Editorial: After-crisis communication

IT WASN’T a blaze that interrupted the normal course of events yesterday, the first day of Fire Prevention Month. Instead, an earthquake jolted pupils in school and workers looking forward to their coffee breaks a few minutes before 3 p.m.

Fortunately, it was brief and mild, at M3.8. No major damage was reported after the quake, which struck near Carmen in northern Cebu. Within minutes, several social media users were comparing notes on what they felt and where they were when the brief tremors occurred. These conversations started before the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) could confirm the quake’s details.

Few events demonstrate the power and potential good that social media can do like those moments right after a disaster. Yesterday, two challenges also resurfaced.

The first involves the need for government’s communication channels to respond quickly, with accurate information, in disaster’s wake. Some of the earliest tweets about yesterday’s quake, which quoted a Cebu City Hall official, erroneously reported the epicenter as Carmen, Bohol. Corrections followed within minutes. Imagine if the information had been more critical, such as the location of evacuation centers.

The second involves not speed, but constancy. Nearly 29 months after the Oct. 15, 2013 quake that shook Bohol and Cebu, the progress updates from government agencies in charge of the rehabilitation effort have become scarce. It often takes prodding from private sector players, like journalists, to draw these updates out.

Five months ago, during the second anniversary of the quake, an official of the Provincial Planning and Development Office said that Bohol had received 75-80 percent of the total resources it needed to fix or replace the structures the quake had damaged or destroyed.

Since then, have additional resources been released or received? How many of the hospitals, schools, roads or homes have been repaired? How much more needs to be done, and by which agency? After a crisis, a steady flow of information helps reassure communities that something is being done; it can also rally more of the support that rehabilitation efforts may still need.

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