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We must be prepared for all these dangers

Preparedness saved many lives when Mount Pinatubo erupted 25 years ago, volcanologists said, as the nation remembered that day in 1991 when the volcano ended over 400 years of slumber to explode in one of the cataclysmic eruptions of the 20th century.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said they were warned by signs of unrest – swarms of minor earthquakes with intensity 2 to 3 – that became more frequent as days and weeks passed. Phivolcs sought the assistance of the US Geological Survey which brought advanced instrumentation. Studying deposits from its big eruption 400 years earlier, Phivolcs was able to create a hazard map, showing which areas were likely to be affected.

Thus when the big explosion came, only about 700 casualties were recorded, instead of the feared thousands. Of the total dead, 40 percent died from indirect effects such as the collapse of roofs due to heavy ash deposits, 50 percent died from sickness in evacuation sites, and only 10 percent in the actual lahar flows from the crater and slopes of the volcano.

Volcanoes are part of the Ring of Fire that sweeps around the Pacific Ocean, including the Philippines. Also part of this danger zone are earthquake-prone areas where continental plates grind against each other, creating stresses that can suddenly explode in an earthquake. We are now in the middle of preparations for a possible major earthquake.

This 4 week, simultaneous earthquake drills will be held all over the country under “Payanig 2016,” led by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). Local governments are designated the primary responders in case of a major disaster; they should be ready on their own, requesting help from the provincial and national governments if needed. The people themselves must be prepared to survive without external help for at least 72 hours.

Principally because of two major faults bracketing Metro Manila, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) wants the people of the region to be ready for a possible 7.2-magnitude tremor. A “shake drill” was held last year, with Metro residents and motorists participating in exercises. A second “shake drill” will be held along with “Payanig 2016” on Wednesday, June 22.

As for typhoons, the people of this country are now well aware of the various typhoon signals and rain alerts issued by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Administration (PAGASA). Since the tragedy of super-typhoon Yolanda which killed over 6,000 people in Eastern Visayas in 2013, our people are now alert to storm surges which caused most of the Yolanda deaths in Leyte.

Preparedness – this is the byword for all these exercises. We have to live with these natural dangers in our part of the world. They are challenges that have long defined who we are as a people. They have steeled us to meet and overcome other challenges in our national life.