Experts discuss disaster risk reduction management for future-proofing museums

  • Written by  Mariz Diagan
  • Published in News

To cap off the National Disaster Resilience Month, the UPLB Museum of Natural History (MNH) gathered experts from various organizations, government agencies, and the academe for a day-long webinar on future-proofing museums.

The event, titled Future-Proofing Museums: Protecting the Heritage of Natural History and Cultural Collection from Disasters and Other Risks, was officially opened by Chancellor Jose V. Camacho, Jr., who found the event responsive to the country’s current needs, and a refreshing break and change of focus toward the preservation of the Philippines’ natural and cultural heritage.

MNH Director Marian P. de Leon later welcomed the speakers and guests to the event that aimed to contextualize the impact of natural hazards to the Philippines’ natural and cultural heritage, and to help formulate evidence-based prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery strategies.

Recognizing the value of local actors; employing proactive rather than reactive approaches; forging strong partnerships; establishing clear lines of communication; and safeguarding people against the pandemic were all recurring themes in the conversation as experts from different sectors came together to answer the call for a unified, context-specific, and proactive response to the country’s situation.

To start off, Michael Querido, a project officer at Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. (ETFFI), revisited past calamities and explained what constitutes and causes disasters and how these endangered populations. According to him, understanding disasters goes beyond natural phenomena, as these “result from a complex interaction of multiple hazards, exposure, and vulnerability.”

Querido presented the ‘Build Back Better’, a disaster risk management model that not only covers response, rehabilitation, and recovery, but also prioritizes prevention and mitigation. “As cliché as it is, prevention is always better than cure,” said Querido.

While he agreed that the protection of land and human life in the time of disaster takes precedence over all other resources, Querido enjoined everyone to advocate for the amendment of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 or RA 10121 to include the preservation of Philippine cultural heritage. He later quoted Malolos tour guide and cultural heritage advocate Belinda Regalado: “Ang bayang walang kultura ay bayang walang kaluluwa” [A nation without its culture is a nation without a soul].

In the second lecture, Dr. Carlos P. Tatel, Jr., chair of the Department of Anthropology in UP Diliman, emphasized the importance of physical-geographic, historical, and institutional contexts, and local actors, in mapping out effective disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) plans.

While technology is important, he said there is value in recognizing local knowledge and utilizing it to inform DRRM-related decisions. “The challenge to managing risk is to strike a balance between physical science approaches [and] the understanding of the living dynamic situation of the people,” he added.

During the talk, the role of concepts such as resiliency, community narratives, local vocabulary in disaster and risk prevention, management, and impact mitigation were also discussed, with Dr. Tatel citing DRRM studies he conducted in communities in Tiwi, Albay.

Ms. Cheryl Louise T. Leal, acting chief of the Disaster Risk Governance Division under the Policy Development and Planning Service (Prevention/Mitigation) and also an alumna of UPLB College of Human Ecology, discussed the Office of Civil Defense’s 10-year National DRRM (NDRRM) Framework and Plan, which aims to serve “as an enabling policy in promoting resilience of our cultural heritage.”

Leal opened with the Office’s ten key directions in the updating of the NDRRM Framework and Plan. The updated plan retains the four thematic areas (disaster prevention and mitigation; preparedness: response and early recovery; and rehabilitation and recovery) as outlined in the initial plan but contains revised outcomes, outputs, and activities based on recent findings and recommendations.

Lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic also prompted changes in the plan, such as the prioritization of public health during DRRM operations. The overall goal, Leal said, is “safer, adaptive, and disaster-resilient Filipino communities towards sustainable development.”

The next speaker was Mr. Aldwin M. Cejo, officer-in-charge at the Laguna Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office. He built upon the concepts presented by Leal, and reported how the DRRM plan is being implemented and continuously amended in the province. He also emphasized the important roles that barangays, households, and individuals play in the application and improvement of the current DRRM Framework and Plan.

Cejo also stressed the need to protect citizens and make them feel safe against COVID-19 while they are being rescued from high-risk areas.

