It was a bright Wednesday morning at the University of the Philippines (UP) Campus in Diliman, Quezon City, when the sound of blaring sirens broke the usual tranquility of the campus grounds. There was no emergency, but a simulation of one.
Earthquake Drill for Self-Reliance
At 10:30 a.m. on September 12, 2012, there were sirens from inside the College of Engineering building, signaling the start of an earthquake drill.
The scenario began as if a major earthquake has struck Melchor Hall, the main building of the College. Students and employees in the building were evacuated. Then, after fighting a simulated fire, a collapse structure search and rescue team (CSSR) was sent in to rescue casualties.
Aura Matias, dean of the College of Engineering, acted as the incident commander of the drill’s scenario. Asked on how was the experience of being in charge of a difficult scenario, “Hay naku! nakaka-tense!”
Matias reflected that “one has to be aware of all the things happening.” She said that the drill is simulated like a true scenario. She noted that preparation has been long and hard which included training and orientation for first responders and for everyone involved.
She said that “it was a great challenge we thought it would only be an ordinary event but it turned out to be a good exercise for all of us to have this”.
Asked if a major earthquake would strike later, Matias said that “I believe that the College of Engineering would be the first one prepared.” She revealed, however, that in a real earthquake, the whole campus and not just the college would be affected.
“What we want to see is self-reliance because it is possible that our police force and health service are busy in other colleges [areas],” she said in an exclusive interview with SecurityMatters.
“At least on our part, even if rescuers would arrive late, we have the knowledge and manpower and we will be ready to save ourselves because the first few hours [of a disaster] would be very critical. So if we can save ourselves, we can save a lot more lives,” she added.
Preparing the University
Matias said that “we are hoping that this can serve as a template for other colleges to follow. So we are ready to echo what we have learned.” She said that her College is ready to assist other colleges and institutions in developing their capacity to respond to disasters, like the way they were assisted by rescuers and soldiers who helped them organize the drill.
The drill was made possible with the assistance of the 51st Engineering Brigade of the Philippine Army.
Col. Silvino Alcabasa Jr., Commander of the 51st Engineering Brigade of the Philippine Army, was present and observed the conduct of the drill.
Alcabasa, who is an alumnus of UP’s College of Engineering, is keen to help improve his alma mater’s ability to deal with emergencies. He said that the drill is a good step to enhance the disaster preparedness in the university. He noted that in terms of disaster preparedness, “the university started from zero.”
The drill conducted by the said College seems to be the first high-scale earthquake drill done in the university for years.
Alcabasa explained, “It was mandated by the government that all institutions should prepare for calamities and disasters. We are here to help the College of Engineering be prepared.”
Alcabasa is also the current commandant and department head of the university’s Department of Military Science and Tactics. Said department handles ROTC training and certain Civic Welfare Training subjects. As part of his efforts for the university, he trains the ROTC cadets and students under the department on subjects that are necessary in coping and surviving disasters.
A Good Start
The College has also tied up with Rescue Academy, a group of volunteers training for emergency response and whose members are affiliated with emergency responders from government and private institutions. Members of the group were present during the drill as evaluators.
Zeus Ruiz from Rescue Academy shared his evaluation. “The participants were able to accomplish their tasks. It’s not perfect being the first time they did it but we saw the eagerness and determination of the participants.” He added that, with such determination, the participants’ capabilities can further be improved.
Ruiz recommended for the College and the University to continue training and to have awareness when it comes to disaster. Everyone has to be prepared and has to have proper knowledge and skills when dealing with disasters, he added.
Meanwhile, Dexter Loor, a 5th year engineering student and a participant in the drill, recounted that this is the first earthquake drill he had since he studied in UP.
Loor suggested that, “to be more realistic, we might need to reduce outside help from rescue units and the military [during the conduct of drills] so that we can really assess what we can do”.
When asked what he would do if a major earthquake strikes, Loor said that he would apply what he had learned and would help evacuate his fellow students. “We students should not be complacent with one drill we have conducted. I think it is good to make such drills regular like every month to ensure that we become prepared for the worst.”