He is not alone, however, as there are 180 other people in the QCDRRMO whom Mike credits as “the workforce” and the reason why there are success stories in the city in terms of disaster risk reduction and management. In contrast to this number of personnel, the office, which was then called Quezon City Disaster Coordinating Council, barely had anything and anyone before the tropical storm Ondoy ravaged the city in 2009.
Mike recalls: “From the stories I’ve heard, they only had one tow truck, four personnel, and one rope at their disposal. Back then, it was more about coordination. The Quezon City Disaster Coordinating Council was the reactive type. If nothing happens, it’s fine. There’s nothing to be done. If something happens, then we react to that and coordinate whatever needs and resources that we don’t have with the regional or national level.”
The devastation that was Ondoy became the catalyst for change when it came to the city’s DRRM. Mike says, “What happened during Ondoy was an eye-opener for people, maybe even our leaders. That at the LGU level, we have to be ready and prepared for such incidents. That was when the QCDRRMO was created.”
Since its establishment, the QCDRRMO doesn’t stop doing one crucial thing—learning in order to improve. This is an area where its partnership with Move Up Project proved to be valuable. But how exactly did Move Up Project help the QCDRRMO? Mike sheds light on the subject: “Move Up provided us with the technical expertise on learning, on how to provide disaster risk reduction interventions as early as possible. So that when a big disaster strikes, the people on the ground are well-equipped and empowered to survive, first of all. And second, to move on, to recover at a very fast pace. I think that’s the sense of resiliency—being able to recover in a timely manner.”
Aside from this, Mike also says that partnering with Move Up Project has allowed them to see what else they needed to do that they haven’t seen before in their studies, such as a shelter program and the designs of shelters. The QCDRRMO’s Chief of Research and Planning, Maria Bianca Perez, adds that working with Move Up Project has also “opened up perspectives,” as they no longer view DRRM as being reactive and only for response, rescue, and handing out relief to evacuees.
“Before, we didn’t see the different cross-cutting issues that DRR is tackling. [We] didn’t see that DRR can be seen in resilient livelihoods, in preparing for alternative temporary shelters, or in financial mechanisms. Through this initiative, we look at it through a new lens,” admits Bianca.
She adds: “When these committees are able to get back on their feet quickly because they have saved their money, that is also disaster preparedness.”
However, getting people to save proved to be a challenge, especially when a choice has to be made between buying food for a starving family and saving some money for a rainy day. How did Mike, Bianca, and their team get their communities to save then? “We packaged the Community Savings Group in such a way that it was tied to their livelihood, so that it will be inculcated to them that it is not a separate investment. Allotting money for the insurance is part of maintaining their livelihood,” says Mike.
As for the future, Mike has big plans for the QCDRRMO as he is looking to “scale and level up the office into a department, so we can accommodate more permanent positions down to the responders and utility workers.”
“Because of the size of the city, we need to construct satellite offices in each district and put people there,” Mike adds, “this way, the approach will be strategic, and we will become faster and more efficient in providing services.”