Teaching disaster preparedness in schools

The Philippines is making headway in integrating disaster preparedness into primary and high school curricula, say officials.

"The net effect of this is that children will actively become agents in saving themselves and others in cases of disaster," Office of Civil Defence chief Benito Ramos told IRIN in Manila. "The ultimate goal is zero casualties by making them [children] less vulnerable in such situations."

Since the programme’s launch in 2010, the Education Department, in conjunction with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), has developed modules to be used by tutors to educate students on various hazards, as well as how to respond to them.

NDRRMC volunteers have been working closely with teachers in thousands of schools to cover issues such as proper responses to emergency alerts, safety measures, preparing go-to bags (with clothes, medicine and emergency supplies), and the right time to evacuate, he said.

Children are also taught to store all school records, manuals, books and electronic equipment in a safe, elevated place in case of floods.

"We want to teach children early response times because in the Philippine setting, parents and adults are often the hardest ones to convince to leave their homes even if floodwaters are rising fast," he said.

Ramos said all educational institutions were mandated by the country's Disaster Risk Management Act of 2010 to regularly hold flood, typhoon and earthquake drills.

Raymond Palatino, a member of the House of Representatives for the youth sector, said administrators in many schools, however, had not been strict in implementing such drills, largely due to lack of funds and resources.

Parents, too, put emphasis on academic learning, rather than disaster drills.

He said school-based emergency drills were currently conducted only every three months, despite the Philippines being prone to earthquakes and having many active volcanoes. Upwards of 20 typhoons also slam into the country every year, causing large-scale flooding and deaths.

Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
The Philippines is highly disaster-prone

"Current trends necessitate the integration of disaster management education in school curricula," said Palatino.

Lessons from Japan?

He suggested the country follow the example of Japan's Iwate Prefecture, where children are taught early evacuation, and disaster management experts are frequent visitors. Teachers there reportedly have “hazard maps” to plot escape routes, something credited with saving many lives when the March 2011 tsunami hit Japan.

Ramos said the government was also moving to ensure that poorly built schools are strengthened and early warning systems and mechanisms are put in place.

"Schools are very important, because in many areas of the Philippines they are used as evacuation centres, yet some of them are not disaster-proof," he said.

Nineteen cyclones struck the Philippines In 2011. Ten were destructive, causing 1,541 deaths and affecting nearly 10 million of the country’s 100 million people, the NDRRMC said.

According to the just released Global Climate Risk Index 2013, the Philippines ranked fifth in terms of countries most affected by extreme weather conditions - after Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan and El Salvador (up from 14th place in 2010).