Lapid pushes for community shelters as evac centers for disasters


Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid recently filed a bill pushing for the designation of community shelters to serve as evacuation centers in times of natural disasters, calamities and other emergencies, such as the recent Taal Volcano eruption.

Senate Bill 1298, seeks to address the present gaps in the disaster responses system. He recalled that the eruption of Taal Volcano last January 12, 2020 caught the nation by surprise.

In less than a day, the alert level for the volcano was raised from two to four, with thick ash falls covering large areas of Batangas and Cavite and reaching up to Metro Manila and Calabarzon.

This led affected families to frantically run to available evacuation centers. Unfortunately, many of the evacuation centers are school buildings which in turn, entails the disruption of classes.

Lapid insisted this practice of using classrooms and school buildings as evacuation centers should not be the norm.

Due to this, Lapid is pushing for a law that will mandate the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (LDRRMC), in coordination with the Office of the City/Municipal Engineer or the Office of the Building Official to designate and establish as community shelters all suitable government buildings and spaces, including but not limited to, gymnasiums, convention centers, multi-purpose halls, covered courts, government warehouses and other similar spacious structures.

The bill once it becomes a law will also institutionalize the policy that classrooms and school buildings shall only be designated as community shelters as a last resort. One example is when the LDRRMC could not pinpoint any available building or structure that could qualify as safe community shelter.

Lapid also wanted to make sure that whenever there is a need for school buildings to be used as community shelters, classes must not be substantially disrupted.

He proposed that when there is a need for a school building to be used as community shelter, there should be a clear coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd) Schools Division exercising jurisdiciton over the affected schools.

As much as possible, spaces astructures in schools not regularly or constantly used for the conduct of classes shall be the ones to be designated as temporary shelter like school gyms, auditorium, multi-purpose halls and open spaces in libraries and laboratories.

The bill also cited that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), in consultation with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other relevant government agencies, shall formulate the guidelines on buildings and structures that will be considered suitable and safe to be used as community shelters.

Until today, Taal volcano remains to be restive and the threat of a strong eruption still looms that is why there are still barangays near the volcano island which are locked down. For more than three weeks now, residents of these barangays have no choice but to stay in evacuation centers.

Lapid’s concern is when the effects of calamities extend to longer period of time, it is best to have separate community shelters apart from school buildings and classrooms. This is to make sure that while rehabilitation is ongoing, the students can already resume their classes./ Stacy Ang

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