THEY endure long hours and rough conditions away from their own families, and yet emergency responders rarely get recognized for their heroic work.
The night before Yolanda struck, Marlon Pacaña said he and other workers of the Bantayan Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Office were already in the municipal hall.
“The mayor held an emergency meeting that night for the preparation,” Pacaña told Sun.Star Cebu.
They distributed leaflets and announced on AM radio what the people should do and told them where the evacuation centers were located. Still, Pacaña said he and his colleagues had a hard time persuading some people to evacuate.
“It was really hard to change the minds of the people because they were worried about their homes and livestock,” he said.
James Simbajon, a member of the rescue team and team leader of the Bantayan Traffic Operations Management unit, recalled that he was not feeling well at that time, but tried to show no sign of his discomfort to some families he helped evacuate to the gym.
“Wa lang ko magsaba nga niinom ko’g paracetamol aron dili sila makuyawan (I did not show the evacuees that I had taken paracetamol, so that they would not get scared),” he said.
When Yolanda struck last Nov. 8, 2014, Pacaña, Bantayan Mayor Ian Christopher Escario and members of the DRRM office, who were in the town hall overlooking the sea, saw for themselves at least 32 adults and children slowly crossing from the islet of Sitio Butong, Barangay Suba to take shelter in the mainland. It was low tide.
These were the families the rescuers had earlier tried to move to safety. The group rushed to help the evacuees, soaked from the rain and saltwater.
For emergency responders, being separated from their own families is one of their biggest sacrifices.
“Mura ko’g makahilak ba maghuna-huna kung nakakaon na sila (I felt like crying whenever I wondered if my family had eaten),” Simbajon said. He was so busy on the day Yolanda struck that he did not get hungry until later that evening.
For the sake of other families
Simbajon finally got the chance to check on his family the following day.
Despite the dangers and sacrifices, Pacaña and Simbajon still want to serve as emergency responders.
“Nindot nga kakita ka sa tawo, unya moduol ang tawo nimo kay moingon, ‘Salamat’ (It’s a nice feeling when you see people safe and when someone comes to you and thanks you),” Simbajon said.
For their part, aside from building houses in northern Cebu, volunteers of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) have their hands full training residents on disaster preparedness and emergency response.
Red Cross’ Project 143 Training focuses on vulnerability and capacity assessment and contingency planning, which the communities use as a guide in preparing for disasters and responding to emergencies.
The trainings are done at the sitio level, with one coordinator and at least 43 participants, to make sure that everyone in the community knows their role in the event of a disaster.
“Our goal is zero casualty during disasters, that’s why we make sure the people—everyone in the barangay—are trained on how to prepare and to respond. This is the reason Project 143 is done in the grassroots,” the Red Cross said.
Project 143 trainings include early warning system, communication, and mechanisms on how to involve the sitios in both disaster preparedness and response. The residents are also taught how to identify ideal evacuation centers, and to look for the safest and fastest route to the evacuation sites.
Through the trainings, members of the community assess their capabilities and limitations in responding to calamities.
Such assessment is crucial so they would know what they need to improve on, or what supplies or equipment they need to acquire, said a Red Cross official who declined to be named in this story.
“As for the contingency planning, diha nila makita unsay role and responsibility sa kada tawo sa community and the people around them in the barangay so that when a disaster happens, their efforts are coordinated because they already know what to do.
The plan serves as their guide,” the official said.
At least 5,000 individuals across the province have participated in Project 143 trainings, which are done in coordination with the barangays.
Red Cross submits a proposal to the barangay, which the latter may decline or accept. Red Cross provides the trainors and training tools, while the barangay provides the food of the participants.
Red Cross lamented that some local government units declined their proposal for trainings, citing previous trainings with other groups.
“But ours is not just training on disaster response. We also tackle contingency planning, which is equally important because sometimes, a response is not effective if you don’t have a plan,” Red Cross says.