Legarda: Safe Public Infrastructure is Crucial in Earthquake Resilience

November 1, 2019

In light of the recent earthquakes that jolted the Mindanao area, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda said that the structural integrity of public infrastructure is vital in preventing an earthquake from turning into a major disaster.

According to the recent report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the earthquake that was felt in North Cotabato on October 29, with a magnitude of 6.6, has caused the death of at least 16 people, affected more than 6,000 families, and damaged 3,220 infrastructures in Regions IX, X, XI, XII, and BARMM, which includes more than 2,000 houses, 513 schools, 20 health facilities, and several places of worship, roads, bridges, public buildings and private establishments.[1]

“Earthquakes turn into major disasters due to unsafe and poorly built structures, inappropriate site location of infrastructure projects, inadequate design and materials specification, and shortcuts in construction. The government must ensure that all public structures, especially bridges, school buildings and hospitals, are earthquake-proof through the conduct of a nationwide structural evaluation and by retrofitting these structures to allow them to withstand destructive natural occurrences such as earthquakes. The additional expense required for making structures safe from earthquakes is essentially a good investment especially if it will save thousands of precious lives,” the former senator explained.

Legarda also reiterated her call for preparedness against earthquakes in all parts of the country as a temblor of the same magnitude can happen any time. She further reminded that the 2004 Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS), which was conducted by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), warned of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila that may destroy 169,000 houses, damage about 35 percent of all public buildings, including schools and hospitals, city halls, fire and police stations, cause 34,000 deaths, injure 114,000 injuries, break 86 percent of water pipelines, interrupt electricity and telephone services, and segregate Metro Manila into four sectors isolated by collapsed structures, fires and damaged roads, thereby making evacuation and emergency response difficult.

“We know that the Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to earthquakes. Just this year, we have been hit by series of earthquakes: a magnitude 6.1 in Castillejos, Zambales in April with a total of 18 deaths; a magnitude 6.5 that occurred in Eastern Samar on the same month; magnitudes 5.4 and 5.9 earthquakes that occurred in July in Itbayat, Batanes which resulted in a total of 9 deaths with 1,025 families affected, and now the magnitude 6.6 in Mindanao, ” Legarda narrated.

“Given these recent disasters, 7.2 magnitude earthquake as described in the MMEIRS is a possibility that we all should be prepared for. We cannot prevent an earthquake from happening, but with the proper preparedness and preventive measures, we can minimize possible casualties and damages,” Legarda said.

Legarda said that other priority steps in earthquake preparedness include the regular conduct of safety drills; establishment of an early warning system for earthquake and tsunami; determining open spaces for safe refuge; and ensuring that back-up systems of vital utilities are in place for speedy recovery and rehabilitation efforts, and a ready evacuation plan in every barangay in the country.

“We cannot predict when an earthquake will occur. Therefore, we must always remain vigilant for more aftershocks and other effects of the temblor. As we call for the national government to take the lead in promoting the structural soundness and resilience of buildings and structures, I also urge local government units to take the initiative in strengthening earthquake preparedness measures to ensure that our local communities will not be caught off guard when natural hazards strike, ” said Legarda.

As former chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, Legarda included provisions in the national budget that would strengthen the country’s resilience to natural hazards.
One special provision she introduced during her stint in the Senate mandates that critical public infrastructure must be designed and built to be resilient to strong earthquakes, typhoons, flood and other extreme weather events. In retrofitting bridges and other public infrastructure, the government shall give priority to areas considered to be highly vulnerable to seismic activity.

Legarda also collaborated with various government agencies to produce the Disaster Preparedness and First Aid Handbook, which includes basic information on the causes, possible risks, what to do before, during, and after the occurrence of hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tropical cyclones, flood, storm surges, thunderstorms, tornadoes, landslides, heat waves, structural collapses and fire.***