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Rough Cuts | Something to look into beyond disaster drills

Early this week Department of Education (DepEd) Region XI director Evelyn Fetalvero disclosed that her office will be pushing for the conduct of a weekly disaster drills in schools. She was more specific with such calamity as earthquakes since these were the latest to have struck Mindanao, including the Davao Region four times in a row over a period of one month.
To put emphasis on her intention the DepEd regional chief said she will be issuing a memorandum circular to all the schools divisions under her jurisdiction.

The weekly drills, according to the regional DepEd chief, will help prepare students, teachers and non-teaching staff on measures to be taken when disastrous events strike. Other than earthquakes the DepEd official also mentioned of tsunamis, fires, and terrorist attacks using explosives. While she failed to mention floods in her identification of incidents that could develop into disasters, we assumed that these (floods) were also at the back of her mind.

We also believe that what could have triggered the DepEd XI director in pushing for a weekly disaster drills was the report she received from various cities and provinces that more than 900 thousand students in some 350 public schools are among those suffering from the impact of the successive four strong temblors. Digos City and several municipalities in Davao del Sur, as well as Davao City and nearby Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, and Davao Oriental were also hit by the strong earthquakes.

Personally we think that the holding of a weekly disaster drills will help, in a way, mitigate the potential casualties among students, teachers and non-teaching staff in schools that will be affected. Yes, it is possible that doing drills on a weekly basis would eventually make their inculcated reactions a matter of habit.

But then, again, will the right attitude and reaction taken by students and school personnel be enough to assure them of safety or save them from the impact of a strong temblor? Will their quickness to apply the “dock, cover and hold” reminder – and lately the retrieval of their hard hats – be faster than the speed with which present school structures could collapse or go into perilous situation for all those inside the classrooms?

On these veins we recommend that the DepEd executive and her division chiefs should take a serious review of the report. They should find out in what ways the students and other school personnel are affected adversely by the disaster brought about by the series of earthquakes.

From where we are perched we have seen the students and other school personnel deprived of classroom where they could go back to resume their studies. Also, other than the traumatic experience they had at the very instant that the quakes caught them inside, there were only few reports of students hurt severely or lightly by falling debris from their collapsing school buildings. There were a death or two, and another student lost a leg after she was hit by a fallen concrete wall.

But the reality is that the 900 thousand or so students are affected by the major shakes with the destruction of their school buildings where they are supposed to be back holding classes after the incidents. Where are they holding classes now? Their classes can be found under makeshift classrooms at various evacuation centers, in tents, under the shades of trees and other areas that are relatively safe.

In other words, if it is the safety of the students and school personnel that is the primary concern of the DepEd XI director in mandating the conduct of a weekly disaster drills, then such endeavor could only be a scratch on the surface of the objective.

With this we are reiterating a question we raised in an earlier column. How much of the greed for money of some government officials, as well as contractors has taken its toll on the quality of school buildings constructed in recent and current years?

Yes we believe that regularly teaching students and other school personnel how to react during earthquakes could help them escape possible injuries and even loss of lives. But then again, such drills are not stand-alone assurances. At the classroom level schools administrators or the teachers themselves must ensure cabinets and other furniture are securely attached to walls, and television and computers strapped to desks or at fixed tables.
And why are we making this suggestion? Clearly it is because during earthquakes most injuries are results of being hit directly by heavy objects like furniture moving during the shaking. Other victims are also hurt seriously or lightly, by broken glasses as they are trying to find their way out of buildings.

On the structural integrity level no one can deny that school buildings nowadays suffer compromised quality as completed projects. Some have altered designs and others have low quality materials used. This is because contractors have to recoup whatever they lost in terms of kickbacks, grease money and other “facilitation” expenses. How could they have incurred such early losses? Well, contractors have to cough out money first in winning the bid; second in getting an early order to start; and third, in ensuring that they get paid on time.

So, if such “early investments” by the contractor is to be recovered, then the only possible way is take it from the quality of the workmanship, the quality of materials used in the construction, and of course by altering some portions in the design that could hardly be noticed by honest inspectors, and refused to be seen by “bought” ones.

On the higher educational plane, we wonder if there are colleges and universities in the region that are offering engineering course with heavy focus on earthquake engineering. Yes we hear of structural engineers offering their services in assessing buildings after an area is hit by a strong temblor.

But how many of them know or offer to educate the people – hopefully the students more specifically – that the normal expectations of an earthquake are more horizontal shakings. Thus most buildings, especially schools, are designed to withstand such.

We wonder if our expert structural engineers and the people at Phivolcs as well, could apprise the public if the recent series of Mindanao quakes not only have horizontal shaking or vertical motions but also have the twisting effect at the same time?

For isn’t it a source of wonder why so many buildings collapsed or were badly destroyed despite the fact that the strongest of the quartet shakes was at magnitude 6.5 and did not breach the magnitude 7 mark?
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