Friday, October 09, 2009

Postmortem Review for Typhoon Ondoy Flood Rescue and Relief Operations

It's been almost a week since I posted our traumatic Typhoon Ondoy experience, and was at a loss about how to move forward with my blog. Now I know how - this will be my last Typhoon Ondoy post.

When I began writing down my recounting of the events that transpired during Typhoon Ondoy's devastation, one of the Philippines' worst tropical storms, I had only one thing on my mind - I had to release this fear and frustration over everything that I experienced. I did not expect my posts about Typhoon Ondoy to be one of the most read articles on this blog. To everyone who visited, Thank you, and I do hope the compilation of Typhoon Ondoy stories here did help you also to begin your healing.

I have one more thing in mind though. After every big operation or project, an analysis or review is done at the end to assess where improvements can be made. We call this a postmortem review or an after action review (AAR).  I am sure the government will have one about Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. Here are some of my contributions...

Having been there in the middle of the chaos on Ortigas Extension, I would like to offer my contributions for the improvement of our Government's emergency response. You, my readers are welcome to give your suggestions as well, however, I implore you to please refrain from making this a ranting session - let's try to be constructive.

Crowd Control

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived there was that there were a lot of people, a lot of uniformed personnel, but no one giving directions. Then I saw someone shouting for the people to move back and complaining that they were trying to help everyone but the people were not cooperating.

I do not know this man, and do not mean to disrespect him. I can imagine his frustration at the situation. But if he intended to get all those people out of the way, he could have done a better job.

As I mentioned, there were a lot of people coming and going. Some stood by the water waiting for a chance to be brought across or back to their houses, some were residents just watching the rescue show - but a whole lot were newcomers who did not know that the area was cleared earlier.

My suggestions:
  1. Barricade the rescue area
  2. Use a loudspeaker to calmly request the people to clear the path. A loudspeaker must be part of the rescue kit.

One Commanding Officer and a Plan

A common theme I found in some of the stories in my compilation was that there was no "One commanding officer" for the rescue efforts in each of the locations. The same was true in Ortigas Extension, at least for the most part that I was there (early Sunday morning to afternoon).

Because there was no One commanding officer, there was no synergy in the efforts of each of the units. The people in the water closest to the rescue point were the only ones being rescued, and no one was going to the subdivisions on either side of Ortigas Extn.

They could have used the biggest and fastest boats to collect the people nearest to the rescue base. The fastest medium boats could have moved past the first line and rescued those farther away who are probably in deeper water and are in more danger.

The smallest boats - assign maybe one on each side of the street if resources were really constrained - and have those visit the houses and check if anyone needs immediate rescue or medical attention. I am certain there are a lot of people who could not leave their houses because they were either too old, too young or too weak and needed immediate rescue.

These are, of course, just ideas. I may not have completely understood the situation, or maybe they have information I did not. I am basing my comments solely on what I saw and experienced.

Detailed Maps and Routes

While everyone was in the thick of rescue efforts, families were begging for the rescuers to bring food to their houses and their families who were stranded on roofs. They had addresses written out on pieces of paper, some even brought sketches and photos.

One of the officers in a rubber boat refused to accept the information saying they did not have maps anyway so they couldn't go to the addresses.

My suggestions:
  1. Always prepare maps prior to deployment to an emergency OR 
  2. For the Local Government Units (LGUs) to prepare maps of their localities as part of their emergency response kits

Consciously avoid inducing panic/stampedes

It was a big crowd on that bridge on Ortigas Extension. At one point during the whole ordeal, 2 helicopters flew over us and began circling. Minutes later they dropped about 50 or so packages of what seemed like shirts, soap and other toiletries. People started screaming and running because they wanted it for themselves. Some packages fell on the roofs - moments later there were people up on the roofs fighting over them.

I almost cursed at the helicopter (even though I knew they couldn't hear me) - were they trying to freaking kill us with a stampede? Did they not learn anything from the Wowowee Anniversary?

