Priority, Capacity, Information (A three stage approach to implementing disaster risk reduction and management at the local level)

By Efrath Silver (Voluntary Service Overseas, European Union)

Executive summary

The Philippines has a comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management law since 2010 (RA 10121), has an extensive network of disaster risk reduction and management agencies and organisations, has the knowledge and skills available to make the country a safer place, where people can live without fear of disasters. Yet, to bring DRRM into practice seems a complicated task. This paper provides three steps to break down this duty and do those things first that generate the most effectiveness in reducing risks.

  1. Execute a nationwide analysis of high risk, low income areas. The results will prioritize the areas where implementation of the law is needed the most. The limited available resources can be used more effectively to reduce risks.
  2. Invest in capacity building in the prioritized areas, understanding the local risk profile and needs for capacity.
  3. Make DRRM information and data readily available by establishing a national DRRM Knowledge Management Center, adopting an open data policy and fostering cohesion.

Implementation of the RA 10121 will continue to lack behind unless local government units see the need and feel the urgency for DRRM and have the capacity to implement the law’s provisions. Currently implementation lacks behind due to asymmetrical decentralization: the uneven delegation to the local level of responsibilities and capacity for DRRM.

National agencies involved with capacity building efforts have to focus on local needs; for capacity building to be (cost) effective, first of all they need to understand differences in risk profiles between areas. Scarce resources should be invested in those areas most at risk and in need for assistance.

With increased capacity, local government units can find support from their community for disaster risk reduction programs. Therefore, local officials need to be professionalized in DRRM. Capacity building can only succeed if:

  • Information on hazards and risks, legal implementation of the law and DRRM in general is easily accessible. All information should be available in one place and is standardized by one department. Other departments and stakeholders use the standardized information in their DRRM work.
  • There is an enforcement mechanism in place to ensure local government officials take part in DRRM capacity building programs and training.
  • Trainings are repeated regularly to respond to changes of local officials and maintain the community’s awareness.
  • Trainings are complemented by investments in systems and infrastructure at the local level and efforts to advance local policies in order to ensure sustainability.

1. Introduction

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and disasters.

Nearly 74 percent of the population and 80 percent of the land area are vulnerable to disaster, with the capital of Manila considered at “extreme risk.” Typhoons and storms, which make up 58 percent of all disasters in the country, related flooding (25 percent) and landslides (six percent) pose the greatest threats to the country. Storms surpass all other disasters in terms of number of fatalities, people affected and economic damage. Earthquakes (five percent), volcanic eruptions (five percent) and drought (< one percent) can also have devastating effects. Cumulatively, these disasters cause an average of over 1,000 deaths per year.

With continued development in the lowlands and growing populations, it is expected that damage to infrastructure and loss of lives would persist and even rise, unless appropriate measures are immediately implemented by the government.  The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), created in 2010, is responsible for disaster risk reduction, including good governance, risk assessment, early warning, raising public awareness, reducing risk factors, and preparedness for effective response and early recovery. This agency also formulated the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management framework, as a principal guide for all efforts in the country.

Many branches of the Philippine government are tasked with addressing some aspect of disaster prevention, preparedness, recovery and rehabilitation and climate change adaptation. The responsible agency for disaster prevention and mitigation is the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards program (Project NOAH), led by the DOST, partners with academics and other stakeholders to develop systems, tools and other technologies to prevent and mitigate disasters.

EU AID initiative

In 2014 VSO deployed six EUAID volunteers in the Philippines. They form part of a pilot EU AID Volunteer initiative ‘Building in Resilience’. This program of the European Commission DG ECHO (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response) is designed to provide volunteer assistance in humanitarian emergencies, which includes not only disaster relief but also disaster risk reduction.

