Enhancing preparedness

Earthquake drills are now being conducted regularly, and even young children have an idea of personal safety measures in case the earth shakes. Emergency teams are ready for rapid deployment and local governments have earthquake contingency measures in place.

Still, more can be done to enhance preparedness for earthquakes, particularly “the big one” in Luzon that seismologists have been warning the public about for some time now. Last week’s earthquake swarm, which continued until yesterday particularly in Batangas, should give urgency to the warning.

Studies commissioned by different agencies have come up with the same conclusion, unchanged despite the regular earthquake drills: Metro Manila is not prepared to deal with the big one, expected along the West and East Valley Faults that run through the megacity all the way to Laguna. Seismologists warn that the occurrence of the big one is not a question of if but when, and that when it strikes, tens of thousands could die.

Among the weaknesses cited in the studies is the lack of resources for clearing debris and rescuing people trapped in the rubble. Newer buildings are required to have earthquake-resilient foundations and may survive a powerful temblor. But electrical systems can go haywire and fires can break out. Exits can be blocked, and people can still be trapped in buildings.

The studies have shown that the nation’s firefighting capability is dreadfully inadequate. Fire trucks, for example, lack ladders long enough for high-rises, while firefighters lack protective clothing and equipment for rescue during raging fires.

Metro Manila could be cut off in a powerful earthquake, the studies also show. Measures must be developed to speed up the restoration of damaged road infrastructure, telecommunications and transport facilities, water and electricity as well as food and medicine supplies.

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Health facilities will also be overwhelmed, the studies indicate, with hospitals likely to sustain heavy quake damage. Disease outbreaks can occur especially in crowded evacuation centers.

Even advanced economies can never be fully prepared for a powerful earthquake. But the big one in the Philippines has been much anticipated, and there are even detailed maps of the West and East Valley Faults that are available to the public. Preparedness can be constantly enhanced.

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