Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Metro Manila Shake Drill

It all began with a showing of a topographic map, distributed to the media with blue lines bisecting the metropolis' eastern fringes. These broken dashes represent the fracture in earth's crust. It runs through swathes of Quezon City, Marikina, up to Muntinlupa, and was the result of a survey of the West Valley Fault System. It was commissioned by the government in the interest of public safety, and also for risk reduction in the event of an actual temblor. Overnight, the news became a sensation, something that puts fear and panic to those living near and beneath the tectonic system. While immediate relocation of families living in the danger zone is out of the question, authorities knew that something has to be done. Before this hype was replaced by another buzz, it was decided by the MMDA to set about a metro-wide earthquake drill. The aim is not just actual coordination of government agencies, but also a chance to educate the public of what needs to be done during such disaster.  

The initiative was the first of its kind. Nothing of this magnitude has been done in recent memory, and while it is understandable that the MMDA is also unsure about the drill's execution, what matters is that the foundation for such readiness has already been in place. The original idea was to include power and water interruption, as well as telecommunication disruption. They wanted to remain faithful to a total infrastructure breakdown scenario and let the public experience it. But realizing how inconvenient this is to everyone, the revised plan focused on four sectors set up across the metropolis to simulate civil evacuation, medical relief, and disaster response. 

While public support was tepid, at best, given the lack of news build-up after the drill was announced, I have already resolved not to leave the fate of my loved ones to chance. Heavy duty plastic containers were procured to store water in case the water pipes get busted. The acquisition of transistor radios also became a priority. Finally, with the medicine cabinet replenished with new bandages and antiseptic fluids, somehow my fears were put to rest. What is missing are the go-bags should we need to stay outdoors, and instructions to everyone about what to do during an earthquake.

The metro-wide drill was the perfect excuse to educate everyone.

I would not deny being tempted to go all the way to Intramuros to watch how the fire suppression drill is being performed. There is also the command center at the LRT Santolan station for disaster relief and rescue affecting residents closest to the fault line. I could have gone to these places and write my experiences. But then, I realized, much of the preparation at home would be for naught if my family members have no idea about "drop," "cover," and "hold" which are the basics of earthquake survival.

"Ang pinakamahalaga mama, eh maprotektahan yung ulo mo." Handing over a pillow to the matriarch, I told her to use it to cover her head. A disabled person like her would have no time to hide under a table or run out of the house in case of a temblor.

This is the same instruction I told the maids, and also pointed at the objects at home that have the highest risk of falling and hitting someone in the head.

That includes my dad's man-sized sketch portrait.

Looking back, giving up the chance to be out there and joining the actual drills was nothing compared to what I can contribute at home. They say, disaster preparedness begins with loved ones, and what better way to do this by teaching the littlest ones - my nephews - who need to be protected more than anyone else.

"Lenin, tayo ka." I had ask him to take a break from his child's play to impart the lessons I've been telling everyone since that morning.

"Try mo nga magtago dito sa ilalim ng kama." Following my orders, the elder nephew tried to fit himself into the small space under my mom's hardwood bed.

"Alam mo kung ano yung lindol?"

He shook his head and smiled at me. Apparently, it wasn't properly communicated at school what the drill that morning happened. At 4 years old and with no actual experience of ground shaking, it was difficult to explain what an earthquake is.

"Ah eh ganito yun." I started shaking my mother's bookcase.

"Kapag gumalaw ito ng walang tao, kailangan mo magtago sa ilalim ng bed ha?" To make it more realistic, I shook the bookcase violently, until the books stacked on top of the shelves started falling.

"Kailangan mo magtago kasi mababagsakan ka nitong mga books."

Getting my idea, my nephew hid once more under the bed as the book shaking continued. I didn't stop, and instead, made sure everything on the shelf lay bare on top of the bed.

"Tandaan mo ito palagi ha?"


It has been 25 years since the last big quake shook the city. Another 22 and news of the Ruby Towers collapsing, and killing more than 200 souls put fear in the hearts of high-rise dwellers. The great big one is long overdue. Should a time come the ground shakes once more, I hope that all these efforts in family preparation will not be for nothing.

Like the Metro Manila Shake Drill, knowing and actual practice are the keys to saving lives.


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