The DOST – Project NOAH and DREAM program (Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment for Mitigation) Program host the six EUAID volunteers between February till November 2014. The decision to deploy the volunteers in disaster prevention and mitigation is in accordance with the ground shift in international thinking: away from a primary emphasis on relief, towards prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

Policy review and recommendations

Efrath Silver, one of the six EU AID volunteers, is a policy and institutional development advisor. She focuses, through Project NOAH, on a review of the disaster risk reduction and management policies with the purpose of helping the Philippine government in its effort to effectively prevent and mitigate disasters.

The present policy paper is a result of this review. It addresses the national government agencies responsible for coordinating the implementation of the disaster risk reduction and management act (RA 10121) and policy plan. The paper addresses in particular the DOST as the prime responsible body for disaster prevention and mitigation and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) as the overall responsible agency and secretariat of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). The OCD is tasked with providing leadership and co-ordination of the DRRM policies. The analysis and recommendations are based on information collected through interviews with national and local stakeholders (please refer to Annex I for an overview of stakeholders interviewed), workshops, research and comparative analysis of disaster management policies and practices in other countries.

2. Progress towards pro-active disaster risk reduction

At both the national and international levels understanding of disaster risks – and how these have become more severe through climate change – has increased, alongside greater recognition of the vulnerability of a large part of the population to these risks. This has resulted in an important shift in policy – from a focus on disaster relief to a greater emphasis on disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and the building of resilience.

Republic Act 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, gives a high priority to disaster risk reduction. This prioritization is an indicator of commitment to disaster risk reduction, and in many contexts is needed in order to ensure disaster risk reduction is a priority in national and local governance. Aiming to address the root causes of disaster risks, Republic Act 10121 initiated a shift from a top-down and centralized disaster management to bottom-up and participatory disaster risk reduction, recognizing the important role of local communities.

The DRRM Act clarified the distinction between oversight or coordination versus implementation of DRRM in order to strengthen the capacities of local governments. An important aspect is the replication at the regional and local level of structures and functions of the national system. Most local government units appear to have completed or at least initiated the processes of setting up the local DRRM Councils and many have started to formulate the local plans that they are required to draft. Nationwide educational events such as ‘Science for Safer Communities’ are helpful to local government units, both in emphasizing the priority to be given to a pro-active, disaster mitigation approach and in supporting local government units with up-to-date hazard maps and other risk assessment tools.

Another notable change has been the revision of the former calamity fund to become the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (DRRM Fund). The National DRRM Fund is to be used for “disaster risk reduction or mitigation, prevention and preparedness activities.” In addition, the DRRM law requires local government units to allocate at least five percent of their estimated revenue from regular sources to Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Funds (Local DRRM Funds). This fund can be used for disaster risk management activities and the implementation of the local DRRM plan. 30% shall be set aside as a Quick Response Fund for relief and recovery programs.

In sum, in recent years the Philippines has progressed significantly at the institutional level. The country is moving away from reactive disaster management and heading towards pro-active disaster risk reduction. The Philippine Republic Act 10121 is comprehensive and covers all components (or pillars) of disaster risk reduction and management:

  1. prevention and mitigation
  2. preparedness
  3. response
  4. rehabilitation and recovery

There is a steadily increasing understanding of disaster risks and recognition of the importance of a participatory and local approach in addressing disasters. Together with the introduction of a continuing budget appropriation, a basis has been created for sustainable disaster risk reduction and management.

3. Implementation barriers

Notwithstanding these institutional improvements, in practice there is still much progress to be made regarding the implementation. This chapter looks at barriers for implementation and the next chapter describes ways to achieve and improve disaster risk reduction and management at the local level.

The RA 10121 promotes a bottom-up process for disaster risk reduction and management. The local government units are in the lead for implementing the law’s provisions, however, nearly five years after entering into force, implementation efforts of the RA 10121 lack behind. Five years has not been enough time to fully transition from disaster management focusing on response, to disaster risk reduction with a focus on prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

Particularly at the local level the transition to prevention, mitigation and adequate preparedness for potential hazards has not yet gained foothold. The law gives local government units the mandate and responsibilities to implement disaster prevention and preparedness measures. However, local government units are not sufficiently empowered with capacity and resources to realize their duties required by the disaster risk reduction and management law. This imbalance is called asymmetrical decentralization.

