A Break from your usual habit

Readiness and Response to Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)

In current events on November 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM

As an observer like you, I am also frustrated when I see people on TV saying that they have not yet received any help from the government. But to anyone who thinks and feels that it is “easy” to respond to a disastrous event in multiple locations, then let me try to change your view.

yolanda nakakatakot 2PREPARATION

I have experienced being in a disastrous event and crisis situations and believe me, no amount of preparation will make things “easy” for you to handle it. During planning, people will laugh at you when you give an unimaginable scenario but you know it is possible to happen.

I doubt that our Local Government units were not prepared. Tacloban, for example, is an area that is prone to Typhoons. They have more than their fair share from the total typhoons that crosses the country annually.

yolanda track (Small)

We had the luxury of time to prepare. I think the three days preparation is enough to put in the basic things that we need to have and to do. The scenario that we were looking at was, 70%-80% damaged houses, fallen trees, some deaths due to Severe strong winds and flooding. We Filipinos are used to Typhoons and earthquakes. We already accepted the fact that every year, two or three typhoons will bring a disaster to our country. It is just a matter of what month and where it will hit.

Part of the preparation was placing relief goods and equipment in strategic locations for easy pick up and distribution and evacuating people near the bodies of water or low lying areas to safer ground. Aside from that, the National Government sent two Cabinet Secretaries, Mar Roxas of the Department of Interior and Local Government and Voltaire Gazmin of the Department of National Defense, to Tacloban to oversee the preparations and provide immediate assessment and relief. I am thinking that they choose Tacloban because the area would be strategic and will be used as the central Command Area to provide response. If these two National Government officials saw Tacloban was not prepared, they should have immediately corrected it. And so I think they already saw that the preparation was enough.

Our weather men and women from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical, Services Administration (PAGASA) and sub agencies have done a great job in informing the public of the impending danger.

We really thought we were prepared.


As Typhoon Yolanda made landfall, extreme strong winds 250-275kph (highest recorded wind of Yolanda from one of the updates from Pagasa) came pounding through the towns in Eastern Samar. Next in line was Northern Leyte, then Northern Cebu, then Northern Bacolod, next was Iloilo, Capiz, and Aklan, the finally, Northern Palawan.

Yolanda affected updated

Ocean water rose 5-10 meters high (based on some accounts) ravaging through the streets and homes. They call this the “storm surge”, something we always hear during strong typhoons. We’ve had storm surges before, but we thought that this was only part of the normal flood caused by heavy rains. It was something we have not experienced before. Even the brave newsmen from different news agencies who are “veterans” in covering disaster events like Signal #3Typhoons, Wars (in Zamboanga), Earthquakes (recent one was in Bohol), were saying that what actually happened exceeded their expectations.


How do you respond to a disastrous event in multiple locations? Let’s see the areas affected.

I made my own projection on which areas were badly hit by Yolanda.

Yolanda affected updated with points

I plotted the path of Typhoon Yolanda based on PAGASA data. Then I placed a red circle to denote the “eye of the typhoon”  (which according to wikipedia is 30-65km diameter. I used 30km).Then measured the distance of Tacloban (which was hit very hard) from the center of eye of the typhoon. It is about 30km. I then placed a blue circle to show the 30km radius on each given hourly location of the typhoon. Then I placed a red line to place a sort of boundary to the areas which likely have the same damage as Tacloban.

The total population of those with yellow arrows is 2.6 Million (Based on the population data from geoprtal.gov.ph). Again, that’s 2.6 million people, and the figure is only for those identified areas alone. I did not include those towns, cities, municipalities in between these highlighted areas. This may reach 4 million, or maybe more.

Due to lack of communication, the Government was only able to start assessing the damage the following day (even when Yolanda was still within the Philippine Area of Responsibility).

After making the initial assessment, the National Government said that the hardest hit area was Tacloban. Which I doubt. Tacloban is not the only area with this kind of damage based on my projections. Even the President doubted the initial report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) Chairman during a briefing. The President got mad when the NDRRMC Chairman said that 95% of Tacloban have been “devastated”. The President then asked for details or proof. I agree with the PNoy. To me, devastation means there’s no structure left standing. As of posting time, I still do not know what the percentage of destruction is.

And as the days go by, many see and feel that the Government is disorganized. It seems that they did not have a plan for response for this magnitude.

But actually there is a plan. There is what we call the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (Republic Act 10121). For one, It mandates the structure of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management units from the National level up to the Barangay level. It states that if there are two or more regions that are affected by a disaster or calamity, the NDRRMC would take the lead in “preparing for, Responding to, and recovering from the effects”.


But putting the plan in operation (actually doing it) is another story. The National Government is relying on the Barangay DRRMC and Municipal/City DRRMC to carry out their functions… But hey, they have also been affected. They are also victims. As I have mentioned above, the Government said that they have already “pre-positioned” the relief goods and response equipment. But surely some of these equipment have been affected too, maybe washed away. Again, based on the law, the NDRRMC should be the one to act. Let us not wait for the local governments.

I get angry with people saying that the Government is not doing their Job, at times like these, do you think they are sitting on their office chairs and doing nothing? The question you should ask is, “is the government capable of responding to this kind of disaster? I think not”. Even foreign countries have labelled this incident as something the Philippines cannot and would not be able to handle alone.

John Ging, director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, called the devastation “quite unprecedented”.

Steven Lysaght, British Embassy Political Section 1st Secretary has this to say: “The Philippine government has been doing tremendous work & effort to get things moving. What we have here is an unimaginable catastrophe – a “crisis” no one could have prepared for. We must remember that the country has been going through a ‘series’ of events from natural disasters, man-made violence. It is only fair not to expect a perfect response.” (source: Facebook Wall of Charie Villa)

Even the United States (US), a first world – highly developed country, was not prepared when Hurricane Katrina battered its way across the US, see this news article: edition.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/04/14/fema.ig.

It is not the time to blame the government, now is the time to help them accomplish what we think they can not do or what they are not doing. I see those who keeps blaming the government for lack of action as the ones who are just sitting in front of their computers or holding their tablets or cellphones, accessing their social media accounts and doing nothing but watch then rant. Now I ask you, what “response” – HELP – have you given to to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda?

Here are my humble suggestions:

  1. Those at the planning team of NDRRMC should create an activity chart on what to do based on priority (even though it is already late);
  2. Divide all the affected areas into zones;
  3. Assign one personnel from NDRRMC who will be in-charge of that zone regardless if the Mayor or governor of that Zone is still able to do his function. That person from NDRRMC Assigned to this zone will also be the incident commander since as per law, the NDRRMC is now the lead agency here;
  4. Determine the hardest hit areas in each zone;
  5. Provide the needs – Disperse the relief operations in each zone. Putting more relief drives on hardest hit areas and less relief in other areas – at least the victims will know that they are being given attention. After the “duty” on the less affected areas, bring the relief operation to the hardest hit zones. Cities/Municipalities/Provinces which were not affected by the Typhoon should send a relief operations – should be coordinated with NDRRMC.
  6. Re-assess each zone. Move relief operations from zones which are now “doing better” to zones which needs more relief.

All directives and actions should come from ONE INCIDENT COMMANDER only.

RECOVERY. That’s another blog post.

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