Communicating Earthquake Preparedness

Communicating earthquake preparedness. This Earthquake Preparedness Guide is painted on a building located at a busy crossroads of a Tacloban City neighborhood. From left to right, the pictures describe what to do before, during and after an earthquake. The guide, however, neglects to address the differential experience of coastal residents, who additionally prepare for the possibility of a tsunami after an earthquake. Some coastal residents I’ve spoken to are equally as nervous about their safety in an earthquake as in a typhoon. Both events could trigger a sudden rush of seawater onto coastal areas. These are differentially referred to as a “storm surge” during a typhoon, and a “tsunami” during an earthquake—a storm surge arrives as a rapid elevation in sea level, while a tsunami arrives as immense sea waves. Talking with the Monitoring Group member of a village’s DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) committee, I learn that through media and communications, it is possible to monitor the area’s danger to a potential storm surge even a few days in advance. He says, however, it is more difficult to monitor the area’s danger to a tsunami. I asked what they would do if a earthquake happened in the ocean nearby. He said that he and the HOA (Home Owners Association) President would rotate watching the ocean overnight to see whether the tide moves far out from the coast–a sign that a tsunami is coming. #vignette #ethnography #anthropology #inthefield #fieldnotes #research #disaster #kalamidad #risk #vulnerability #communication #media #communicationinfrastructure #earthquake #tsunami #tidalwave #stormsurge #disastercommunication #disasterpreparedness #DRR #disastermitigation #philippines #pilipinas #pinas #QuakePH #ReliefPH

A post shared by Shelley Tuazon Guyton (@bendingbookshelf) on Apr 13, 2017 at 2:15am PDT


What type of cellphone is it?

I’ve been thinking about how people categorize their phones. Here I mean how people imagine the phones they use to fit into the larger array of available phone types.

In my interviews on what communication technologies people use, and how they use them, a question we often encounter snags on is: “What type of cellphone is it?” [Ano klase hin cellphone?] Interviewees often pause at this point. Many say “simple,” as in your standard or basic cellphone. Others will take out the phone and show me so that I can decide for myself what the type is. I’ve caught myself saying: “Oh, it’s Samsung”, revealing how I understand phones to be categorized.  While some people don’t know their phone by its brand name, however, others do. I’ll get immediate answers of “CherryMobile” or “MyPhone”.

I realize I have only been operating on two categories of cellphone until now: keypad and touchscreen. I am not quite sure why these are the major categories in the way I understand cellphones, and I wonder if it is shared with others. I associate keypad phones with affordability and access to basic services like texting and calling. I associate touchscreen/ smartphones* with access to internet, apps, and other digital content like photos and music.

I’ve noticed that people in what I’ll call a young adult educated middle-class (NGO workers, government workers, educators etc) will often have both a keypad phone and a smartphone. Some people have said they do this because the keypad phone’s battery will last a week, while the smartphone’s charge can only last a day. In a place that experiences frequent brownouts, it is useful to not have to worry about at least being able to contact friends, family, and work. Other times, I’ve seen people with two keypad phones. I’d like to know why. It could be that one phone is for work, or that they use different service providers. Many phones here, however, already offer dual SIM card slots. These are useful for many people to ensure that if reception is hard to find on one service, it will be available in another.

In curiosity, I searched how more technically oriented people might categorize cellphones, and I found this blog post listing particular cellphone innovation from 1983 to 2009. The blog lists only some “popular and unusual” phones, since it would be another project altogether to include the “sheer number” of cellphone models in the world. (A particularly interesting entry for me is the 2003 Nokia 1100 which is, “rumoured to have sold for up to $32,000 in online criminal communities due to its ability to intercept one-time banking passwords.”) I came away from the blog thinking that in a technical perspective, it would still be very hard to categorize cellphones into types. As the blog says, rather these are “evolutions”.

*I’ve started using the word “touchscreen” instead of “smartphone”, because often people think I am talking about the Philippine service provider, SMART.