Decentralized disaster risk reduction and management does not automatically lead to stronger risk reduction, particularly, if legal authority is not matched by resources and capacity.

Decentralization even raises challenges in relation to coordination, financing and capacity for implementation of DRRM. The key to effective local institutional DRRM structures is that they have clear authority combined with mandated resources and capacity, which can also be enhanced through DRRM training and education.

In the Philippines, capacity poses a problem at the structural level, at the technical level and as lack of resources. Implementation issues arise as a consequence of insufficient capacity. The following barriers for implementation by local government units were identified in this review:

Insufficient financial resources

Many local government units have established a disaster risk reduction and management council and have drafted a DRRM plan, according to the requirements of the RA 10121. Especially the lower class municipalities (class IV-VI) however, do not have the means to implement the plan. Section 21 of RA 10121 requires local government units to set aside five percent of their estimated revenue from regular sources for DRRM. Poorer municipalities generally do not have a large budget. As a result, municipalities have no means to create a DRRM office and do not possess sufficient equipment to support the work on DRRM, such as desktops, early warning devices or effective communication systems.

Even when local government units are able to set the budget aside, they consider it difficult to spend the five percent on disaster risk reduction and management. The reason is a lack of understanding of legal utilization of the fund as well as lack of understanding of DRRM (concepts).

Lack of understanding

Disaster risk reduction and management is relatively new in the Philippines. There is a general lack of understanding of DRRM concepts and how to apply them into practice. Also, according to some stakeholders, there is no appreciation or understanding of available weather forecasts, hazard warnings and scientific information. As a result, programs at the local level often remain response oriented. However, focusing on response is not a sustainable way to deal with disasters. Destruction caused by disasters poses a serious economic impact on communities as well as an impact on people’s minds, and is a threat to the nation’s development.

Local government units indicate that there is a lack of understanding of the provisions of the disaster risk reduction and management law. Several stakeholders admit that the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10121 are not specific enough for adequate implementation. Consequently, they cannot be sure which ways of implementation are legal and which ways are not. This was the case for example with the utilization of the local DRRM fund and the institutionalisation of the DRRM offices, for which additional Memo Circulars were adopted by the national government agencies.

At the same time, local government units signal that there is limited investment for training and capacity building. The lack of knowledge and skills and insufficient transfer of knowledge, makes it difficult for local government units to comply with their legal mandates.

Lack of access to knowledge, scattered information

Local government units lack the technical knowledge for adequate DRRM and they do not know how and where to access knowledge and information. There is no coordinating agency that redirects  them to sources of information or standardized data. Information on DRRM is available but scattered. Sometimes, government agencies are unwilling to provide information or it is of poor quality.

No priority for DRRM

The lack of resources and lack of understanding both contribute to a minimum priority given to disaster risk reduction and management. The reverse is also true: the lack of priority results in few investment in and resources allocated for DRRM.

More pressing problems such as health, food and education are prioritized over the less visible, long term investment in disaster risk reduction and management. Communities do not see the immediate result of DRRM activities and DRRM will not change their economic situation in a short time. Hence local leaders find it difficult to get support for DRRM, especially if the community has not experienced many disasters and is not well enough informed, engaged or resourced to take an active part in reducing risks.

Municipalities that are not familiar with disasters do not see the need for implementing disaster risk reduction and management programs and institutions. This can be understood as lack of compliance by local government units with the national DRRM law. At the same time, the law does not make a distinction between various areas with each their own levels of exposure to hazards and disasters. This distinction would be helpful to effectively invest scarce resources.

