ILOILO CITY is the main venue of the nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill on Feb 21. We cannot predict when an earthquake will occur, therefore, we must always be prepared.
But let us expand our objective. Aside from knowing what to do before, during and after an earthquake, we must also ensure the integrity of our structures. Can they withstand earthquakes?
Earthquakes turn into major disasters due to unsafe structures — poorly built structures, buildings in inappropriate places, inadequate design and materials specification, and shortcuts in construction. Inspection during the construction of both public and private infrastructure is important. The additional expense required for making structures safe from earthquakes is worth it especially if it would save thousands of precious lives.
Yes, the best protection against earthquakes is sound engineering practice. It is a must that we revisit our construction standards, codes and practices. We must examine them now and correct any deficiencies. The evaluation and retrofitting of infrastructures across the country, especially hospitals, schools and bridges, must be done regularly to ensure that they can withstand strong earthquakes.
A guidebook on the promotion of disaster mitigation, which was published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), revealed that the cost of disaster-proofing a hospital or health facility by incorporating comprehensive disaster protection from earthquake and extreme climatic events into designs from the beginning will only add four percent to the cost of construction. This cost is nothing compared to the risk of destruction and death of patients and staff during a disaster, and the equally high health, economic and development impacts in the aftermath.
For starters, school and hospital authorities must act now. They must consult structural engineers and assess the vulnerability of school and hospital structures to strong earthquakes, and institute immediate measures to strengthen parts found weak and likely to collapse. We should likewise ensure that our homes and offices, shopping malls and public buildings, and heritage sites are able to withstand strong earthquakes. We must ensure proper and safe construction. This lesson we must accept: Prevention is cost-effective.