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Rough Cuts | Proactive casualty reduction strategies

We are at a loss trying to figure out why several places in Davao del Sur and Cotabato Provinces are being hit with a series of devastating disasters brought about by nature’s anger. So close to each other were the strong magnitude earthquakes that these occurred three times in as many weeks.

Worst, so many structures that included government buildings, commercial establishments, and residential houses that initially withstood the first two temblors finally collapsed on the third quake. In some hilly barangays where houses appeared to have survived the massive shake were eventually taken down. This happened after landslides spawned by the earthquakes devoured the residences or threw them hurtling down the slopes.

And last Monday afternoon, as if nature was not yet through with its wrath, a thunderstorm that brought with it not just rain of water but hail stones as well, struck an area in Makilala, Cotabato where an evacuation center is established.
The near-tornado strong wind leveled off several evacuation tents leaving the occupants exposed to the rain and the falling hail stones that were as big as pebbles.

The evacuees who were extremely devastated by the three earthquakes ended up brought down on their knees furthermore. What with their already uncomfortable shield from the sun’s heat and humidity blown away and exposing them again to the mercy of the rain and natural elements!

We are fervently hoping that the victims of the series of earthquakes in the areas concerned are not the ones made to pay for the sins and omissions of their leaders; that they are just among the unlucky ones who happened to be in the areas during the very times nature brought its wrath on this part of the country.

But if there is anything good that came out of the disasters it is the Filipinos’ well-known trait of coming together to help their calamity-stricken brothers.

Come to think of one ice cream vendor who earlier sold his ice cream to children in an evacuation center ending up donating his icy merchandise to the kids and adults lining up in front of his cart! And imagine how some organized farmers in Mountain Province shipped sacks and sacks of their newly harvested “sayote” to augment vegetable needs of the evacuees!

Indeed calamities – man-made or nature induced – bring unquantifiable sufferings for the people who happen to be in areas where these strike. But these also bring out the best of them.

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Talking of the damage to public buildings brought about by the series of strong temblors in Mindanao, it indeed let out the “best of the Filipinos,” victims and non-victims alike. It also brought to the surface how much corruption by some people in government robbed from the safety and stability of both public and private buildings.

It also revealed the ingenuity of some officials in turning calamities into opportunities for making quick money. All these are supposedly in the name of safety and in aid of helping charitable causes.

One scheme that we think is a product of Filipino ingenuity is the requirement of certain school administrators for the students to provide themselves with hard hats in the classrooms.

Sure we understand the nobility of the requirement’s intention. It is to provide some kind of first level protection to students from falling objects during times of earthquakes that may hit the school.

But then again, we have no idea if the proponent of such requirement has ever considered the reality that most, if not all school buildings nowadays are multi-storied and all its floors including the upper levels, are made of concrete slabs. The walls are made of concrete hollow blocks the cement finishing of which are either too thin in layer or reduced in its mixture quality.

So, when strong shakes happen and school buildings collapse the debris that fall will not anymore be wood components but portions or entire floor slabs. In such a situation what can a hard hat do to ensure the student’s protection?

Add to it the onset of panic and pandemonium when the shaking starts. We wonder if the students as well as teachers can still have the presence of mind to go get their hard hats with all the calmness to prevent chaos.

Of course any parent, no matter how hard-up his or her family is, will always oblige, even if grudgingly, if the safety of the children is at stake.
And who is the shrewd dealer or supplier of hard hats who is not willing to offer rebates, or to be blunt about it, commissions to those making huge orders for such “protective” gadget?

However, we still think that the most effective ways of mitigating the effects of earthquakes especially in terms of the number of human victims, are those that can be done in proactive manner. One is the continuing information, education and communication (IEC), and regular testing of the knowledge level of students through simulation exercises. Isn’t it that constant practice makes work perfect or within its range?

The other proactive strategy of denying earthquakes high casualties is for our government officials in agencies concerned with construction of public structures like school buildings, to tame down their greed for money. They can do this by rejecting bribe offer so they’d ignore whatever deviation from the plan they found in the construction of new structures as schools.

For once they should not allow contractors to reduce the quality of the finished school edifices by as much as twenty to thirty percent. After all, where else will the contractor recoup the amount they dole out to the corrupt agency officials but from the quantity, and subsequently the quality of the project they undertake.

Really we find it strange to think of classrooms becoming mining tunnels with all people going inside having their hard hats on or in their possession always ready for any exigency.

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