Lack of dedicated institutions and officers

The aforementioned issues obviously result in other challenges. Municipalities face problems appointing full time, dedicated and capable DRRM officers and personnel. The reasons are lack of financial resources, unclear regulations and overall lack of priority for DRRM. Often the DRRM tasks are performed by local officers with other duties, for example as a side tasks by the municipal planning and development officer. The result is ineffectiveness of the DRRM office.

At the national level, members of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council are departments with their own roles and responsibilities aside from DRRM. Because officials in the Council come from different departments, commanding and leadership are difficult. When there are no impending hazards or disasters, they work for other purposes. Thus, both at local and national level there is a lack of dedicated DRRM officers and institutions.

4. Overcoming barriers

The previous chapter showed that local government units face a number of challenges regarding the implementation of disaster risk reduction and management. The lack of priority for DRRM is interlinked with insufficient resources allocated and lack of understanding of DRRM and the law. National and local DRRM offices lack full time personnel and have no single focus on DRRM.

To address these challenges in an effective manner disaster risk reduction efforts should be seen in the broader context of local and national development. There are limitations on the availability of resources and capacity for managing hazards sustainably. Thus, the Philippine government needs to look at a cost-effective approach to generate the highest risk reduction nationwide (pick the low hanging fruits) with measures that are not very costly. At the same time, 70% of the National DRRM Fund has not been allocated yet, according to stakeholders. These financial resources could best be allocated to disaster prevention and mitigation, since expenditures on preventative measures is generally lower than relief spending.

This paper recommends the Philippine government a three stage approach for picking low hanging fruits in disaster risk reduction, focusing on prevention and mitigation of disasters:

  1. Prioritize where to invest in disaster risk reduction first;
  2. Invest in capacity building of local government units in those prioritized areas;
  3. Simultaneously set up a national DRRM Knowledge Management Center for easy access to DRRM information and data. Standardize hazard and risk data and make them readily accessible.

The following sections describe the three stages.

4.1. Risk assessments to prioritize areas

In order to plan and to build safer communities, communities and their vulnerability to natural hazards need to be understood. Local context is an important factor in applying disaster risk reduction efforts to a specific area. The RA 10121 requires all local government units equally to implement the law’s provisions, such as the establishment of a DRRM council, office and fund. Municipalities that have a low familiarity with disasters obviously do not see the need to comply with these provisions but might be ignorant to potential (new) hazards. Local governments with very few resources available have difficulties allocating funds for DRRM. Assistance with the implementation of disaster risk reduction and management initiatives should be provided to the most high-risk areas in the country, especially if they have few resources.

National analysis of high-risk, low income areas

First, the responsible national government agencies OCD and DOST need to coordinate a nationwide assessment to identify high-risk, low income areas. Section 9 of RA 10121 puts the OCD in charge of identifying and prioritizing hazard and risks together with stakeholders, as well as to provide technical assistance to increase capacity of local government units, specifically the low income and in high-risk areas. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (2011-2028) mentions the need to develop common tools to analyse the various hazards and vulnerability factors. In addition, the NDRRMC has to ensure the development of a national risk map with participation of stakeholders as a planning and decision-making tool.

Several agencies and organisations have done or are doing separate, localized risk assessments. For example, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) in cooperation with other agencies have conducted risk assessments for the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, NCR and Bulacan. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has conducted training on risk map preparation for municipalities in Mindanao. Another initiative aims to create risk scenarios prior to natural hazards for local government units and is carried out by the DOST’s Science & Technology Information Institute (STII) and project NOAH supported by IBM’s Intelligent Operation Center (IOC). A fourth example is the Hazard Mapping and Assessment for Effective Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (READY) project, spearheaded by the UN Development Program, which has produced multi-hazard maps for the 27 most vulnerable coastal provinces of the Philippines.

