Unsafe evacuation centers a trap for typhoon evacuees
posted 18-Aug-2019  ·  
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In the wake of the devastation left by supertyphoon Yolanda in November 2013, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) prepared a study on “Building Safe Spaces for the Community: A Practical Guide for Constructing Disaster-Resilient Community Evacuation Centres in the Philippines.”

Based on its interaction with local authorities and disaster response groups in Eastern Samar, it identified characteristics that make a shelter suitable for evacuees: close to residences/homes; causes minimal disruption to work, school, social arrangements and cultural practices; located away from potential primary and/or secondary hazards; structurally sound and follows existing building codes; has adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities; and, has special shelter arrangements for more vulnerable individuals including lactating mothers, children, the elderly and persons with disability.

During a disaster period of less than 72 hours, the evacuation center, according to the IOM study, should provide life-saving shelter, 1.5-sq. meter covered area per person, one latrine for every 50 persons, 3 liters of drinking water per person per day, and 12 liters of water for domestic use per person per day.

According to its design specs, the actual center built in Guiuan, Eastern Samar was built to accommodate 350 persons, withstand a Category 5 typhoon and magnitude 8 earthquake, and last for up to 50 years.

The problem with its design, as far as engineers in Catanduanes would be concerned, would be its corrugated GI roofing on steel structure with additional wire mesh layer to protect it from damage caused by flying debris and framing and fixing details to endure sustained wind speeds of up to 300 kph.

This is exactly what is wrong with the design of the P37 million evacuation center set to be built in Viga, Pandan, and San Andres by the DPWH regional office with funds coming from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Decades of experience with supertyphoons with winds exceeding 300 kpg have taught islanders that in such dangerous times, it is far safer to be under a concrete roof than a corrugated GI roof even if it is reinforced with wire mesh and strengthened framing.

In this part of the country, Catanduanes is the first place to be hit by cyclonic winds at its most powerful.

Many can recall their experience of taking shelter in a building with GI roofing, only for heavy debris to be dumped on the roof at the height of the storm’s passage, endangering the very evacuees the structure is supposed to save.

The local governments of Viga, Pandan and San Andres should therefore follow the lead of former Virac Mayor Samuel Laynes, who sought, and got, a change of design when the same GI-roofed evacuation center was offered to the town.

For the sake of their constituents, the chief executives of the recipient municipalities should ask their respective Sangguniang Bayans to pass a resolution requesting such design change from the DPWH and NDRRMC.

This should be done this early, before the evacuation centers are built and most likely fail to provide its would-be evacuees the comfort of knowing that they would be safe under its vulnerable roofing.

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