Thousands of students, teachers and employees rushed out of their schools from north to south of the country as a nationwide earthquake drill shook campuses and some workplaces on Thursday.
In Baguio City, which was devastated by a killer quake on July 16, 1990, employees at the summer capital's economic zone and more than 7,000 students and teachers of Baguio City National High School (BCNHS) stepped out of their buildings as part of disaster-preparedness measures.
"An earthquake is one of the most difficult disasters to manage because it can level all resources down to zero resources … . The Cordillera has been preparing after experiencing the 1990 earthquake," said Alex Uy, Office of Civil Defence (OCD) Cordillera director.
A siren was sounded at exactly 9 a.m. in Cebu City. With hands on heads, about 1,500 employees of the Cebu provincial capitol streamed out their offices to open spaces inside the compound.
Some, however, were laughing or taking selfies, drawing the ire of Baltazar Tribunalo, head of the Provincial Risk Reduction Management Council, who said the exercise should be taken seriously, especially after Cebu was hit by a 7.2-magnitude quake on Oct. 15, 2013, killing nine persons and seriously damaging several buildings.
In Bohol, at least 2,000 students of Dr. Cecilio Putong National High School in Tagbilaran City, the largest public high school in the province, learned how to take "drop, cover and hold" positions before heading to an open space outside the premises. The drill brought back memories of the 2013 temblor that killed more than 200 people and displaced at least 95,000 families.
At Cagayan de Oro City National High School in Mindanao, volunteers evacuated 16 students, who "fainted" during the drill and "successfully" brought them to safety in the open field.
In Southern Tagalog, the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council prepared a "multihazard" exercise, which involved a scenario like a possible chemical or toxic spill resulting from a destructive quake.
Vicente Tomazar, council officer, said Carmona town in Cavite province was selected to host the main venue as one of the municipalities on the West Valley Fault. Over 5,000 government and private employees, and students from all levels participated, he said.
Locators of the Baguio City Economic Zone co-operated with disaster management authorities, fully aware that some of the zone's original facilities were badly damaged by the 1990 killer quake.
At BCNHS, which hosted the primary drill, it took about an hour to clear buildings of occupants, but the school received positive feedback from disaster response groups.
"I am personally happy about the outcome. I am happy that [response time to evacuating buildings was] getting better. We are improving every year," said Elma Donaal, school principal.
The drill was overseen by a team composed of the Baguio City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the OCD Cordillera, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP). School administrators said the drill revealed the need to prepare students should disaster strikes when they are outside the campus, and the presence of more skilled medical workers.
A day before in Dagupan City, some 500 students of West Central Elementary School demonstrated that they have only three minutes to walk out of their classrooms and gather at the school quadrangle, heads covered with books or notebooks. The 1990 quake jolted the city in Pangasinan province, sending thousands of people, including students, into chaos and destroying buildings, roads and a bridge.
At that time, Edilberto Abalos, city schools division educational programme supervisor, said teachers and students of Dagupan City National High School, where he was teaching, panicked and ran out of their rooms to the streets. "It's because there were no earthquake drills … . Everybody was surprised," he said.
"Preparedness is very important. That's why even if they are still young, we let them go through this drill so they will have an idea on what to do when an earthquake strikes," he added.
Mayor Belen Fernandez said the drill was also meant to protect children, saying they are the most vulnerable during an earthquake.
School officials will soon meet with parents to orient them on the school's protocol during earthquakes.
"Teachers play an important role in schools because if the teacher will be the first one to panic, children will also panic. So, presence of mind is very important for teachers," Fernandez said.
Abalos said when an earthquake strikes, the classroom teacher will first have to instruct the students to "duck, hold and cover." After a head count, the teacher will lead them out of the classroom to a designated evacuation area.
"We have also a designated area for those who will be injured and each teacher has been given an assignment," he said.
In Carmona, drill participants took the "drop, cover and hold" positions upon signal. Later, within two minutes and a half, large tents to serve as command posts and evacuation centres were put up.
Tomazar said he was satisfied with the way the disaster response was carried out, though he pointed out that preparation would never be enough, "What we want to impart here is the culture of safety," he said.
In Cebu City, it took at least 1,000 capitol employees less than five minutes to leave their offices. Hundreds of students of University of Cebu emptied their classrooms and occupied nearby roads when the school bell rang at 10 a.m.
Joy Tumulak, operations head of the City Traffic Operations Management, said nearby roads, like a portion of Osmeña Boulevard and Sanciangko Street, were closed for at least an hour to accommodate the students.
Policemen and nonuniformed personnel conducted a separate drill inside the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas at 9 a.m.
In Maasin City, Southern Leyte province, teams from the six provinces in Eastern Visayas gathered for a weeklong regional rescue jamboree, which culminated on Thursday with a disaster response exercise at the provincial capitol grounds.
In Tagbilaran, Jamaica Torillo, a Grade 8 student, recalled running outside their house in Manga District when the earth shook in 2013, forgetting that she was supposed to drop to the ground, take cover under a sturdy table or chair and hold on that position before running to an open space.
She said she was taking Thursday's drills seriously, "so I would not forget what to do."
Jhelmar Jala, 15, a Grade 8 student, said he hid under the chair with his cousins during the quake. He admitted that the drills he had attended since Grade 1 helped him to be more alert.
At Suarez National High School, the simulated evacuation was led by teachers and supervised by personnel from the Iligan City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, soldiers from the Army's 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, the Philippine Coast Guard, the BFP, the PRC and village officials.
In Davao City, Liza Mazo, head of the OCD in Southern Mindanao, said she was satisfied with the "quick and intelligent reaction" of students of University of Immaculate Conception (UIC), one of the pilot areas of the drill in the region.
"Obviously, everybody knows what to do during a calamity like an earthquake in this academic community," Mazo said, adding that the UIC system should be replicated in other schools.
In Glan, Sarangani province, Senior Insp. Leilani Bangelis, the fire chief, said lessons from recent disasters should be internalized and not taken for granted.
Bangelis called on the public "to be more participative in disaster readiness and preparedness activities" because these will "increase an individual's chance of surviving any disaster."
Reports from Jessica Tabilin and Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Leo Udtohan, Jani Arnaiz and Doris C. Bongcac, Inquirer Visayas; and Allan Nawal and Richel Umel, Inquirer Mindanao