Let’s not forget: Earthquake drills prepare gov’t agencies and the people for the ‘Big One’

Published September 23, 2022, 7:38 PM

by Faith Argosino

• In 2015, the biggest earthquake drill in the National Capital Region is still remembered for the information the exercise gave – that government units and private sector groups have established disaster preparedness plans.

• A helicopter simulating the rescue of earthquake victims, a motorboat ferrying survivors across the Pasig River, staff of malls and restaurants directing patrons to “duck, cover, and hold,” employees of private companies queuing out of buildings, school children ducking under desks, medical and rescue personnel setting up tent stations in the east, west, north and south areas in Metro Manila. Those were among the many sights that marked the Nationwide Simultaneous Earthquake Drill (NSED) held in July 2015.

• NDRRMC has already facilitated some 60 drills since the NSEDs started in 2002.

• On Sept. 8, 2022, community evacuation, fire suppression, search and rescue, response to mass casualty incidents, and high-angle rescue were among the many scenarios included in the full-scale exercise conducted to test Makati LGU’s disaster response capabilities.

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines employees do the “duck, cover, and hold” stance during the third quarter National Simultaneous Earthquake Drill held last Sept. 8. (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines)

In the past two weeks, two earthquakes shook cities in Mexico and Taiwan, and two months ago, in the Philippines, causing bridges to collapse, buildings to crumble, concrete roads to open, and landslides to cover houses. Those were the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Mexico only last Sept. 22, the 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan last Sept. 19, and a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that shook parts of Luzon and Metro Manila last July 27.

The earthquakes pushed the reminder which many seem to have forgotten – earthquake drills are important because these prepare the people, government units, and private sector companies to know what to do when it happens.

In 2015, the biggest earthquake drill in the National Capital Region is still remembered for the information the exercise gave – that government units and private sector groups have established disaster preparedness plans.

A helicopter simulating the rescue of earthquake victims, a motorboat ferrying survivors across the Pasig River, staff of malls and restaurants directing patrons to “duck, cover, and hold,” employees of private companies queuing out of buildings, school children ducking under desks, medical and rescue personnel setting up tent stations in the east, west, north and south areas in Metro Manila.

Those were among the many sights that marked the Nationwide Simultaneous Earthquake Drill (NSED) held in July 2015. It started with the sound of a loud siren broadcast over the radio stations and the public address systems of barangays.

After the drill, media companies continued to give tips on disaster preparedness. The most visible results of that campaign are the “go-bags” which many homes still have. Those emergency bags hold the essential items to survive for at least three days after the Big One, for that is how long help will likely come.

Residents and employees in Manila participate in the metro-wide earthquake drill held on July 14, 2017. (Korbin Gumpal/ Manila Bulletin file photo)

Biggest shake drill

The biggest metro-wide “shake drill” was the one held July 2015, during the term of late President Benigno S. Aquino III. It was conducted to prepare the public for the possible movement of the West Valley Fault, which is 100 kilometers in length and runs across the cities of Taguig, Muntinlupa, Paranaque, Quezon City, Pasig, Makati, Marikina, and nearby provinces of Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, and Bulacan.

Phivolcs said the West Valley Fault, which is predicted to move every 200 to 400 years, last moved in 1658. When this movement happens again, the agency said it could generate a 7.2-magnitude quake, which will also be known as the “Big One.”

Fading interest in Shake Drills

But as the years passed, the popularity of “Shake Drills,” as they were called, faded, and fewer private sector companies set aside time to participate in the “duck, cover and hold” exercise, much less to allow employees to leave the premises and regroup elsewhere for the headcount.

Since 2002

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) spokesperson Raffy Alejandro, the agency has been conducting earthquake drills since 2002. The drills started in schools and later included local government units (LGUs) to instill disaster preparedness.

Alejandro said the first NSED was conducted on June 20, 2006 at the grounds of the Sta. Elena Elementary School in Marikina City with partner agencies, among them the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Department of Education (DepEd), and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

He explained that many schools and only a few private companies nationwide participated in the exercise back then, which only covered the “duck, cover, and hold” stance and evacuation.

“NSED was launched following the destruction caused by [a 6.3-magnitude] earthquake that hit Yogyakarta, Indonesia on May 27 the same year,” Alejandro told Manila Bulletin.

“It was pushed during former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration, mandating the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), now NDRRMC, Department of Education, and Phivolcs to conduct earthquake drills in schools,” he added.

Alejandro said the NSED is a quarterly activity facilitated by the OCD, which tests the contingency plans of Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (LDRRMCs) and enhance the country’s earthquake preparedness and disaster resilience.

Personnel of the Philippine Army Disaster Response Unit participate in the third quarter NSED last Sept. 8. (Office of Civil Defense)

Testing emergency plans

To further prepare the public, the drills have added features such as the “testing of emergency plans, the capability of institutions to locally manage emergencies and first aid, their linkages with response agencies and partners,” the NDRRMC official explained.

According to him, member agencies and partner stakeholders’ participation is a “promotion of earthquake preparedness.” They engage in NSED-related activities such as preparing for public continuity, business continuity, contingency plans, organization of disaster control groups, training, and exercises.

60 drills since 2002

He said NDRRMC has already facilitated some 60 drills since the NSEDs started.

During the pandemic, it conducted virtual drills online. Over 100,000 views and 80,000 engagements from online participants were recorded for the said event during the agency’s live stream.

On its third quarter NSED, the NDRRMC held an in-person activity on Sept. 8 at the Ayala Property Management Corporation Headquarters in Makati City.

Community evacuation, fire suppression, search and rescue, response to mass casualty incidents, and high-angle rescue were among the many scenarios included in the full-scale exercise conducted to test Makati LGU’s disaster response capabilities.

 
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