Area-focused warnings needed for better disaster planning – expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 20) — Authorities can pick up lessons on giving hazard-specific, area-focused warnings whenever disasters hit – a process which the old Project NOAH used to provide to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, its former head said.

Mahar Lagmay, former head of Project NOAH and now executive director of the UP Resilience Institute, said effective evacuation systems will need data evaluations and simulations of disaster events at a more extreme scale. This way, communities are better prepared and informed about the hazards they could potentially face.

"When we were part of the NDRRMC pre-disaster risk assessment, we were able to provide information that were generated by a lot of researchers. That information was in turn converted by NDRRMC into warnings that were hazard-specific, area-focused, and time-bound," Lagmay told CNN Philippines' The Exchange.

He also highlighted the need to use open data for disaster planning, as well as forecasting or simulating calamities which are larger than what the country previously experienced so that preparations are always one step ahead.

Project NOAH, short for Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, has since moved out of the Department of Science and Technology in 2017 and was absorbed by the UP System. It had a three-year stint of providing detailed projections for the impact of typhoons, floods, landslides, and other disasters to the inter-agency body.

Now, Lagmay and the UP Resilience Institute extend support to local government units that ask for help in crafting comprehensive land use plans and disaster risk management and climate change adaptation plans.

"I would suggest that we bring back all of those efforts that were working. They actually – from 2014 to 2017 – averted about 15 disasters," he said.

Early and targeted warnings for towns and even barangays could also trigger better preparations on the part of families and communities.

Urban planner and PGAA Creative Design principal Paulo Alcazaren said separately that for residents, among the major concerns should be ensuring roofs are attached properly and barrels are on standby to harvest rainwater – a relatively small act that will keep water from contributing to floods.

"Each LGU does its own comprehensive land use plan from data also supplied by people like Mahar (Lagmay)," Alcazaren said. "But what we need is regional cooperation... We have to redraw [jurisdictions] and make everyone understand that everyone is affected within this region."

"If we had a bit more of forward planning, we can avoid a lot of problems that we're facing today especially in terms of floods," he added.

Typhoon Ulysses, which barreled through Luzon last week, affected nearly 900,000 families or 3.7 million individuals, with 45,906 families still staying in evacuation centers as of the NDRRMC's Friday morning report.