Are PH businesses prepared for another Yolanda?

If a disaster with the magnitude of Typhoon Yolanda were to hit the country again, are Philippine companies prepared to deal with it?

This was the question that the World Continuity Congress (WCC) held at the New World Hotel in Makati City early this month hoped to address as Yolanda brought to the fore the preparedness of companies to deal with extreme emergency situations.

Organized by the Corporate Network for Disaster Response (CNDR), which has among its partners Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), the WCC featured case studies as well as sharing of best practices and lessons learned from Yolanda.

Panelists answer questions from the floor at the World Continuity Congress.  From left are CNDR President and Smart Public Affairs Head Ramon R. Isberto moderating the panel with Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda, UN OCHA Head David Cardem, Juan Carlos Dominguez, HR and Corporate Affairs Director at Coca-Cola FEMSA Phils; and Rodulfo Tablante, Vice President, Operations Division at Petron Corp.

 The super typhoon killed 6,201 people and left almost 2,000 others missing, based on the official tally as of January 2014. With over 1.1 million houses severely or partially damaged, the typhoon left more than four million people homeless.  Millions of jobs were also affected after the typhoon damaged 33 million coconut trees and wrecked 30,000 fishing vessels.

“Businesses cannot proceed the way we have done things before,” said Ramon R. Isberto, CNDR President and Head of Smart Public Affairs at the conference aptly themed, “Post Yolanda Lessons: Learning and Defining the Future of Business Continuity Management.”

Isberto said Yolanda brought painful lessons for businesses on how they can ensure their continuity or survival amid the scale and magnitude of the devastation. 

Saying businesses need to build partnerships with the communities they work with, he cited an African proverb popularized by former US First Lady Hillary Clinton: “It takes a community to ensure continuity.”

Dr. Alfredo Mahar Francisco Lagmay, a professor at the National Institute of Geologic Sciences (NIGS), said awareness is the first step in disaster-preparedness.

Lagmay, executive director of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH), said the creation of hazard maps is crucial for the safety of the people and survival of businesses.

He noted that new technologies like the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) are making it possible to create more accurate hazard maps that can guide companies on where it would be safe to set up their facilities.

Hazard maps are crucial in a disaster-prone country like the Philippines which is visited by about 20 typhoons a year.

He said a storm surge that is five to six-meters high, similar to what hit Tacloban City at the height of typhoon Yolanda, can also occur along Manila Bay where many businesses, and even the US Embassy, are located.  He even cited how in 2011, the US Embassy and other establishments along Roxas Boulevard, were flooded due to a two-meter high storm surge from typhoon Pedring.

Meanwhile, another speaker during the conference, David Cardem, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (UN OCHA), cited the need for another kind of map during disasters—a map of relief efforts.

Cardem noted that 23 countries came to the aid of the Philippines after Yolanda and that a map of relief efforts had to be created to show “who does what and where.”

As typhoons in the Philippines are noticeably becoming stronger every year, panelist Albay Governor Joey Salceda emphasized the need for every Filipino to be prepared for any kind of calamity.

He said every family must know what to do when a calamity strikes.

Salceda is the Father of the Albay and Manila Declarations on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), which paved the way for Republic Act 9729 otherwise known as the Climate Change Act of 2009.

Disaster preparedness
Angela Barrow, Centralized Service and Support Manager of Chevron Holdings, Inc., shared how a global company Chevron prepares for “Zero Suspension of Operations” during typhoons, floods, pandemic and any type of disaster.

Barrow said Chevron has a Business Continuity Plan Hotline, a website, and a “notify system” for emergencies.  It also has a detailed plan of what to do depending on the type of emergency at hand and what sector of the company is affected by it.

Chevron even has a BCP site that can immediately accommodate 200 employees in times of emergencies. The facility is equipped with computers and other IT equipment and even has a clinic for those who may be in need of medical assistance.

Barrow also cited how each Chevron employee has a “Grab and Go” bag that serves as an emergency kit. The bag also contains a list of important contact numbers and an extra set of clothes.

However, Barrow said Yolanda made Chevron look deeper into its disaster-preparedness plans. She admitted that with a disaster like Yolanda, “there will be serious gaps” in their company’s disaster preparedness, no matter how detailed it was.

Phoo Wen Yee, Assistant Principal Consultant of Business Continuity Management for Digi Telecomms of Malaysia, said there can be no perfect BCP no matter how hard a company strives for it.

“No matter how much you plan, there will be 30-40 percent that you can’t plan for,” she said.

Phoo said what’s important was to create a simple plan that everybody in the company could understand. “If three paragraphs work, so be it,” she said.

She also noted that successful BCPs “cannot be created in a vacuum,” adding that it was important for the company to do one-on-one interviews with different employees to know what are needed in times of emergencies or disasters.

“Don’t try to create a perfect plan,” she said. Many little wins is better than a big failure, she added.

Smart and CNDR have been working together since 2011 to build disaster-resilient communities via the Noah’s Ark Project, a six-month capacity building initiative that beefs up the capabilities of high-risk communities to prepare for and deal with the hazards of disasters. 

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