Disaster Evacuation Centers

Public schools throughout the city act as evacuation centers during a typhoon. Schools are being reconstructed after Typhoon Yolanda with multiple levels, or they are being equipped with a two-level concrete shelter so that evacuees can be protected from both high winds and storm surge waters. From the perspective of some coastal residents, these evacuation centers are helpful, but an incomplete solution. People in the purok I research consider themselves quite far from their nearest public evacuation centers. In good weather, these are a 20 minute and a 40 minute walk. If traveling in bad weather and with supplies, children and livestock, the trek becomes another ordeal. Leaders agree they would like to have an evacuation center people can get to within 5 minutes. So, some leaders have made private arrangements for residents to evacuate to nearby hotels instead. Other people find it very uncomfortable to stay in an evacuation center sleeping and cooking while cramped next to strangers, potentially for several days. So, they might choose instead to travel across the city and uphill to the “northern barangays” to stay with family members who have been relocated there into the permanent housing communities constructed for people displaced by Typhoon Yolanda. #vignette #ethnography #anthropology #inthefield #research #fieldnotes #culture #society #urban #urbanliving #coastalliving #disaster #unnaturaldisaster #naturaldisaster #kalamidad #resilience #resilient #preparedness #DRR #unevenrisk #risk #vulnerability #precarity #uncertainty #supertyphoon #supertyphoonyolanda #storm #stormsurge #tsunami #tidalwave

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Barangay Base Radio, and Disaster Communications

The Barangay Hall received this base radio and two handheld radios as donations recently. The Barangay Chairperson, who is the highest level of authority in the barangay governing unit, has primary access to the radio. In a disaster, she is responsible for staying at the Barangay Hall to receive updates from the City Mayor, City Disaster Risk Reduction Director, local fire station and police station. She then must ensure this information is passed down a communication chain of barangay leadership so that all 3,000+ residents of the barangay are efficiently updated on whether they will need to evacuate. Barangay Kagawads (or Barangay Councilors) each visit 2-3 puroks (neighborhoods) within the barangay to announce updates via megaphone, and also interface with purok leaders and residents to ensure their questions are answered and evacuation needs are met. This last leg of disaster communication can get tricky because it depends on physical travel when the roads will likely be filled with evacuees. For this reason, the Barangay Chairperson has put in a request from aid agencies for a siren, which would quickly alert residents to the need for evacuation. #vignette #ethnography #anthropology #research #disaster #communication #radio #technology #resilience #vulnerability #risk #typhoon #bagyo #kalamidad #supertyphoonyolanda #supertyphoon #storm #stormsurge #tsunami #tidalwave #drr #governance

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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

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Waiting for the Wave

I use creative writing to work through thoughts and emotions encountered in my research. This is a poem I go back to and work on from time to time. In interviews, people living in impoverished coastal neighborhoods fear another storm surge from a typhoon. Their homes are only single story wood panel houses with corrugated metal roofs. When it rains, the sound of rain on the metal rooftops is louder than any rain I’ve heard while in my concrete two story boarding house. The sound brings back traumatic memories, and parents worry about how to console their children. I’ve been thinking about what it must be like to live in fear of water when you are surrounded by it every day. I chose to write in second voice because I think it represents me trying to understand my interviewees point of view.

“Waiting for the Wave”

You hear rain fall like rocks,
Upon your metal roof,
You imagine they gather into an army,
An army of water,
The wave that could arrive at any time,
And push you from your home,
Push you all the way downtown,
Under the San Juanico Bridge.

The army of water can push you anywhere,
Like the people who once helped you.
They now push you from their neighborhoods,
And you are here waiting,
For the wave,
For the people,
For the rain to stop.

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.