Thanks to a four-day Philippines Multi-Sectoral Pandemic Disaster Exercise in Makati, in which International Medical Corps’ PREPARE Project played a central role, Philippine preparedness and response planning for severe pandemics will no longer be thought of exclusively as a public health issue. The Government of the Philippines has established a national policy framework to enable and encourage proactive, multi-sectoral pandemic planning that can be tapped in the event of a severe global health crisis.
As a result, a pandemic “will be treated as a ‘non-traditional security threat’ to the nation – one that necessarily requires the coordinated and integrated organizational engagement of all sectors of society, all levels of government, down to the local, community, and even household level,” said Anne Hirschey, Chief of the Office of Health at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Philippines.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), in collaboration with PREPARE, the U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, the U.S. Pacific Command and the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine, used the innovative “whole-of-society” disaster preparedness approach for the exercise in Makati. More than 150 participants worked through a pandemic scenario over several days in groups representing their respective sectors, such as health and sanitation, security, telecommunications, water, food, banking, energy, transportation and the municipalities of Santa Rosa City and Cainta. Throughout the training, the sectors engaged with one another to integrate response plans.
“It’s an eye opener. While different agencies have their own plans, we still have to craft a unifying national plan for pandemic preparedness,” said Philippine Defense Undersecretary Eduardo Batac.
Funded by USAID, PREPARE works to strengthen the capacity of the least-resourced countries in Africa and Asia for multi-sector disaster management and pandemic preparedness planning. PREPARE aims to promote the integration of pandemic preparedness into wider disaster management and preparedness initiatives. The PREPARE project in the Philippines was launched in July 2011 with pilot testing in Santa Rosa City, Laguna. “Santa Rosa City is a progressive city outside of Manila and their local government has been very receptive to the project. The elements of the Santa Rosa plan form a model for building community resilience across the Philippines,” said Dr. Noel Miranda, Regional Technical Advisor of PREPARE. Cainta was added as a second municipality participant for the exercise.
Raymund Liboro, who was the lead representative of the telecommunication sector in the exercise, noted that the event “brought together those who would be first responders in a disaster for the first time.” As a result, Liboro, who serves as NDRRMC’s Vice Chairman for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, said he is putting specific plans in place that will make it possible to immediately distribute important alerts to key responders. The earlier planning that his sector had undertaken in preparation for the exercise proved beneficial during 7.6 magnitude earthquake that rocked parts of the Philippines the week before the exercise. “The exercise forum became a launch pad for sector response, not only to pandemics but to all hazards, and resulted in innovative ideas and action plans,” said Liboro.
Members of the Philippine banking sector tested their preparedness for dealing with staff absenteeism, ATM shutdowns and limited bank resources that could occur as a result of a serious flu outbreak. Jose Recon Tano, a representative of the Central Bank of the Philippines, praised the exercise for helping the banking sector recognize the interdependency of various sectors and the need to intensify collaboration. “We realized we must craft arrangements with the other sectors, such as telecommunications and power, so that we have an integrated response plan for a possible pandemic,” said Tano.
Nilo Mamaclay, of the Philippine Information Agency, welcomed the opportunity to learn how to apply risk communication in a disaster situation, stating:
“Through the exercise, we were able to anticipate possible communication problems in a disaster, such as ensuring we have access to information from the various sectors. We learned that we need to strengthen coordination and communication among the many agencies. We want to have resources and subject matter experts available when we need them.”
According to Dr. Ingo Neu, Chief of Party for PREPARE:
“As important and successful as the exercise was, it is only one step in the process that was begun several months before and will continue afterwards. A real milestone, or ‘breakthrough’ as one member of the telecommunication sector working group had called it, has been to establish a partnership of public and private service providers, and sectoral crisis management teams within all essential service sectors. It is the first time that private service providers are given such an important chance and role in developing together with their line ministries’ strategic plans and, potentially, policies.”
The innovative Philippine disaster preparedness approach underpinning this multi-sectoral simulation is a model for other countries to follow. PREPARE continues to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agenda on pandemic preparedness in order to strengthen the resilience of the region and its member states. PREPARE, in cooperation with NDRRMC, the Department of Health, and the ASEAN Secretariate, will support a high-level consultation on the ASEAN regional pandemic preparedness and response framework in Manila in December.