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EDITORIAL | Is Bicol ready for ‘The Big One?’

Many Bicolanos were alarmed recently when officials of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) warned about a possible magnitude 8 earthquake hitting the region.
This was after PHIVOLCS recorded several mild and moderate earthquakes occurring in the Philippine Trench, on which the Bicol region sits.
There is, of course, cause for such alarm. The effects of a magnitude 8 quake can and will cause great devastation. The question is, given our current disaster mitigation and response systems in the region, are we prepared?
Such disaster mitigation and response systems are frequently tested during typhoons, of which Bicol gets a fair amount year after year.
But even with repeated campaigns for safety, a wealth of weather data from here and abroad, and software identifying the areas which are most at risk, many provinces in our region still find it difficult to attain the zero casualty goal. The sad truth: some hardheaded fishermen still go out to sea despite the warnings, and a number of residents of low-lying areas refuse to evacuate.
And the risks due to an earthquake are far more difficult to mitigate than the risks that typhoons bring. Unpredictable and sudden, and thus tough to prepare for, earthquakes involve risks such as tsunamis, fires, and landslides, apart from the destruction of structures that cause injuries or death.
That said, it is not impossible to prepare for earthquakes such that the risks are lessened.
Local government units, for one, must be familiar with the hazard maps that identify the areas which are susceptible, for instance to landslides and erosion.
Such data must be used in the creation of a risk-sensitive Comprehensive Land Use Plan as well as made known to the constituents.
Government agencies, for their part, must firmly enforce the National Building Code to ensure the structural strength and stability of buildings.
Furthermore, ambulances, fire trucks, hospitals, and medical personnel must be made sufficient so as not to hinder rescue and relief operations.
Meanwhile, individuals must have an emergency plan at home, which includes shutting off the utilities and designating an out-of-town contact person to whom they can communicate when disaster hits.
Emergency kits, which contain water, ready-to-eat food, a first-aid kit, personal hygiene items, spare clothes, a battery-operated radio, a flashlight, and a whistle, among others, must also be available.
We Bicolanos are known for our resilient spirit, always rising after a typhoon or flood or volcanic eruption and rebuilding our homes and lives. With strong political and personal will, however, we can also be recognized for our preparedness and risk reduction capabilities.

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