In-ground emergency shelters

The night before Yolanda (Haiyan) was forecasted to land in Tacloban, I was having dinner with a DRR specialist who is at the same time the designated security officer in the area.  We were in Zamboanga City.  I had planed in that afternoon and he wanted us to meet to discuss required arrangements during my stay.  He was also curious as to who, at that particular time, had the gall to come in and add to their babysitting task.  His two hands are already too full with supervising his organization’s humanitarian support to the communities affected by the recent armed conflict.  Well, my client – his organization – had the gall to send me out.  Anyway, our meeting was one of those instances wherein both of you instantly connect like old friends and could talk about any topic.  And the topic was DRR, one in particular:

1.  Preemptive evacuation

The objective of preparedness is zero loss of lives and to have a hope attaining this, preemptive evacuation is one strategy.  LGUs complain that despite their advice locals refuse to evacuate before a storm.  Locals refuse because in many places especially in rural areas the “evacuation center” is merely open grounds.  Naturally, they decide that their clapboard houses are “safer” than the moon and stars.  In some places, the “evacuation center” is a cave.

Preemptive evacuation can be handled:

a.  “Normal” scenario (e.g. when faced with typhoons of the usual strength relative to risk profile of communities)

People who are medium to high risk for disasters (e.g. the elderly, disabled, solo caregivers living alone with children, etc.) residing in medium to high risk areas move into the designated evacuation centers days ahead of the storm’s expected landfall.  It is assumed that these centers have been prepared ahead in anticipation of occupants’ arrival.

b.  “Worst case” scenario (e.g.  when faced with typhoons of unusual strength relative to risk profile of communities)

Bunkers.  Yep, underground ones.  Apparently, tsunamis and flash floods are blind to persons and things on their path above ground and so to have a chance at surviving, the way to go is below ground.  This is an example of an adaptation (as opposed to mitigation) measure.

An underground storm shelter operated by a hotel is mentioned in Stieg Larrson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, the sequel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  The hotel where Lisbeth was staying in The Bahamas had an underground bunker where their guests were moved into even before the super storm came to the island.  The hotel was considerably damaged but not the bunker and the people in it.

In real life, in-ground shelters are built and used by families within tornado frequented zones.  On a more sophisticated scale, a few governments have built underground facilities for emergency purposes, such as FEMA’s Mount Weather.

Similarly, China, as reported in the China Daily, built a complex that can hold 200,000 occupants.

In the face of a changing climate, bunkers are about to take on a new image and purpose.  High risk island states such as the Philippines should start thinking about the feasibility of these shelters/evacuation centers here, especially for coastal communities.

After having reiterated the role and responsibility of the global community in the effects and impacts of climate change, the Philippines should also look inward to its attitude and practices in DRR and CCA, in this case, evacuation, the realities being that preemptive evacuation (at least as briefly pointed out above) is not a practice.  Yeb Sano’s

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair…

is also and primarily a statement addressed to the Philippines especially its public officials.  Country representatives were reported to have been moved, shed tears, by the speech.  I say Filipino public officials, particularly those implicated in the pork barrel scam, should too.  Otherwise, it’s as if the reason outsiders shed tears was because they pity us.

At the level of national government, it can start with the sequestration of the Ritz Carlton condominium “owned” by Jeanne Napoles, daughter of Janet Napoles.  Its sale is enough to fund for the study, design and building of the first batch of in-ground emergency shelters in high risk communities.


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