomsday prepper” and acquire all of these in big quantities; know your risks (including risk of re-supply) and plan for it.

5. Get involved or initiate community activities on disaster preparedness. In times of crisis – collective effort is better than individual effort. Talk to your neighbours. In bad times, either they become your enemies (fighting for limited resources), or disaster-ready allies.

6. Know how and where to get help if needed. Teach kids how to get help when you’re away (or if you become incapacitated); If you have children, you may want to put waterproofed IDs with them (or in their personal belongings) with complete contact information (of yourself) and back up contacts (ex. your parents) - in case they get lost or separated for whatever reasons.

7. Plan for a '2nd safe place'.  Maybe even a 3rd or 4th place. Plan and practice how to get there when you evacuate your home. A couple of relatives or friends in another city perhaps? If you're in Metro Manila, study maps and know your boundaries (ex. Pasig River, fault line, lake/bay) and decide a relatively easy and reachable '2nd safe place'.  Plan how to get there either by car, by foot, by any means necessary.

8. Support local Rescue groups. Either through donations, or as volunteers. In my own small group, UP Mountaineers– we trained teams, acquired gears/equipment and partnered with various groups ready to extend help to our primary government disaster response groups. Imagine if all organizations and communities established their own capable rescue groups, we’d save more lives! Maybe our own lives!

9. Educate other people on disaster preparedness. (feel free to share this article)

10. Consider building a disaster recovery plan. How do you rebuild your home? Where will you get funding? Do you have insurance (medical, property)?

So whether it's a 7.2 magnitude earthquake (ex. West Valley fault), a bigger Ondoy (or similar typhoon) or even a meteorite fall, let’s all be prepared for it.

It’s not a matter of IF,  but WHEN…

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