Thursday, March 27, 2014

Life in the Workplace: Remembering "Yolanda"

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November 5-6, 2013
I actually started monitoring Tropical Storm "Yolanda" [International Name: Haiyan] on November 4, 2013. On November 5-6, 2013 the DSWD Assistant Regional Directors [ARDs] were in Berjaya Hotel in Makati for the Leadership Training. The leadership training officially started in the morning of November 6, 2013. In the afternoon of the said day, Dir. Ritzie Sampang of the Capability Building Bureau [CBB] called on the Assistant Regional Directors of Regions 5, 6, 7 and 8 to us of Secretary Dinky's advise for us to travel back to our respective regions and prepare for Typhoon "Yolanda's" landfall.

Earlier on that day ARD Nong Ramos of Region 8 and I agreed to have a "session" in the night of November 6, 2014 to talk about issues on regional operations. It turned out that we will never have such time to sit down and discuss as we have to travel back home early in the morning of November 7, 2013. Dir. Nong was actually hesitant to travel back home to Tacloban City but I told him "Nong, kami nga na hindi naman direktang tatamaan ni Yolanda uuwi na bukas, eh ikaw na direktang tatamaan nag dadalawang isip ka pang umuwi." Dir. Nong did not answer back. He just looked at me and went back to his room. At 2 o'clock in the morning of November 7, 2013, I saw Dir. Nong as he went out of the door to catch the first flight back to Tacloban City. I just told myself "tinalaban si Dir. Nong ng mga sinabi ko ah?"

November 7 - 21, 2013
Together with ARD Cora Miña, I took the first flight back to Legazpi at 7:00 o'clock in the morning of November 7. A meeting of the DSWD Field Office No. V Emergency Management Team [EMT] was convened by Director Arnel B. Garcia. Preparations, contingency measures, responsible persons, schedules and other requirements were identified and the team went on to initiate actions. I recommended to Dir. Arnel Garcia to request Governor Joey Salceda for the possible use of Albay Astrodome as repacking center. 

In the afternoon of the same day upon arrival from Manila, I started to serve as coordinator of the DSWD Field Office No. V repacking hub at the Albay Astrodome. Upon the request of Dir. Arnel B. Garcia, Governor Joey Salceda of Albay cancelled all scheduled events in the Albay Astrodome and allowed the DSWD FO V to utilize the venue for repacking of goods that will be sent to Samar [The initial instruction was for us to transport all relief goods to Tacloban City. Later the DSWD Field Office No.V was assigned to cover Samar in its augmentation support to relief operations]. The initial repacking of relief commodities started in the afternoon of November 7, 2013.  In the morning of November 8, 2013, we paused for a while as we watched and felt Yolanda passing by. We never thought how bad it was in other areas until we got the news about Region 8. 

From then on we continued repacking of food commodities in Albay Astrodome. Volunteers from all walks of life came to help. Organizations, students, alumni associations, fraternities and sororities, public and private sector employees,  individuals, tambays and barkadas went to the Albay Astrodome to help. Yes the response of the community to our call was overwhelming and heartwarming. We had up to 500 volunteers at one point and the average of 250 on a daily basis. DSWD V took charge of providing food for volunteers coming from the AFP, PNP and other government agencies while the Provincial Government of Albay provided for the requirements of other civilian volunteers. For volunteers who are engaged in the demanding physical work [hauling of repacked food items and food supplies for repacking, loading of food commodities for transport to Easter Samar, relocation of food supplies and repacked food items in the repacking hub, etc] the usual food from popular food chains proved inappropriate. This was the reason why we opted  to hire a cook who prepared the appropriate food for the volunteers. While a one piece chick'njoy would be fine for a volunteer participating in the lighter side of the repacking operations, this would not be appropriate for a volunteer who is involved in the handling and hauling of heavy food supplies and relief commodities. Whether for regular workers or volunteers nutrition is an important aspect in the operation that should never be ignored. 

