Countries urged to boost disaster preparedness

by Fidea Encarnacion,

Posted at May 24 2014 04:09 PM | Updated as of May 25 2014 12:09 AM

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas speaks at a panel during the World Economic Forum on East Asia. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for

MANILA – There is still an unfilled gap in pre-disaster preparedness efforts in different countries, as focus is often shifted to disaster relief operations, experts said on Thursday.

In a discussion on “Decision Making in a Disruptive World” held during the World Economic Forum on East Asia, industry experts said most of the funding and planning have been geared towards the aftermath or relief operations during disasters.

Focus on preemptive planning and preparedness, although often unpredictable due to different factors, has not been taken properly into consideration.

Geoff Riddell, Member, Group Executive Committee and Regional Chairman of Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, Zurich Insurance Group, Hong Kong SAR, said that there’s a lot of work left to be done in preparing for disasters.

“One of my concerns, is that it’s all dealing with post-event. There’s a lot more work pre-event," Riddell said.

Prior to catastrophic events such as Yolanda, there has not been enough planning or initiative done on how execute preventive measures.

According to Riddell, their group have recently started working with an academic institution on conducting methods and assessing how to prevent calamities like these to happen again.

“We are doing work with academic institutions on doing methods on assessing how ready are countries are in reality with catastrophic situations… We’ve not been able to do that before and I think that is a critical piece," he said.

Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, said that lack of funding on preparedness projects is also a crucial factor.

“There is a mismatch between the need for preparedness work and the whole structure of financing whether its national government or international donor or partnerships," Kang said.

However, Kang attests that such preparedness planning cannot be ever complete nor predicted as how it would actually happen. One example is the sinking of a ferry in South Korea, which killed more than 300 people, mostly high school students.

"But I think all preparedness….you can’t ever expect it to be complete... I can’t even begin to describe [what happened to] Korea… There was a very blank spot for Korea’s preparedness for this disaster.”

Leadership: finding the right crisis management team

Riddell said in order to be an effective leader, one has to take into consideration how to properly select the right people and how to conduct proper decision making.

“It you want to be resilient [there is a] need to talk about players [and] resilience of the environment you walk with," he said.

Effective integration of both factors will put crisis management in place. “[It is an] assembly of a lot of pieces, [like the] need to balance between other decisions," he added.

He said that one way of training, or at least testing the effectivity of the team, is seeing how they respond after disrupting a routine or a habit.

“Going through scenarios and practicing…you [must] disrupt people…. If you don’t disrupt a work through exercise… They will not learn at all. It has to be disruptive," he said.

Aside from these, however, Riddell advised that leaders, to be effective, must have insight before making any decision.

“We have to have insights on how people will behave before making a decision… Working in every level, you’ve got to deal with micro and macro [levels.]”

Kang said that the key to solving all these crises on how to properly manage disasters is by putting people at center.

“[Being] context-specific, communication with communities. Putting people at the core of all of these endeavors is key," she said.

She also said that there is always room from improvement, and that nations nowadays have a very positive outlook on improving how they respond to crises.

PH’s next move

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas acknowledged aforementioned discussion during the forum.

Roxas said that the government will push efforts to have a more distanced view of the situation and to build a more resilient team that will be able to respond more effectively during disasters.

“We need a distanced view not from in-country, but really from a distanced view --sort of an after action or a report on what could be done better... Introduce resilient people and disruptors as well… a team effort [with] everybody working together," he said.

He said that the next priority will be re-establishing a new game plan, with the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III at its peak.

“It’s really building the team and having the leadership of the President," Roxas said.