However, a countrywide, standardized analysis including both risk and income level, has not been accomplished. This can be a preliminary exercise overlaying existing hazard maps with the income classification of local government units. The DOST should take up its role as the responsible body for providing hazard information. Many agencies already produce hazard information and maps. There are the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards program (project NOAH) and PAGASA, together with the agencies under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); i.e. the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) and Mines & Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and probably other agencies too. The DOST can bring together these organisations and coordinate with existing initiatives for hazard and risk analysis. The actual high-risk, low income area analysis can be executed by one party.

With all this information available a national analysis of high-risk areas should not be costly. The OCD as the coordinating agency for DRRM should approve the outcome of the analysis and initiate the next step based on the outcome.

Local vulnerability assessment

The next step can and should be a refinement of the national risk assessment at the local level. Local government units and the communities living in their area need to be involved in their own vulnerability assessment. Not only do they know their area, but also do they need to feel ownership and responsibility to implement DRRM initiatives and comply with the law. If they are involved, they will see the urgency and need of DRRM and support can be created for measures and allocation of funds for DRRM.

For example, New Zealand’s National Civil Defence Emergency Management Strategy says ‘communities must be given a say in what levels of risk they consider acceptable and what measures are put in place to manage those risks. A systematic approach is necessary to ensure that a logical and consistent process is followed when identifying and assessing risks, consulting and communicating with communities and, where appropriate, implementing cost-effective measures to reduce risk.’ As mentioned above, the DOST and OCD are responsible to provide assessment and mapping tools and enhance local government units’ capacity on vulnerability assessment. Since there is none at the moment, a systematic approach to local vulnerability assessments has to be developed.

Again, at the national level there are various organisations the DOST and OCD could partner with, e.g. the DOST agencies and project NOAH for their technical knowledge, Center for Disaster Preparedness and Red Cross for their grassroots network and experience in training local governments, but also organisations such as the League of Municipalities that can convene municipalities geographically. Under supervision of the OCD and DOST they can develop a practical tool or methodology for vulnerability assessment which they will teach local government units to apply. Municipalities in turn can cascade the methodology down to the barangay level for even more detailed analysis.

A pilot project in Taiwan assessed the vulnerability of communities during a field survey with the help of a group of hazard experts with different specialties, e.g. geologists, hydrologists and slopeland experts. They helped with examining the community’s risks for natural hazards and identifying its vulnerabilities to those risks. The DOST should, as part of the systematic approach, consider to create a pool of technical experts to assist local government units in their assessments. If necessary, professionals need to be trained to enlarge the pool in order to achieve a meaningful level of hazard mitigation nationwide. Local officers that have done the assessment for their own area could form part of a flexible layer in this pool and be deployed to act as an example, to inspire and assist other (e.g. neighbouring) local government units.

4.2. Capacity building of local government units

Assisting local government units in applying tools to assess their vulnerability is part of capacity building for enhancing disaster prevention and mitigation. As said, local government units have the mandate for implementing DRRM but lack the capacity (asymmetrical decentralization). To achieve compliance with the DRRM law, the OCD and other lead agencies need to give this issue much more urgency. They need to initially focus capacity building efforts on the (poorer) local government units in the identified high-risk areas.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan identified as one of its implementation strategies capacity building and education on DRRM for decision makers, local chief executives, public sector employees and key stakeholders. The NDRRMC has to formulate a national institutional capability building program. According to the RA 10121 the OCD has to establish a DRRM training institute to train public and private, local and national individuals. Stakeholders say the funds for this institute have already been allocated, but slow decision making by the NDRRMC is an obstacle.

The needed capacity

RA 10121 defines ‘capacity’ as: a combination of all strengths and resources available within a community, society or organization that can reduce the level of risk, or effects of a disaster. Capacity may include infrastructure and physical means, institutions, societal coping abilities, as well as human knowledge, skills and collective attributes such as social relationships, leadership and management. Capacity may also be described as capability.

  • This paper focuses on capacity in terms of knowledge and skills. The stakeholder interviews and the workshops with local government units raised the following needs for local capacity building:
  • Understanding of the provisions of RA 10121 and related legislation and how other laws affect DRRM.
  • Ability to draft a comprehensive DRRM plan.
  • Insight in opportunities to find budget for DRRM as well as allocation of funds at barangay level.
  • Technical capability of local personnel (to understand and apply DRRM concepts).
  • Awareness of new local officials of the importance of sustainable DRRM programs.
  • Skills for hazard and risk mapping down to barangay level.
  • Education of local community in disaster preparedness and training of local volunteers.

Based on the implementation barriers described in chapter 3 this list can be supplemented with the following capacity needs:

  • Helping communities to understand risk as a threat to development, in order for them to make educated decisions about their resource allocation.

This list is probably not exhaustive. Local government units need guidance to assess their own knowledge gaps, ideally in sessions together with other local government units to encourage mutual learning. However, capacity building organisations and national agencies in turn need to build their understanding of the capacity requirements of local government units, especially those in high-risk areas. If there is no understanding of the local needs, capacity building efforts will not be effective.

Overseeing capacity building programs

There are multiple government agencies, CSOs and educational institutions involved with capacity building of local government units and communities. Each of them has their own area of expertise, whether it is disaster preparedness and resilience (e.g. Local Government Academy, Center for Disaster Preparedness), response (e.g. Department of Social Welfare and Development, Red Cross) or a holistic approach to DRRM (e.g. Earthquakes & Megacities Initiative). This multitude of initiatives ensures quality and continuity of capacity building on DRRM.

What is missing though is easy access to a complete overview of what programs are offered. The OCD should keep oversight of existing capacity building initiatives, their educational purposes and the procedures for target participants to apply for the program. Often local governments are not aware of the existence of capacity building programs or do not have the resources for it. The OCD should fill this gap by having this information readily available in one place and provide advice to local government units.

Enforcement mechanism for participation

The OCD’s role should not stop with overseeing capacity building efforts. It should also scale up its own efforts to increase local government units’ understanding of the RA 10121 and related policies, laws and regulation. After all, the department is responsible for the overall coordination of legislative and implementation matters related to DRRM.

Second, the OCD has to establish an enforcement mechanism to ensure that local officials participate in mandatory training on DRRM. Sec. 14 of the DRRM law requires that ‘the public sector employees shall be trained in emergency response and preparedness’. This requires the OCD to declare which capacity building programs qualify for mandatory training. An enforcement mechanism is necessary because officials of local government units that are not familiar with disasters do not see the need for DRRM and will be less willing to undertake training.

Continuous education and capacity building is needed

In general, public awareness of disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness seems to decrease after a span. Therefore, repeated training to raise and maintain public awareness, skills and knowledge is essential. In the ideal situation DRRM programs will be successful in lessening impacts of hazards and, on the longer term, avoiding disasters altogether. In turn, this will lead to diminished awareness of hazards and risks. When disasters cease to occur, people “forget” they live in a hazard-prone area. For example, even though storm surges have hit the area of Tacloban in history, people were not familiar with this hazard anymore resulting in many casualties during typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Repetition of informative and educational campaigns has to keep the public alert, especially in places at risk and where DRRM has not been implemented yet.

An interesting example of the disaster awareness gap comes from the Netherlands, a country highly prone to flood risks but with a strong tradition of flood prevention that has proven successful. There hasn’t been a catastrophic flood event over the past 60 years. In an assessment of the Dutch water governance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted that many residents are not aware of the extent of the flood risk they are exposed to. The OECD therefore recommends raising awareness in various ways, e.g. by putting in place policy instruments that systematically inform citizens about the flood risks they face.