A sound system also helped us a lot in doing the daily orientation of volunteers and in providing announcements and advisories. We also utilized it to play some good music to liven up the spirit of the volunteers who would normally respond by dancing, shouting slogans or applauding. The sound system also helped us announce lost and found items or even page for persons in the repacking hub whenever people come looking for them. I can recall one case when a mother came looking for her daughter who joined her volunteer-schoolmates but failed to ask permission from her parents. And another incident where a boy came to the repacking hub to look for her mother who turned-out to be so engrossed in her repacking job that she forgot that it was already late.

For the publication of the day-to-day operations and accomplishments of the repacking hub, a laptop and a flat monitor was set up where presentations were displayed providing updates, data and information to visitors and guests. Being part of the and the repacking hub operations, sharing of such data and information makes dealing with the public's queries and need for information a lot easier. Nevertheless, a staff should always be available to respond to some questions and do some explanation to support the published data and information. 

We had a simple team of coordinators. For the Province of Albay we had Ms. Eden Gonzales who was really quick on mobilizing volunteers and transportation services. From the Philippine Army we had Lt. Rod Oporto who coordinated the day-to-day volunteer service of the men and women in uniform. On a daily basis and as volunteers arrive, I conduct orientation and usher the volunteers in their workplace. Coordination with the DSWD5 procurement and supply team is also done on a daily basis to check on the availability of food commodities and materials needed for repacking. The flow of  volunteers was overwhelming. In fact we often run out off food commodities and materials for repacking as the volunteers can really be fast in doing their tasks. whenever these happen, we mobilize volunteers to clean the place and organize the relief commodities. Ms. Fen Cantuba, head of the Provincial Operations Office for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program in the Province of Albay provided support in our day to day operations. She assumed the duty I normally do whenever am not in the repacking hub. A well-trained social worker, Fen was so efficient in providing support to the operation. Members of the DSWD5 Emergency Management Team [EMT] were also organized to render round-the-clock duty at the Albay Astrodome Repacking Hub. A quick daily roundtable to check on the progress of the operations and to troubleshoot problems and get agreements for execution of needed interventions, helps a lot in managing the repacking hub. If we cannot do it face to face, cellphones come handy in the exchange of information. 

In entire duration of our operation, the Albay Astrodome Repacking Hub was open to media representatives who normally come to conduct interviews, get updates, and take photographs or videos of the repacking activities. Friends from the media are normally interested in gathering information about the number and kind of food commodities for repacking, repacked goods, relief commodities transported to the affected areas for distribution, the number of volunteers, problems experienced in the operation and solutions initiated by coordinators and of course other issues that attract readers, viewers and listeners. A good working relationship with the media is maintained when we are open and able to provide them updates about the operations at the time they need it most for print and broadcast requirements. If we are open and candid about the problems we experience and the solutions and interventions we initiate, we are able to get suggestions and support instead of criticisms. Media interviews are opportunities that we should never ignore. 

November 22-December 16, 2013

My tour of duty in the Albay Astrodome Repacking Hub came into an abrupt end when I received an Office Order requiring me to serve as Officer-In-Charge of the DSWD Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Operations Office  [DRRROO] in Pasay City which has under its supervision the National Resources Operations Center [NROC]. No questions asked, I bid goodbye to my partners in Albay Astrodome and took the first flight to Manila on November 22, 2013. Arriving in DRRROO Pasay City, I immediately sensed the different kind of storm that hit the organization. I will share with you the best moments I had at DSWD DRRROO as far as my memory can - from working with the DSWD disaster operations team, coordinating with representatives of partner agencies and the private sector, monitoring the repacking hubs and movement of donations and relief commodities, attending meetings, meeting representatives of donor countries, responding to media interview, sending report to Radyo Veritas Legazpi, making some documentation of my experience, and many more.