My suggestion:
  1. Reserve helicopter delivered relief goods for those stranded on roofs, not to a big crowd that can turn into a stampede.

People Accounting

I saw a lot of people get rescued. The Philippine Red Cross, the Navy, the Army, the PNP, the Marines - they did a good job in getting as many people out of the water as fast as possible. But all those rescued were not properly accounted for. No one was taking notes of who were rescued, where they were rescued from, and whether or not there were more people needing rescue there.

Going back to the suggestion for a single point of command - information such as how high the water was, how dangerous the conditions were, etc. would have been helpful in making the necessary action plan - say for example to divert resources to more critical areas like a place where the wall is about to collapse, or maybe even warn the rescuers of risks like an open manhole or strong current in a certain area.

Another good use for it is if the relatives or friends of the flood victims arrive at the rescue point, they have a reference list if the subject was already rescued or not.

My suggestion:
  1. Assign someone to get names of those rescued and if they have information useful for the rescue efforts.

Trauma Station especially for children

We Filipinos don't know much about trauma.
I'm sure a lot of us don't even acknowledge it as a real problem and dismiss it as nothing a drinking session can't fix. But trauma is real - people react to trauma in very different ways.

After the tragedy that was Typhoon Ondoy, some people may develop a fear of typhoons, or others may become extremely anxious when there is a storm. Some may lose their appetite, some may seem disconnected or troubled all the time.

My last suggestion
  1. To have a Trauma station especially for little children. I can't elaborate further because I am not a psychologist, but I do think that someone should be helping the victims cope with trauma in this way.

Your suggestions

I would like to emphasize that my intention here is not to criticize nor disrespect the government or those doing the rescue operations. I would proclaim them heroes if I could, for they are all heroes in my eyes.

My post here is merely a layman's view and my suggestions coming from what I saw. I sincerely believe that we can do better next time.

So, my friends, I ask you now for your suggestions.
  1. How do you think can we make our Emergency Rescue and Relief operations better?
  2. How should we prepare for the next big typhoon?

Typhoon Ondoy and the Presidentiables and other key Political figures

And on a final note, since this will be my last Typhoon Ondoy post anyway - how well did you think key political figures performed during this tragedy? If you remember, only a few months ago, when Pres. Cory Aquino died, it was Noynoy who was thrust into the limelight. This time around, because of typhoon Ondoy, it was NDCC Chairman Sec. Gibo Teodoro, MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, Marikina Mayor Maritess Fernando, and a few others who became the focus of media attention.

With Gilbert Teodoro Jr. at the helm of NDCC, do you think his constant media exposure affected his chances at the Presidency?

With Bayani Fernando at the forefront of rescue and rehabilitation of Metro Manila, would people now feel bad he won't be running for the Presidency? Or would they want him to run as an Independent candidate?

Will Manny Villar's self promotion on relief goods boost his chances or diminish them?
Where was Noynoy or Noli and the other Presidentiables during this whole ordeal?

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  1. First,I would like to thank you ReyJR for taking the initiative for posting this After Action Review(AAR).We really need this whether it's from a layman's point of view or from experts in disaster preparedness,operations and rescue or whatever they term it.

    Personally,at the height of Typhoon Ondoy I was at a loss of what's happening or what to do in situation that was but I have to grapple myself to sense again for my daughter Belle and at that time her 2-week oldbaby were in a life threatening situation as they were caught in the midst of actual and real danger.

    I knew beforehand that the NDCC is in-charge of the Coordination whether for rescue and operation but where is the Head of the NDCC at that time?Later I learned that they were still having a meeting.What was the meeting for?People are drowning and houses are already submerged in water and they are still having a meeting?

    So from there we can see that preparedness was lacking.If from the onset of the disaster people already knew what to do or who to call to report their situation perhaps immediate attention could have been given.Not only until it was an independent Channel,DZRH was able to flash the nos on screen of the different agencies and hotlines where I knew who to call.