In the Philippines, stakeholders recognize the need for repeated training of local officials. Elected officials have 3-year terms and can only serve a maximum of three consecutive terms. It often happens that after each election there is an overall change of staff including DRRM officers. This is the reason PAGASA for example conducts new training for the same local government every three years. To overcome the problem of unsustainability within local governments, Earthquakes & Megacities Initiative (EMI) does not only invest in people, but also in systems and infrastructure. For example, they provide materials, they push for a monitoring system enforced by an executive order or city ordinance and they try to establish a platform to maintain local DRRM knowledge. An example of such platform is the Megacities Forum on Building Urban Resilience which provides a venue for stakeholders to share knowledge, information and experiences.

4.3. Coherent information provision

To increase capacity and understanding of disaster risk reduction and management and to improve the application of DRRM information in practice, access to information is imperative. The Overseas Development Institute found in a study that ‘people at risk often have extremely limited access to credible, usable scientific sources of risk information. Information is often provided through inaccessible channels, languages and formats, with requirements to pay for information tailored to specific needs.’

Scattered information

In the Philippines there is a lot of information and knowledge related to DRRM; however it is scattered over many government agencies, universities and CSOs. There are multiple sources for DRRM information. Sometimes agencies are reluctant to share the information that they have, resulting in duplicate efforts to generate information (spending public money). Information is not readily available for stakeholders to apply when they need it.

Interestingly, at the same time local government’s lack of capacity and understanding of DRRM has been an acknowledged problem! The flux of public officials makes it all the more important to acquire a knowledge management system, in order not to lose capacity and knowledge that has been built over time.

Knowledge Management Center has to be top priority

The OCD, together with the departments in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, has to make the structuring and provision of DRRM information a top priority. The National DRRM Plan identifies the establishment of training institutes as a priority project. Furthermore, it requires the establishment of a Knowledge Management Center to be completed by 2013. As of 2014, this center has not been set up yet. The OCD needs to give high priority to install this Knowledge Management Center in order to make DRRM information available.

The OCD has a role to foster the connectivity in space and time of the work of various government agencies related to DRRM. The Center will link sources and products together and monitors cohesion. It compiles, coordinates, maintains and disseminates DRRM knowledge, products, tools, maps, legislation and other types of available information. This includes the publication of the OCD’s annual progress report on the implementation of the National DRRM Plan as well as the periodic assessments of performance monitoring of the NDRRMC member-agencies. Sharing information is an ongoing process, because new information will be produced and needs to be made public.

The Knowledge Management Center is also a national help desk. Local government units can address the help desk with questions, issues and suggestions. There has to be a functioning website, which is easy to navigate and interactive, making all information readily available. There is an email address and telephone number for inquiries and further clarification of documents and regulations. All inquiries should be answered within a time span of a few working days.

The Knowledge Management Center gives guidance on how to use information and forwards requests to relevant agencies if necessary. It connects stakeholders with information and with other stakeholders. It has to maintain a database of key players and stakeholders, which is also required by the National DRRM Plan. The Center functions as a platform for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and universities to connect with agencies and a channel to disclose their publications. This way it can address the gap between science and policy practices and combine scientific knowledge with actual experience. Specifically the DOST has an important role in helping to bridge this gap.

Standardized information for disaster prevention

The DOST and DENR are responsible for providing information that can be used to prevent and mitigate disasters. Making information about hazards and risks easily accessible (such as maps of flood plains and seismic fault lines) is a relatively easy and effective measure for governments. People are often guided in their prevention decisions by information on hazards, but this information is rarely easily accessible. Moreover, information on hazards that is already collected and analyzed by government agencies is not always shared, even though sharing this information involves relatively little expense. The next paragraph discusses further the benefits of open data and information.

There are no standards for information that can be used for disaster risk reduction and management. The DRRM law requires the OCD to develop a standard for DRRM programs (Section 9), not specifically mentioning standards for information. Looking at disaster prevention and mitigation, it is important to define hazards and related data in order to make hazard analysis and hazard mapping possible. Paragraph 4.1 recommended that the DOST and OCD should create a standardized analysis for risk assessment, including income level. Standardizing is important to achieve national consistency and comparability of information and methods, and higher quality. Consistency between the work of responsible authorities and high quality information will lead to better service to the public in terms of prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

Thus, the DOST with the DENR and the OCD should develop standards for hazard and risk data, coordinate that products such as maps are of that standard and encourage government agencies and the public to use them. Standards may consist of:

  • principles to provide guidance,
  • an overview of definitions, applicable policies and compliance with international standards,
  • (technical) requirements.

