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School disaster committees to prepare children for emergencies sought

A month before the commemoration of the Typhoon Yolanda tragedy, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian is pushing for the creation of school disaster committees conducting safety drills to prepare children for emergencies.

House Bill No. 6181, which Gatchalian filed on Sept. 29, seeks to “institutionalize the conduct of regular drills and provide evaluations for an effective assessment of the disaster management plan.”

“The occurrence of natural or human-induced disasters does not give us warnings nor the time to make quick judgments. Because of their age and vulnerability, children most likely will be helpless and susceptible to panic and despair,” said Gatchalian, a senior vice chair of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development and a majority member of the committees

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At the last count of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in April last year, the number of Yolanda casualties reached 6,300.

A 2014 report by Save The Children puts the number of children affected by Typhoon Yolanda at nearly six million, with no certainty in how many number of children were killed or injured “because authorities in the Philippines don’t consistently track mortality and other post-disaster statistics specific to children.”

Gatchalian’s measure calls for the establishment of a disaster management committee in each school who will oversee the disaster reduction and preparedness activities and maintain formal links between the local risk reduction and management council.

The committee in all basic and higher education institutions as well as technical-vocational and training schools shall be responsible for the conduct of drills for earthquakes, fire, and other emergencies.

It shall also submit an evaluation of the conduct of such drills to the concerned Department of Education (DepEd) office. The committee is also tasked to identify high-risk areas in the school and to develop a school disaster management plan.

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Basic education institutions, including pre-schools, are expected to conduct at least five safety drills and higher education and vocational schools every semester or at least twice a year.

Each committee shall be headed by the school principal or president and composed of representatives from the teaching- and non-teaching personnel, students, parent-teacher associations, barangay council, religious sector, and the community.

School managers who fail or refuse to carry out the proposed measure shall be warned for the first offense but will be fined P100,000 for the second offense, P200,000 for the third, and P300,000 with one-month imprisonment for subsequent offenses.

Such fines will go to the coffers of the local NDRRMC office for disaster prevention and mitigation programs.

“In order that every school to adopt the minimum requirements set forth in this Act, penalties shall likewise be imposed to ensure compliance,” said Gatchalian.

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The lawmaker recalled a report by Save The Children saying that the DepEd’s disaster risk reduction manual, which details what to do before, during, and after a disaster, has not been used by schools.

“The Department of Education, for example, has a well-organized and thorough DRR manual that is a good resource for educational institutions. But individual schools routinely fail to implement it either because they do not know about it or because they lack sufficient motivation,” explained Gatchalian.

The organization’s Child Charter DRR Progress Card showed that DRR on the school curriculum before and after is “progressing with difficulty.”

Exercising evacuation drills before also had the same pace.

The report has identified a gap in the DepEd’s DRR scheme: “When asked if the school had received a copy of the 2008 DRR Resource Manual, one head teacher said that due to a lack of computers and working internet, they were not able to access the digital copy and they had not received a hard copy.” (Monica Cantilero)