Safe rooms or houses for essential disaster workers

The management of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) came in for some pointed criticism from Congressman Hector Sanchez during the first post-disaster meeting at the office of Gov. Joseph Cua.

FICELCO crews should have deployed early, said the solon who once worked with Manila Electric Company (MERALCO).

“Bakit ngayon lang kumilos ang FICELCO?” he asked, citing his experience with the big power firm where linemen are on 24-hour duty.

General Manager Raul Zafe’s justification – that linemen were allowed to prioritize their families at least for a day – is understandable. And so is the congressman, who by his position is also answerable to his constituents.

Everyone is a typhoon victim, at least in the southern towns of San Andres, Virac, San Miguel, Bato and Baras.

For those who could not afford concrete houses and whose wooden homes collapsed or lost its roofs that early morning of Nov. 1, 2020, there was no choice but to stay and try to rebuild what the super typhoon ruined. All they needed was less than a day to at least provide their families some semblance of shelter from the elements.

With Rolly’s extremely powerful gusts that reached 315 kph by landfall, there was nothing local governments and private firms could do but wait for their essential employees and workers to report for duty.

For example, at the municipal government of Virac, the payloader, which could have helped clear the roads the day after the typhoon, stood idle for several days at its parking spot under the heavily damaged covered court. Whether the local officials exerted efforts to find their absent operator or help him secure his family for the next few days could not be determined.

On the other hand, over the gripe of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that national agencies and other member offices of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) failed to assign one employee at the EOC during the disaster, the governor had an interesting suggestion.

He said that the member agencies assign as their representative to the EOC those who have safe and sturdy houses.

The chief executive’s suggestion is practical and doable.

But there is a better, more encompassing way to making sure that essential workers like linemen, heavy equipment operators, road clearing crews and other post-disaster workers would be at work on the day after the typhoon: help them build better homes.

Taking a page from the Diocese of Virac’s Building Back Better project of helping typhoon victims construct reinforced concrete houses, the government should create a financing scheme that would help these essential workers to construct “safe rooms” of reinforced concrete columns, walls and slab roofing.

By having these sturdy shelters, these workers can now leave their families much earlier after a typhoon, secure in the thought that their loved ones are safe from the elements.

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