The NROC was teeming with volunteers when I arrived. Ronald assisted me to the dormitory at the 2nd floor where he introduced me to my bed as the newest bed spacer in the organization. Ronald also introduced me to some staff who really did not have much time to interact with me as they all looked busy. There was no orientation, no introduction. Times like this you have to hit the road running, and yes I did hit the road running fast with the team. "Augmentation" staff from DSWD Central Office and Field Offices were everywhere - at NROC and the various repacking hubs, storage facilities and ports such as those in Villamor Airbase, Manila International Container Terminal [MICT], Delpan Bridge Commander's Wharf, Ninoy Aquino Stadium, Philippine Navy, the J&Y Warehouse in Cupang Muntinlupa, SWADCAP in Taguig. the operation was 24/7. The food, consists of three [3] meals and snacks? [i cant recall if it was included as am not really keen on remembering if snacks were provided, in the first place snacks is not a regular feature in my life]. I noticed that food was never customized to the requirements of those for whom it was intended. Different people doing different work in different environment, get the same food everyday.  In various ports, terminals and other public places we visit, we normally see the sign: "Don't leave your valuables unattended!" If human talents are most valuable, then we should not leave them unattended.

In one of the NDRRMC meetings I attended, I was asked to define what we mean by "affected population" in our report. We have been using this phrase in our report for so long already and at the height of the Typhoon "Yolanda" operations, one is being asked to define it. Indeed, everyone in the organization or all those involved in any operation should have one and the same understanding of commonly used words and phrases to ensure effective communication. It turned out that the DSWD definition was sought as basis for coming up with a new definition of "affected population" for purposes of providing rehabilitation services. We have calculated our capacity to work alone or work harmoniously with others in the past disasters but Typhoon "Yolanda" changed everything including the definition of the group we normally serve which suddenly became unacceptable to some though its been there for quiet sometime.

Part of the work I had to do was to meet representatives of donor countries at the Ninoy Aquino Internal Airport, the sea ports in Manila, Department of Foreign Affairs and Bureau of Customs. At one point when I represented the Department in the ceremony for the Myanmar donation at NAIA Terminal I, I noticed some boxes being offloaded from the plane which were marked "Do Not Offload." Worrying that the boxes were not part of the donations, I advised an officer of the Philippine Air Force about it. It turned out that I was right. The boxes were not supposed to be offloaded, not just because they were not part of the donation but because they were aviation tools that should remain in the plane. The representatives of the donor country laughed a lot when we told them about it.

In another occasion at Pier 15, I delivered this message which I composed while the ceremony was going on after being advised by the Ambassador to say something to acknowledge the donation: "His Excellency, Ambassador... To our friends from the media. Distinguished guests, officials, men, women and children present here tonight, good evening. In behalf of Secretary Dinky Soliman of the DSWD, we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the people of Indonesia. The fury of Haiyan really humbled us, but the response of the international community lifted us and gave us strength. This experience helps us learn how to improve our response to the affected population. It tells us that we are not alone, we will never be alone because the world is always ready to help. With your help, we are continuing relief operations in the affected areas. we have established hubs for the production and distributions of relief goods. We continue to mobilize volunteers and we are now moving towards rehabilitation and reconstruction. Soon it would be toward normalcy. For sure we will never run out of helping hands and hearts. Once again from the bottom of our hearts, thank you very, very much. Mabuhay, Indonesia." Going down the stage, the Ambassador shook my hand and told me "Great speech!" I just replied "Thanks a lot, Sir!" Back in our table, my companions from other government agencies told me, "Sir, you can probably teach us how to do that kind of impromptu speech." I just smiled and looked back at the notes in my phone.

While serving as OIC of DRRROO I made some materials on "Working with the Media" which included the documentation of my transactions with Ms. Maan Macapagal of ABS-CBN and "Working with Volunteers" wherein we featured the visit to NROC of the Bb. Pilipinas-Universe ladies. These materials are in my Facebook account - Lex Armeña [Elis].

