Last June 13, sudden heavy torrential rain caused flooding both inside and outside the campus, and prompted the University to call off classes for the first time this academic year. The event, brought about by less than 90 minutes of rain in the area heightened concerns over the possible disaster that an actual storm might bring.
University precautionary measures
The University has taken the steps deemed necessary to prevent the occurrence of such disaster or at least minimize inconveniences that are caused by it. According to Engr. Ronaldo Gallardo, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Development, all the drains in the University were cleaned and cleared over the summer break. Canopies and covered walkways were also constructed around existing infrastructures in the University to enable smooth maneuvering inside the campus without getting wet by the rains.
Some low-lying areas around the campus were elevated to decrease flooding. One example is Agno St. which is often used by students when moving from the main campus to the Sports Complex, Gokongwei Building, Br. Andrew Hall, and the Science and Technology Research Center (STRC).
Gallardo says that DLSU maintains all its infrastructures and facilities to meet safety standards as required by law. “The University’s facilities and infrastructures were designed following the approved codes in the Philippines. These codes were based on U.S. standards which, when applied, will vouch for the structural soundness and integrity of the structures. At present, all our buildings were inspected and certified to be structurally sound,” he explains.
Outside drainage systems lacking
One problem often pointed out is the incapacity of pipes and road drains to handle the amount of rainwater. This is typically caused by blockages in the drainage system, resulting from the accumulation of dust and garbage over time. The increased number of roadwork projects in the streets in close proximity to Taft Ave. is also a contributing factor.
The local government of Manila initiated road maintenance projects around the city including Taft Ave. over the summer, which involved the dredging of vital waterways and the de-clogging of roadside drains and pipes. However, recent floods have proven these to be somewhat ineffective. Gallardo affirms that the water volume deposited by the recent rains was indeed too big for the drainage systems along and around Taft, but adds that the government through the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will be the ones to address this problem.
Huge amounts of waste are found clogging the drains every year, that can be attributed to a lack of discipline in waste disposal and management. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Services Josemari Calleja holds that management of solid waste is vital in addressing the problem. While DLSU handles its garbage well, the same cannot be said for the outside areas. “Managing garbage is the responsibility of every citizen every day, not just public or school officials, and not just during the rainy season,” he says.
Contributing factors and expected erratic weather
According to Calleja, the flooding from tropical storm Ondoy in 2009 was one of the worst experiences of the University. Such disaster prompted the University to reform protocols extending assistance not only to the DLSU community but also to outside communities.
More than the clogging of drainages and uncollected garbage, multiple other factors result to flooding. The University’s location and relative land elevation are partly to blame for the frequency of rain and floods. DLSU is roughly 900 meters from Manila Bay, the nearest largest body of water, and stands at less than 15 meters above sea level. The relative land elevation of the University might imply that should strong rains be coupled with high tides, water takes longer to subside because the content carried by pipes cannot freely flow out into the bay.
Rainfall rate and rainfall duration must also be taken into account when assessing floods. Higher rainfall rates falling at shorter durations, such as during the recent June 13 downpour, are more likely to cause floods than if the same amount of rainfall was spread over a longer period of time.
An average of 20 storms enter the Philippine area of responsibility each year. The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warns in recent reports that climate change brought about by global warming is beginning to heavily impact the country and more erratic weather with stronger and longer downpours can be expected in the coming months.
Accommodating stranded students
If the students get stranded due to weather extremes or unanticipated disasters, the University caters to the students’ needs. Calleja states, “DLSU has basic food provisions for 300 persons good for 3 meals. In such a situation, we expect to host the stranded members of the community in the Most Blessed Sacrament Chapel and certain classrooms in St. La Salle Hall.”
Acting on feedback from the experiences in the previous year, the Campus Services Office has decided to add hygiene kits to the emergency supply.
Calleja also shares that there has been a vast improvements in the facilities that would be provided to students this year in comparison to the preceding years. “DLSU is also finalizing credit line arrangements with adjacent fast food establishments to facilitate our access to hot meals in case the need arises.”
After a disaster, students who are traumatized or psychologically affected will be handled by the OCCS and the University psychologists.
Preparing for other disasters
Aside from the preparations made for the expected typhoons, DLSU is also instituting its effective disaster preparedness and response systems for other potential disasters like earthquakes and fires which may cause enormous damage to the University.
Director of Safety and Security Office Dionisio Escarez explains that, in relation to fire safety, the University is acquiescent with the rules of Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP). Fire safety inspections are conducted annually by the agency. One of the things inspected is the installment of emergency fire fighting equipments such as fire sprinklers, fire alarms, hoses and smoke detectors in buildings with four floors or more. DLSU receives a certificate after every inspection to show that the institute has met the requirements set by the BFP.
In relation to earthquakes, Ryan del Gallego, Institutional Risk Officer from Risk Management, Compliance and Audit Office assures that all of the buildings of DLSU can survive intensity of earthquakes. The Campus Development office conducts inspections every year to ensure the firmness of the buildings.
“Our office together with the Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) are in the process of institutionalizing a disaster risk reduction program for the University. As of the moment, we have a University risk committee which handles operations, access, and strategies of the university. So the committee will handle the functions of disaster risk management,” furthers Gallego.
With the commemoration of Disaster Consciousness this July, one can only hope that this time around, DLSU’s foresights and efforts to oversee the welfare of its students in the face of calamity is effective, and that these efforts not only end on the part of the administration but on students as well.