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Special Feature

When disaster relief is in the DNA



Problems compound when disaster strikes, particularly for the poor. Many will lose their homes, others their livelihoods, while for some, their family members. In most cases, the poor suffer the brunt of every disaster, leaving them with almost zero, with only a faint hope of recovery, in the meanwhile relying on the generosity of good Samaritans.

In the aftermath of the recent super typhoon “Rolly” (international code name Goni), the swath of damages left a total of 906,146 individuals or 230,834 families affected, with 228,559 persons or 61,912 families evacuated to temporary shelters. The number of casualties had reached 25 persons, and damage to properties amounting to over P11 billion.


Round-the-clock response
Exactly 11 days after “Rolly” unleashed its wrath on the archipelago, typhoon “Ulysses” pummeled Luzon, further adding strain to the already overstretched Meralco first responders. But the Meralco teams were unperturbed. They took on the challenge and worked round-the-clock, restoring electricity services in areas that remain without power.

As of Friday morning, 13 November, at least 453,349 customers remain without electricity in areas that include parts of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna and Quezon Province.

“From 3.8 million affected customers during the onslaught of ‘Ulysees,’ our line crews have remained unrelentless in restoring electricity service in these areas and the customer count is now down to 453,349,” Joe R. Zaldarriaga, Meralco spokesperson, said in a briefing.

He added that restoration may take a little longer for areas with severe flooding and where Meralco’s distribution facilities sustained heavy damage, such as toppled poles, downed wires and damaged transformers.

“Rest assured, our line crews will continue with the restoration work. We appeal for everyone’s continuous understanding and patience, as our crews work to bring back power service at the soonest possible time,” Zaldarriaga said.



Addressing the needs
Studies have shown that poor municipalities and communities are often the slowest to recover from disasters because of accessibility, with poor road networks, making them the least to receive the biggest amount of assistance.

Fortunately, the private sector is always quick to respond to lend its support to the government’s efforts. Private groups, like the One Meralco Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of the Manila Electric Company, has early on realized that the prioritization of damaged areas for allocating valuable resources is a critical component in situational awareness in the aftermath of any disaster. The Foundation is aware that these should be accomplished immediately to guarantee fast and effective response operations.

In recent years, One Meralco Foundation has activated its quick response team to rapidly address the immediate needs of the affected individuals not only to restore power but to provide food, clothing, water, shelter and other basic requirements.

The Foundation was there when super typhoon “Yolanda” brought Leyte to its knees in 2013 and brought personnel and invaluable logistics when typhoon “Pablo” hit Davao and typhoon “Ferdie” toppled power lines in Batanes, both in 2016.

Last year, the OMF deployed a 45-strong contingent of engineers, linemen and support personnel to Albay to help expedite the restoration of electricity service in the franchise area of the Albay Power and Energy Corporation (APEC) after typhoon “Tisoy” (international name Kammuri) toppled electric poles and transmission lines in the province.

In January this year, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation, OMF president Jeffrey O. Tarayao mustered his group’s relief effort template to assist affected communities when Taal Volcano erupted.

“We have to sustain our relief operations because we do not know until when the affected families will have to stay in the evacuation centers. For greater efficiency, we also work closely with local governments because they have a full view of the situation, and they are in the best position to ensure that aid is evenly distributed across evacuation centers in their respective cities and municipalities,” Tarayao said in one of our interviews.



Makabayan: No one is left behind
Manny V. Pangilinan, chairman of the MVP Group of Companies that controls Meralco, posted a tweet stating the Group’s commitment that the network operations centers of its telco, power and tollways will be operational 24/7. The Group also pledged to mobilize OMF for relief and medical work.

Encapsulating Meralco’s core value to provide quick relief to our disaster-stricken kababayans, Tarayao has this one word to say: Makabayan.

“For every calamity and disaster, Meralco has proven its Makabayan spirit through its emergency preparedness and disaster response initiatives. Through the years, Meralco has always put the Filipino first, aiding our kababayans and restoring power to various areas without light. Meralco has been at the forefront of various power restoration efforts, even beyond its franchise area,” Meralco said in a statement about its decision to again send its personnel to Bicol.

Indeed, it is embedded in the culture of Meralco employees to render service beyond the call of duty. After all, disaster preparedness and response are already part of its DNA.