For example, in 2012 the OCD released ‘Implementing Guidelines’ on the use of Incident Command Systems. In New Zealand the government has issued technical standards (e.g. technical standard for Tsunami Warning Sirens) and ‘information series’ that serve to provide information, best practice examples and advice on how to carry out a range of tasks. In the Netherlands there is a ‘Standard method damage and victims as a result of flooding’, with which expected damage and the expected amount of casualties because of large-scale floods can be determined as part of a risk assessment.

Open data for DRRM

The DOST, DENR and OCD (Knowledge Management Center) should cooperate to unlock the hazard and risk data generated by their attached agencies. ‘Open data’ is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The accessibility to hazard and risk data is of national importance; it can save lives and avoid a lot of damage. The national importance of this information was emphasized by the Philippine representative to the UN at the Group on Earth Observations Ministerial Summit early 2014, ambassador Cecilia Rebong. In her statement (see Annex II) she declared on behalf of the Philippines: “[…] we acknowledge the the importance of space-based and in situ observations for providing reliable geospatial information for sustainable development policy making, programming and project operations. Indeed, access to timely, integrated and actionable data and information about the Earth system is vital in order to respond to our societal needs and challenges.” Annex III explains the objective of the Group on Earth Observations and provides a list of its members.

Hazard and risk information and the underlying data have been generated by the national agencies using public funds. By unlocking it, the expensive data can be optimally used. For government agencies it means they can use higher quality data in an easier way. Open data saves cost and staff hours, eliminates hurdles for access and duplicate data acquisition. With open data improved decision-making and delivery of services to the public is possible.

Given these benefits the national agencies should invest in making information for disaster risk reduction and management better accessible and available for reuse by both the public and private sectors. The types of information concerned are products such as hazard maps, geospatial data sets, data services and metadata. These data can be used for example by local government units to create their own risk maps, by scientific researchers for generating DRRM knowledge, by engineers advising on new house building sites, by government agencies to develop mitigation strategies, and other smart applications by small and big innovators which are now beyond imagination but will be stimulated by the availability of free (geospatial) data.

The OCD’s Knowledge Management Center should facilitate better public access to this information. In collaboration with the DOST it should give access to data through a geoportal that provides the means to search for and view spatial data sets and data services from the various agencies. Existing initiatives for data portals are the Philippine Geoportal by NAMRIA ( and the Open Data Philippines website ( It is recommended to create one national open data portal that includes DRRM information and raw geodata such as Lidar and satellite images, under an ‘Open Database License’ (ODbL).

The Open Data Task Force under the Office of the President is currently pursuing legislation on openness for all datasets from government agencies. DRRM products such as reports, legislation and training materials could be made available through an online and offline library. A good example of an online library is the ‘DRR Knowledge Center’ website created by the Subu Project (

Interesting international examples of governments that have already unlocked geodata are the European Commission’s INSPIRE initiative for sharing environmental information and the Dutch national spatial data infrastructure.


  1. A lot of information and interesting approach.
    I believe that this could be used in many cases and situations.

  2. Just recently I have reading a lot about Project NOAH. This has been our professional handicap since I was a practicing Hydrologist and Drainage Engineering. The simulating tools was a dream to have but considering the prohibitive software cost and operating training required was near to impossible.

    With Project NOAH, is truly a blessing to our country!! Congratulation to the multi-discipline scientist of DOST and PAGASA. I hope to interact given the opportunity. Thanks!!

  3. Risks have to be managed for their reduction to take place.Thank you for the information and the brilliant approach.


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