Partnerships with various stakeholders and international organizations that are believed to ensure accurate data collection, clear and centralized communication, and citizen participation were also mentioned in his talk.

Dr. Ma. Mylene M. Villegas, chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology’s Geologic Disaster Awareness & Preparedness Division, discussed the vulnerabilities of the country’s geography and its impact on people and property.

In a recorded presentation, the geologist talked about disasters that devastated the country, and the steps being taken to lessen the damage caused by these events, especially in the context of museums, citing Outcome 3 (Increased Structural Integrity of Housing, Building, and Critical Infrastructure) of the 2020-2030 National DRRM Framework and Plan. Dr. Villegas also recommended useful tools for LGUs and civilians, such as GeoRisk Philippines, the PHIVOLCS Fault Finder app, and the Rapid Earthquake Damage Assessment System (REDAS) software.

In her talk, Dr. Villegas outlined four key actions for disaster resilience: (1) know hazards and risks; (2) monitor and predict; (3) issue warnings and disseminate information; and (4) respond properly and in a timely manner.

Dr. Carlos Primero G. Gundran, head of the UP Manila DRRM and its Crisis Committee, presented a comprehensive run-through of the university’s DRRM Plan and described its implementation through actual examples and applications.

Dr. Gundran discussed how disasters and emergency situations can harm museum collections and went over the roles and responsibilities of each technical working group (e.g., prevention and mitigation preparedness; response; and recovery) and each member of the Incident Command System. He also reported on the training sessions that are being conducted, and the mechanisms put in place to ensure the effective execution of the plan, emphasizing the utmost need for “order among chaos.”

Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Roberto P. Cereno shared UPLB’s DRRM plan, briefly outlining the evolution of DRRM in the university since its inception in 2002. The most recent change in the plan is turning the University Police Force into the UPLB Safety and Security Office: Crisis and Emergency Response Unit.

VC Cereno emphasized the plan’s expansion into a policy that not only aims to address disasters as defined during the previous talks, but also to manage crisis situations related to students’ and employees’ mental and psychosocial well-being. He also provided updates on the university’s capacity building operations and its partnerships with different organizations, government agencies, and local communities.

The university’s DRRM plan also includes and emphasizes Los Baños’ distinction as the special science and nature city of the Philippines, and its geography and proximity to significant ecosystems like the Molawin Creek, Laguna de Bay, and the Mount Makiling.

With UPLB’s crisis management plan and its public service continuity plan being finalized for submission to the UP System Crisis Management Committee, Dr. Cereno said his team is open for inputs on heritage conservation and museum operations.

Ms. Aparna Tandon, senior program leader for the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), discussed how the First Aid and Resilience for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAR) project aims to “safeguard heritage and promote sustainable development and bring the benefit of heritage to those communities that are living in risk-prone regions.”

Her current work involves capacity building activities in areas of conflict and using “cultural heritage to bring peace.” She also crafts search and rescue (SAR) guidelines to help inform the decision-making process of teams on the ground when it comes to sharing information and identifying and labeling cultural heritage during SAR missions for collection and preservation.

The key to formulating effective interventions, Tandon said, is “to think globally and act locally.” The value of volunteers and the youth was also brought up during her talk.

Engr. Bernard R. Punzallan II from the Training and Public Information Section of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, took a more technical approach to the future-proofing of establishments in his talk.

The weather specialist provided the audience a better understanding of the workings of weather and how these may affect structures. He also detailed the REDAS software earlier mentioned by Dr. Villegas, and its Severe Wind Impact Forecasting Tool.

After a brief open forum moderated by Michelle San Pascual of the MNH’s Botanical Herbarium, Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension Merdelyn C. Lit congratulated the guests and speakers for sharing their expertise with the participants. VC Lit also supported the call for the immediate modernization and disaster-proofing of establishments that house natural resources and artifacts of human achievement, such as museums.

Nearly a hundred representatives from various museums, public organizations, and government offices attended the event.

Future-Proofing Museums: Protecting the Heritage of Natural History and Cultural Collection from Disasters and Other Risks was conducted in partnership with ETFFI and ICCROM.