The interview conducted by Ms. Maan Macapagal was done at the JY Warehouse in Cupang, Muntinlupa. It was coordinated by the Social Marketing Service [SMS] through Ms. Geng Fischer and Mr. Leo Bernal. We explained to ABS-CBN that donated goods are normally examined and sorted to avoid breakage of bottled goods and to redistribute some items so that beneficiaries will not be receiving so may similar items in one pack. We also featured in my facebook album the Bb. Pilipinas-Universe ladies when they visited NROC to render volunteer service. They did repacking of food commodities and had a lively interaction with the other volunteers.

I served as OIC of DRRROO for 25 days from November 22, 2013 to December 16, 2013. On December 17, 2013, I went back to DSWD Field Office V and waited for the new office order that would bring me back to ICTMS at the DSWD Central Office. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cebu Pacific did it again!

"Every Juan Flies."  - but Cebu Pacific did it again - by refusing to board a 12-year old boy with congenital disease due to a damaged passport. Previous cases need not be discussed here but this recent "Juan" reminds us that Cebu Pacific is not ready to sustain its slogan and needs help to understand what should be done so everyone in the organization will be consistent with its motto.
Below are the advisories published by Cebu Pacific. I used them to communicate my own advise to the company and its men and women. 
CEB Advisory - Mar 17, 2014, 12am:
To those inquiring about JR Pajaro's post, CEB's Guest Services team has already contacted the affected passengers this morning and provided all necessary assistance so they could push through with their flight. We have also contacted Vietnam immigration authorities and arranged for the rebooking of the passengers. We pray for her son's successful operation.
We are looking into what happened and will follow due process. At the same time, we will be in touch with the affected passengers to ensure that their concerns are properly addressed. We sincerely regret the inconvenience this has caused them. [The Cebu Pacific Team]
My Comment: I appreciate this gesture. Accepting your fault and doing something to fix the damage. This is the point where we must be able to learn our lesson.  
And yet, another advisory:
CEB Advisory - Mar 18, 2014, 3:30pm:
Thank you for your concern regarding the Palileo family. 
Rejoinder: You do not have to thank the citizens for the show of concern to the Palileo family. It is the duty of every citizen to show concern. Your opening statement should be: "Thank you for reminding us to show concern to our passengers."
Just to let everyone know, we accommodated the Palileo family on our flight to Ho Chi Minh last Sunday, 16 March, because they were able to present a new (temporary) passport from the Department of Foreign Affairs. 
Rejoinder: Of course, you should accommodate the Palileo family because they have a new passport. but prior to that you refused and failed to assist them. Your refusal earlier could have been translated into a more productive and positive approach by informing the passenger on what they need to do with the passport.
Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh, the family was met and assisted by our station officer. While clearing with Vietnam Immigration, they initially presented the defective passport and this was not accepted. They were only accepted for entry when they presented the newly issued passport. 
Rejoinder: With this statement Cebu Pacific is telling us "See, even Vietnam did not accept the defective passport therefore we were actually right in refusing the Palileo family." But the defective passport was not the real issue. The issue here was the attitude, reaction and approach you have exhibited when you were confronted with the situation. Remember that you are in the business because of service. You could have done better than refusing to board the Palileo family. 
My Advise: Cebu Pacific must change its attitude, reaction and approach to situations like this. Whenever you are confronted with this kind of situation, the first thing that should come into your mind is "How can I help this sick Juan so he can fly?" or "How can we help this Juan solve his problem?" - Cebu Pacific must throw away its default reaction "Hmmm, there is something wrong and I cannot allow this Juan to fly!" If you are really committed to your slogan then you have to consider these - You could have done better by saying: "Sir/Mam, we have noted that your passport is defective and this will cause delay in your travel. Here is what you can do to solve the problem [provide them information on how they can facilitate solution to the problem]. We are referring you to [somebody in your organization or any organization who can help] to facilitate your transactions so you can proceed with your travel." - this will make the passenger feel better. 
We acknowledge that we could have exerted more patience and compassion in explaining the situation to them last Saturday, and for this we sincerely apologize. 
Rejoinder: This should be your opening statement. It shows your sincerity.
Rest assured we are looking into how this was handled, and we will take the necessary administrative actions.
Rejoinder: "Administrative actions" refer to something internal to Cebu Pacific and though it is significant this is not what the passengers and citizens need. Citizens need assurance. "Rest assured that this will not happen again." - sounds better. 
My Advise: I therefore recommend to the management of Cebu Pacific to focus more on the requirements of their staff. In ports and terminals we normally see the sign "Don't leave your valuables unattended." CEOs, Managers and Leaders normally say that their workers are the most valuable asset of the organization. So I say to them, "Don't leave your valuables unattended!" If you really value your workers, you need to work hard to ensure that they are properly equipped with the right attitude, knowledge and skills that will enable them to behave appropriately if faced with challenging situations in the service. Workers must be able to equate their behavior to the goals and objectives of the organization and ultimately to the service. This way, you can guarantee that you are right in saying that "Every Juan Flies." 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Disaster Risk Reduction and Management

