“CONTINUITY Planning” is a system where government and authority is maintained in the wake of a disaster with due consideration to the fact that the usual front liners – the local government units and their disaster management and relief teams – are themselves victims of the tragedy.
My ragtag team of strategists and communicators came across this in our studies post Ondoy and Sendong, where the buzzwords of disaster management and emergency preparedness were being espoused by the government and private sector and constantly harped about by media.
The team realized in their research that a common stress point for relief operations is that the saviors themselves had their own families to worry about, that many of them were in the same locales they were serving and that in their gallant efforts to save the lives of their countrymen, they did not even know how their own spouses and children were fairing.
In Yolanda, the tragedy is worse. Yesterday News 5’s Ina Zara was able to capture succinctly how important and strategic Continuity Planning is to any disaster management plan. She showed how national government’s apparent lead in the relief efforts in Tacloban, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas, dismissed literally the province’s police head and his so-called “excuse” for not having his people report for duty. The report showed some of the policemen who did survive the onslaught of the typhoon: one reported in tatters and was able to save only his gun; another, a woman, finally reported but said she couldn’t because she was caring for her baby while her husband, also a cop, still did not report because he had to find ways for them to survive; still other was said to be out looking for missing kin. The police head lamented that he had no way of finding his people since there were no communications facilities. He himself is obviously torn between duty and survival.
To all this Mar Roxas said (translation ours): We accept that they’re victims, but they have a duty, right? So maybe that’s an excuse on day zero, on day one. But we are on day seven, right? They still haven’t reported.
It is a recurring theme – or nightmare – in the media’s coverage of the Yolanda aftermath: Roxas complaining they had no trucks; National Defense Secretary Volt Gazmin complaining there was no transport and communications infrastructure; Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman complains that there was nobody around when they arrived; President Benigno S. Aquino complained that the local government units were unprepared despite their warnings and that the first responders were absent in the immediate aftermath.
Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez could only stare blankly, mouth agape, in disbelief. Everything was destroyed: city hall, the evacuation centers they prepared, the relief stocks they prepared, their vehicles save for a couple… and his own family barely survived. The streets were littered with smashed vehicles, building debris and dead bodies. Many form the local government units – the first responders.
Said Romualdez in one interview: I myself drove the equipment to try and clear the road. That’s okay in day one of two. But I can’t do that all the time. I have to be here in our operations center where I should be directing whatever resources we have. Where is the national government?
More reports on TV showed hapless barangay heads trying to get relief for their constituents. One poor lady barangay chair said she walked nine kilometers to where they were supposed to get the goods to be delivered to them, only to be told that the relief goods could not be delivered and that she had to have her own vehicle. None of the vehicles in their barangay survived, she said in the verge of tears.
Another kapitana also didn’t have her own vehicle. This time her village was one of those island barangay’s in the province. None of the bancas survived the monstrous storm surge.
In both cases they were finally able to coerce the national authorities to have their goods delivered because media was there covering the on goings. In the latter case, the media commissioned banca was itself used.
Looking back, our team attempted to push the Continuity Planning concept to some politicians during the campaign for the last national elections. A number of them wanted to use environmental issues as their peg or advocacy in the build up towards their campaigns. The team felt it was an opportune time to really get some resources to adequately study and create a working master plan for it.
(At this point I don’t know who actually first coined the term “Continuity Plan”, but there are a lot of such Continuity Plans especially for the strategic plans of businesses where it is used in preparation for external threats. I still have to dig up our studies and research in our digital baul, but to whoever is the original author or even owns the copyright, if such a thing exists, our humble apologies and gratitude.)
Unfortunately, they all decided that it was not sexy enough to pursue. And, as elections go, they all eventually decided that song and dance numbers trump issue discussions in attracting voters.
I believe that the angst and stress we have all experienced in these past days all boils down to this: the lack of a Continuity Plan. There must never be a gap in the establishment of authority in the disaster area. Front liners and devolution of emergency services are fine, but we should always be aware that they too are victims of the tragedy.
We need a way to ensure that we save the saviors.