UNDP supporting disaster management coordination

Dec 23, 2014

UNDP Philippines' Fides Borja (left) at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management's Office of Civil Defense with government officials working on response efforts during Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) Photo: UNDP

Weeks after Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) struck the Philippines, its government has been lauded by many – locally and internationally – on preparedness measures that saved countless lives. The potential destructive impact of Typhoon Ruby particularly related to the loss of life – initially feared to be similar to that of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – fortunately did not occur.

Better planning and coordination, preventive evacuation of regions that were in the path of the typhoon, widespread dissemination of information, and awareness by all levels of government and in local communities proved to be critical factors that substantially lessened the devastation of Typhoon Ruby.

“Days before Typhoon Ruby hit, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Risk Management Council (NDRRMC), through the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), was already coordinating with and convening government agencies to prepare for the typhoon,” says Fides Borja, a UNDP Philippines staffer deployed with the OCD. Fides earlier worked with the government, and was also an Assistant Secretary at the Office of the President.

“When Typhoon Ruby made landfall, the operations center became even busier with reports coming in from several government agencies and from affected areas,” says Fides. “More information came through social media, and due to the volume of work, monitoring and reporting, two more UNDP staff members – were called in to assist OCD.”

Fides, and her colleagues, Rachelle Cerera-Leones and Jose ‘Jay’ Kalaw, were deployed to the OCD just as Typhoon Ruby was making its way to the Philippines in the first week of December. Their role is to provide technical assistance to help the government prepare for high level international and regional conferences, including the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (3WCDRR), in March 2015.

The job also involves the sunset review of the Philippines’ Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, specifically on the performance and organizational structure of implementing agencies.

Fides, Rachelle and Jay were barely a week into their new roles when Typhoon Ruby threatened massive destruction. Recognising the importance of better planning, coordination and information dissemination, the OCD sought their assistance, particularly in consolidating information for the response cluster report, a document that feeds into broader situation reports issued by NDRRMC.

They also helped the OCD set-up and manage information on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the emergency hotlines, used primarily to provide and track information on the situation and needs of affected populations.

“This support is crucial as the information is used by the different government agencies in their respective response efforts, and also made public,” Fides said. “There were people working 24/7 to ensure that the government was on top of the situation, that correct information was coming in and being disseminated, and that the needs of those affected were being responded to immediately,” she added.

According to Fides, the OCD was well in command of the situation. Days before Typhoon Ruby’s landfall, the office had advised concerned government agencies to cascade information, to conduct preventive evacuations in the areas that were in the typhoon’s path, to preposition relief goods, and to use all possible channels to disseminate information to the public.
 
While Typhoon Yolanda exacted a terrible price it also imparted important lessons on how national and local governments can better prepare to face typhoons – and these lessons definitely contributed to Typhoon Ruby’s impact being much less than what was feared.