    Perhaps,also as head of the NDCC wouldn't it not be the Sec of Natl Defense be the one on TOP of the situation coordinating all government agencies and just briefing the President and not the other way around?

    Importance of LGUs

    I would believe that as Mayors of the different cities and municipalities of affected areas,it's the responsibility of the local executives to be accountable to their own people.At least they should know both the assets and predicament of their sphere of influence.If only all the cities and municipalities where properly equipped of rubber boats,life vests,banca and other paraphernalia at their own disposal,mobility for transport within their area could have been faster.Thus from this experience,it's mandatory that the LGUs from the barangay level be properly equipped whether it be for flooding,earthquake,fire or any other disaster.They should have a bodega for all these equipment.They will again ask,where to get the money?Stop graft and corruption and we will have all the money we need!
    Furthermore,visibility of the local officials whether on TV or even just to be heard on radio and their hotlines is a must too.I personally, would commend Mayor M.Fernando of Marikina for a splendid job to her people.But where are the other Mayors:Of Cainta and Pasig?

    Info dissemination and training of personnel from the barangay up to the provincial level

    Personal knowledge and training of personnel engaged in the rescue should also be disseminated to ordinary citizens of every barangay so they themselves would be educated of what to do in calamities like this.The knowledge of danger signals and perhaps the color coding of properties and proper storage of documents for priority evacuation should also be introduced.Unplugging of electrical appliances and turning off the main switch in case of high waters to prevent electrocution.

    The training,seminars and info dissemination should be done and scheduled more often

    Data Bank-I do agree with you ReyJr that a listing of those rescued and whereabouts should be posted on TV and broadcast on radio stations so as their relatives would know.

    Trauma Management-Also very important component for victims so as to help them cope with their situation.

    Reforestation,Solid Waste Management,Zoning and other Environmental concerns-

    Let us be proactive!!!Flooding and all these calamities are signs of the coming of global warming and climate change.The government needs the cooperation of everybody.Let's cooperate by planting trees in our own backyard,dispose our garbage properly,practice the 4Rs.LGUs and other agencies should observe proper zoning and perhaps our builders should redesign structures of houses especially in flood prone areas.

    In closing,let us all be environment friendly...Thanks

  2. Great point in bringing up how to address trauma brought about by horrible situations like this. Counseling, therapy sessions - these are important, too, especially for children who lived through harrowing experiences.

    Does NDCC have a database of their relief efforts in the matter people rescued, hospitalized. Is there one go-to bureau or office that people can go to look for their lost loved ones?

    So much needs to be done. I hope this painful lesson will at least raise the level of our disaster preparedness.

    Yay, as we speak, Northern Luzon is still being battered by typhoon. Landslides in Baguio, more flooding, power outages. Here we go again...

  3. Your observations are correct and are very objective.

    How to respond to disasters should be ingrained in the personnel of the branch of government responsible for this. This is precisely the reason why they spent billions to train them, so they could acquire this instinctive response to disasters. These are the fire drills, earthquake drills, etc that they conduct every now and then.

    The gravity of the flash flood however, has caught everyone else unaware. It has rendered useless all these efforts. In such circumstances, government alone can’t do it without everyone pitching in. But you’re right; there should be one command center to coordinate everything so functions won’t overlap.

  4. That helicopter dropping off supplies to the big crowd was scary and
    ill-advised to put it kindly... No, we hardly have trauma stations. I
    haven't exactly checked but if we do have them maybe these are in the major
    cities only. So much needs to be done.
    Well, in its absence we put much faith in our children being able to outgrow
    those traumatic experiences. Of course, they don't. They go through life
    scarred. And some progressed to being malcontents. More problems for us.
    In a country wherein the poor don't suffer from cancer - hey, they die from
    kulam, don't they? - it's a good thing to have trauma units to make us
    better cope with life's traumas. Just wish your suggestion gets addressed
    because it's very important.