Picture 1_ Social media, celebrity, and natural disasters

DISASTER PREVENTION AND MITIGATION. PamCham Chairman Emeritus Levy P. Laus, Vice-Chairman Rene Romero, and President Jim Jimenez award a certificate of appreciation to Oscar Victor Lizardo, Chief Science Research Specialist of Project Noah during the forum on disaster prevention and mitigation at the City of San Fernando. Joining them are Corporate Secretary Malou Garbes, Corporate Treasurer Ruben Sy, and Directors Terry Carlos, Bong Mah, and Cesar Ocampo. All photos, unless stated otherwise, by Ferth Vandensteen Manaysay and Chris Navarro/Sun Star Pampanga.

It was a crowded hall—an unexpectedly placid and curious audience looking for ways to prevent and mitigate the seemingly unavoidable disasters that are hitting the Philippines every year.

From volcanic eruptions to super typhoons, to earthquakes, the Philippines is definitely no stranger to some of the strongest, deadliest, and costliest natural disasters to ever hit the world.

When Tropical Storms Luis (Kalmaegi) and Mario (Kalmaegi) successively hit the country earlier this month, floodwaters submerged hundreds of houses from my hometown in the province of Pampanga. In the Candaba town, alone, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said some 5,557 families are affected by flooding, which translates to at least 27,787 people.

For this reason, the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (PamCham) spearheaded a disaster prevention and mitigation forum held last September 25 at the Villa Del Sol, City of San Fernando, Pampanga.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to cover this event, which highlighted the importance of effective communication and information management to minimize the effects of major disasters. (READ: Science Chief highlights social media in communicating disasters).

As a budding media practitioner, I have been reporting on some of the major disasters which ripped the country in the past few months. Media plays a very important role in communicating disasters. By closely coordinating with media groups, the government officials and weather experts are able to raise public awareness about the potential effects of a natural disaster. (READ: Yolanda recovery: Crossing borders through civic action)

Based on my observation, however, the difficulty with communicating disasters hinge on the manner the experts are able to frame the information that will help in reducing the risks of disasters.


IMPASSABLE ROADS. Floodwaters affected the transportation system during the onslaught of Tropical Storms Luis (Kalmaegi) and Mario (Kalmaegi).

Communicating risks

The forum speaker, Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) Chief Science Research Specialist Oscar Victor Lizardo, validated this observation as the problem, he said is that, “we’re not getting the people to listen well even if the experts are the ones who are communicating the information,” pertaining to the ability of the entertainment industry (celebrities) to effectively engage the social media users, which the government information agencies cannot match.

Project Noah is an online tool which undertakes disaster science research and development, advances the use of cutting edge technologies and recommends innovative information services in government’s disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.

Drawing from the experiences and social experiments in public safety of the Project Noah, Lizardo presented the vital role of social media in effectively communicating and disseminating information during a disaster.

“More than ever, we are equipped with the all the kinds of information we need when it comes to disaster risk reduction. But that information is all for nothing if we do not communicate it effectively,” held Lizardo adding that the approaches to communicating the risks of disasters vary from place to place given the multicultural character of the Philippine society.

“There’s a way to package that information in such a way that can be understood by everyone,” held Lizardo saying that information dissemination should be visual.

Picture 3_ Social media, celebrity, and natural disasters

HUGE COSTS. The Philippine economy loses billions of pesos due to the disasters hitting the country every year.

What can be done?

According to Lizardo, the national government must further empower the local government as leaders of disaster reduction and recovery.

“First you need to empower your local leaders because information needs to be equalized. Given the multicultural setting here, the information must come from below. The local chief executives, for example, should know how to explain the consequences of the disaster to his constituents,” said Lizardo.

Aside from empowering the local leaders, Lizardo emphasized the key role of the academic community to communicate disasters.

“The academe should impart knowledge on natural hazards and disasters. There is a need for the academe to be proactive instead of being reactive,” he said.

Lizardo also suggested that the governments should capitalize on and take advantage of the popularity of the entertainment industry. (READ: Anne, Kuya Kim are new ‘disaster ambassadors’)

“People scoff at the idea of using the celebrities in disseminating disaster information. People from the government, the academe ridicule the capacity of the celebrities. But, these personalities have certain influence on a lot of individuals. Imagine if they are sharing the same information, thing might be different because people listen to them all the time,” emphasized Lizardo while presenting the images of celebrities who garner the most number of re-tweets and shares during the onslaught of typhoon Mario this month.

To learn more about the technological tools used for disaster preparedness, visit the Project Noah website


By Ferth Vandensteen Manaysay , ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines