Lessons from Super Typhoon Yolanda

Super typhoon Yolanda, with an international name of Haiyan, was the 4th strongest tropical cyclone in the world since 1960. It was also the strongest that made a landfall in Earth’s history. It was unexpected, no one was prepared for it, not even the typhoon-experienced Philippines.

The aftermath was equally worse. The National government was “paralyzed”, “shocked”, and in “chaos”. No, they would not admit it — for obvious reasons — but anyone can that it is the case. What went wrong? How do we move forward from this disaster? Where should we go next?

To understand the aftermath problems that arose from this calamity, I believe that we first have to understand the situation. The factors involved that contributed to it. Here are some of what I have observed and gathered.

  1. “Normally”, it was the National Capital Region and Central Luzon that was hit by typhoons, even super typhoons.
  2. The regions of Visayas and Mindanao rarely experience direct typhoon hits, until recently.
  3. Because of this, the more adapted citizens are the ones living in the NCR and Central Luzon.
  4. Luzon is also covered by mountains that helps in weakening typhoons, especially the stretch of Sierra Madre.
  5. The National Capital Region has lots of tall buildings. In comparison, most of the ravaged provinces have more open areas.

That’s just five of the many differences. So when super typhoon Yolanda hit Visayas, it caused the worst the Philippines and the world has seen. In a way, it also showed the huge gap between the NCR and the provinces in the south.

Generally, it is something out of our control and which requires a long-term solution. But the aftermath, the rescue and relief operations, are within our control, yet, as we have seen, the Philippines failed on it.


What have we learn from this and what steps should we take to prepare for the future?

Stop being complacent

Not because we have experience in typhoons and a few super typhoons does it mean that there won’t be anything worst than what we’ve been through in the past. Always expect the unexpected.

Change our “we will address it when we are there” attitude

Many Filipinos hold on to that. There is nothing wrong with it as long as you apply it correctly. When it comes to disasters and aftermath, prevention is better than cure or putting it another way, preparedness is better than rescue/relief.

Install emergency lines

It is time that the Philippines invest in National emergency lines. This will ensure that, if normal communication lines goes down, the National government can still contact and coordinate with the key agencies.

Stop relying on airwaves.

Traditional communication systems is still more reliable than mobile or airwave communications. Super typhoon Yolanda destroyed cell towers either by toppling it or destroying the source of electricity that powers it. Once it went down, the whole region became a dead zone.

Redundancy

We need this badly, especially in communications. Not just for public use and emergency lines but also for Internet connections. Our time has changed, the fastest and cheapest communication will always be Internet connection. If we can keep it up and running, or some form of it — even a “simple” National loop — it can make a huge difference in information gathering and dissimination.

Special government replacement units

Time and again, we have heard how the Local Government Units or LGUs were no longer functioning. We should have expected it so when it does happen, we can activate the special teams to take over and keep the LGU running. Not just the LGU but the commercial establishments too, if possible. This could greatly help in preventing the affected communities into going down the path of anarchy, chaos, looting, panic, and survival-of-the-fittest.

Train disaster management leaders and managers

We need people trained in managing and leading disaster rescue and relief operations. Ideally, they will only stay in their respective command centers. All they will do is coordinate all the efforts, to be always on top of things. They are the only ones who will give the orders, then from leaders to managers, the orders will be executed.

By having a hierarchy, all those involve in the aftermath operations will know who to coordinate with and receive updates. This will keep the rescue and relief teams organized and placed where they are needed. If new information is available, all those involve will know who to pass the information to until it reaches the top. The top then will adjust the plans, then give new orders down the line.

Compare that to what we are witnessing today, almost every team is independent from each other. It does not have to be “centralized”, what needs to happen is knowing the latest development. We need to avoid going to the same place over and over again, which could happen (and is happening) because teams not under the jurisdiction of the National government, or the other foreign governments, are doing their own thing.

At this point in time, we could have reached half of the affected population, if only there was a team handling it at the top.

Conclusion

With these few observations of mine, it is high time that our government invest in establishing the needed technology, system and procedures, and trained personnel. We can ask the other nations like the US, Australia, and the UK for help. They regularly train for this type of worst case scenarios.

We are talking about lives here. We need to be prepared for the next because we know that it won’t be the last. And we must do it now.

Stop pointing fingers. Stop finding someone to blame. Stop being negative. Stop being Juan Tamad. Having teams and a system that we can activate in a moments notice can save lives and keep order in place. By next week, two weeks after super typhoon Yolanda hit Visayas, we should already be doing only follow-ups and clearing operations.

But since we do not have anything in place, this could take two to three weeks more. Let’s not let that happen ever again.

God Bless the Philippines. God Bless to all the nations that helped us in our time of need.

Rise Up Philippines!

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