Philippines: Communities use techonology for typhoon safety drill
By Alex A. Lumaque
Red flags atop strategically located bamboo poles and a siren mounted on a roving multi-cab unit signal evacuation of residents in a flood-prone community.
The sight was followed by mothers cradling babies and chasing toddlers as they rushed to a nearby school for safety. Some carry mats, cooking utensils, foods, portable radio and everything they could bring to the temporary shelter. But this was just a typhoon and flood simulation exercise in Mangoso village of Sigma town in Capiz, a catch basin of rainwater every time heavy downpour hits the province.
The close to real – life scenario drill is being conducted by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Unit (PDRRMU) locally called “Aksyon Tabang” to empower communities on how to use available weather information as an early warning to an impending disaster.
The use of color-coded flaglets illustrate the locally decoded warning signals out of the data generated from developed technologies to keep the residents updated on the status of an impending typhoon or flood that may be brought about by rains. Red signifies forced evacuation while other colours have also been pre-determined by the barangay officials to their respective constituents as to the degree of emergency situations.
Whenever the situation calls for action, a corresponding flaglet is mounted atop poles in pre-designated spots.
The exercise is led by Punong Barangay Isidro Jeroso, the incident commander who constantly keeps in touch with the town’s DRRMO for typhoon updates aside from sourcing it over local broadcast stations.
Municipal level weather advisories already include severe weather bulletins of the local forecasting centre and real – time data generated from the water level sensors and automatic rain gauges of the government’s Project Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH).
“Water level is now as important as typhoon signals to us and the communities,” said PDRRMO action officer Esperedion C. Pelaez. This is due to a flood susceptibility map of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources which classified most of Capiz towns as highly susceptible to floodwaters.
Six towns are recipients of the solar powered weather monitoring gadgets designed to get accurate data on rainfall and flooding during typhoons and other bad weather conditions. These transmit short-messaging service (SMS) data based on the situation in the localities, said Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Provincial Office Manager Gerbe Dellava. This information is received by Project NOAH Processing Center at DOST – Central Office in Manila.
The hydrometeorological devices, designed and developed by the DOST – Advance Science and Technology Institute, are secured with a perimeter fence as part of the local government units. These are established at the town proper bridges of Maayon, Sigma, Jamindan, Tapaz, Panit-an and Dao. Subsequently, some LGUs have taken initiative to locally simplify extent of floodwater in the area by recording previous flood occurrences for future references in order to reduce risks to lives and properties due to extreme hazard events. The project was established in 2013.
Pelaez said gone now are the days where disaster volunteer workers are dispatched to a particular bridge to manually observe the increase in water level and bring the information to the operation centre to become part of advisories.
“Delayed information will also delay decision making,” he said, adding that the devices cut time and distance thereby getting the job done on time.
The initiative has also unloaded the disaster worker volunteers from rescuing residents isolated by floodwaters as communities become empowered with simulation drills and up-to-date localized weather information obtained either through mass media, the internet and via short messaging service. Instead, disaster responding units are alerted as to where the critical areas for floods and landslides are.
The drill, usually joined by about 50 families, was also designed to determine preparedness of residents and how they respond to emergency situations. While at the evacuation camp, participants also take part in psychosocial activities as part of camp management to address the effects of displacement. Food is cooked and served during the half-day activity.
It terminates when the incident commander announces that all of the areas in the village have been checked and validated as safe for the evacuees to go back home.