Evacuees from Tacloban City arrive at the Villamor Airbase 
in the aftermath of Super Typhoon "Yolanda".
I can still recall when I joined DSWD Regional Field Office No. V 26 years ago - that was in 1988 - when the first Disaster Management Training Program was conducted participated by representatives from various agencies. It was a period of knowing more about hazards and enabling and enhancing the competencies of the service providers in dealing with disasters. But while service providers studied about hazards, warning systems and the principles and processes of vulnerability and capacity analysis, little attention was given to the fact that what the service providers know must also be known to the potential victims of natural and human-induced hazards [man-made disasters before]. It cannot be denied that the families and communities need such training as much as the service providers do. Understanding the hazards and their vulnerabilities and capacities are the most basic knowledge that families and communities should learn for them to appreciate the significance of being prepared.

In the 1990s we already had the family and community disaster preparedness [FCDP] training program. In fact, I was part of the team that conducted the pilot testing of the FCDP in Barangay Cogon, Irosin, Sorsogon - a barangay that is situated at the slopes of Bulusan Volcano.

The pilot testing of the training program was conducted right in the heart of Barangay Cogon in a somewhat classroom-type of a facility. We had a small group of family-participants. I can no longer recall the number of family-participants but i can still vividly remember that each family-participant was composed of the father, mother and two children. During the first day of the three-day training, we were all glad to see 100 percent of the identified participants. On the second day, we have noted that either the father or the mother or one of the children is already missing. More family members failed to come on the final day. The reason? - either of the family members or most of them have to attend to their farm, business, occupation or income generating activities. Our realization? - we cannot just focus on the training program - we need to consider the fact that family-participants need to sustain their daily income while attending the training program. The training program is necessary but the day-to-day activity to generate income for the needs of the family is more important. Indeed, how can they sustain their active participation in the training program when at the end of the day they will worry about the food for their families? The "Food-For-Training" or "Cash-For-Training" was the most logical and practical proposition then to provide [not necessarily compensate the families] a replacement for the income that the family-participants will forego while attending the training program. Funding support for this must be included in the budget that will be allocated for the training program - this was part of the training team's recommendation.

Series of family and community disaster preparedness training programs were conducted in Irosin, Sorsogon in the years that followed. Barangay officials also had their distinct training program that also included the formulation of ordinances and programming and budgeting for disaster risk reduction and management [disaster management before].

Yes, after witnessing the impact of typhoon "Yolanda" and joining the Department's response team in my simple way, my previous activities on disaster risk reduction and management in Bicol region were reconstructed in my mind. Never underestimate the power of nature. Preparedness starts with having the right attitude, understanding the hazards and our vulnerabilities, harnessing our capacities and putting into action the things that we need to do to be ready. [to be continued]