Mass Media in the Mall

I am having breakfast outside Tacloban’s largest mall on a Sunday morning, half an hour before the building opens its doors. I am sitting outdoors at a restaurant next to the malls entrance. A line of about 10 people have been patiently facing the doors, talking to one another, and scanning through their cellphones since I arrived. Every five minutes seems to bring a handful more shoppers, until the line has extended through the parking lot and almost to the street by the time the mall is scheduled to open at 10:00 AM. Now, a clear voice rings through the area. It is a prayer spoken in English, a man inviting the lord to be here “in this place.” There are unseen speakers projecting the message all through the parking lot and inside the building. After the prayer ends, an announcers voice calls: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Philippine national anthem.” A choral version of Lupang Hinirang is played. All in line are silent facing forward toward the doors. Some have hands on hearts, not singing. Some are singing. I see an elder women singing, her mouth moving quite punctuated, and her expression calm and serious. In fact, no one looks bored to me in the same way we do in the US when the anthem is played at inconsequential events, like before a high school baseball game. Many people look reflective. A janitor behind me is facing the doors/line too and has his hand over his heart. I wonder why everyone has chosen to face this way. There is no flag I can see. My impression is that they are facing to the center of the place of gathering. When the song ends, people edge forward a bit in anticipation of the doors opening. The volume has been lowered, and I can barely hear the announcers voice say: “…this is Robinsons radio.” 

Now that I’m looking for things of mas media, like radio, I am finding it in peculiar ways.

A generic gameboy type dance music plays on the speakers now, and the line has shuffled forward, narrowing to single file so that the guards may glance through purses and backpacks for half a second before the shoppers hurry on. The entire mall is activated now somehow, like the operator of a ferris wheel has flipped the switch. Now, the machine’s lights and sounds and whimsical images are awake. 

Research Project: The Role of Media and Communication Technologies during Disaster in the Philippines

This project seeks to understand how impoverished coastal residents monitor storms for themselves and for their community, and how storm monitoring is a part of understanding media and communication technologies in the Philippines.

How do people living in disaster-prone areas use media and communication technologies to mitigate their vulnerability? This project investigates how communities in central Philippine coastal areas use media and communication technologies to monitor storms, and coordinate community-based strategies for disaster preparedness. Although Filipinos prepare annually for as many as 20 typhoons to pass through the nation (PAGASA, 2009), no authority anticipated that Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) would upturn the technological infrastructure, social institutions, and everyday lives of 14.1 million people on November 8, 2013 (OCHA Philippines, 2013). Tacloban City, Leyte in the central Philippines (Visayas) a highly urbanized center of the disaster-affected area, suffered the most death and destruction. Within the city, Barangay San Jose (“Neighborhood San Jose”), is a peninsular neighborhood at the mouth of San Juanico Channel. People in Barangay San Jose received the full force of Yolanda’s storm surges before the water continued up the channel to Tacloban City’s downtown. This neighborhood alone lost 1,000 of the estimated 10,000 people killed in the typhoon, mostly to storm surges. Filipinos, and especially “Yolanda survivors,” now expect and prepare for the next supertyphoon. While the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world, it is also one of the most connected by communication technologies—ranking among the world’s texting and social media capitals (Pertierra, 2010). Many of the poorest families have at least shared access to a cellphone, radio and television. This dissertation research project asks, therefore: how are impoverished, coastal residents of Tacloban City using media and communication technologies (cellphones, radios, televisions, and internet-accessing devices) in their personal, familial, and neighborhood strategies for disaster mitigation? This research expects to find that culturally specific understandings of media and communication technologies are integral to the way people use these technologies to monitor storms. This research is an original approach to studying media use among disaster-affected people in that it seeks to understand disaster communication in context of the cultural meanings and uses of media and communication technologies.

This project depends on ethnographic methodology including participant-observation, interviews (informal conversation, formal interviews, and group interviews) and surveys to bring forth different types of knowledge and information. I will spend 15 months between September 2016 to February 2018 conducting field research in Tacloban City. This research is broken into two major phases to focus on: 1) uses and meanings of media and communication technologies during the non-storm season, during which I gain knowledge of how these technologies are understood apart from storm monitoring uses; and 2) uses and meanings of media and communication technologies during the wet season/ typhoon season, during which I focus specifically on typhoon monitoring and disaster communication. Storm monitoring is especially important in areas near the coast that are vulnerable to storm surges, like Barangay San Jose in Tacloban City. People living here coordinate strategies for evacuation, and securing property in advance of a storm’s landfall. Research is designed to understand how coastal residents monitor storms for themselves and for each other, and how these actions are integrated into their everyday, non-storm related cultural understandings of media and communication technologies.

References Cited
OCHA Philippines. 2013. Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan (Situation Report No. 22).
PAGASA. 2009. ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, 41st Session (Member Report). Chang Mai: PAGASA.
Pertierra, R. 2010. The Anthropology of New Media in the Philippines. Manila: Ateneo Univers, ity Press.