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A Portrait of Contrasts in Disaster Risk Response: A Post-Haiyan Study of Coron, Philippines

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  • 1 a Department of Communication, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines
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Abstract

Supertyphoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, causing massive damage and loss of lives. The media blamed the government for faulty warnings, including using the term “storm surge,” which people reportedly did not understand. As a result, the national agency tasked with disaster risk management recommended translating the term for better response in future storms. Such an approach shortchanges the complexity of risk construction and dismisses the possibility that different communities also have different understandings of risk. In this study, the researcher examined the special case of Coron, Palawan: a major tourist destination that is rarely hit by storms but that became the site of Haiyan’s last landfall. Guided by encoding–decoding theory, the researcher interviewed local government officials and carried out focus group discussions with representatives of two communities (whose names have been hidden under pseudonyms for this study): Central, close to the municipal center, and Island, a coastal village far away from potential aid and rescue. The researcher found a portrait of contrasts that split Coron: a mayor who surrendered all control and a risk management officer who planned for long-term hazard response—Island waiting for government instructions despite knowing about storm behavior and Central taking the initiative to create long-term solutions. Island also knew what storm surges were and did not need translation of the term. These findings show that risk constructions can differ even at the municipal level, which should prompt further research into the role of local knowledge in understanding risk and hazard warnings.

Significance Statement

How do people who have never experienced a violent storm understand the warnings that announce it? The researcher studied villages in Coron, Philippines, and found that people understand storm warnings but need an actual experience of a storm before they choose to evacuate. This means that future warnings also have to show how people will be affected personally by the storm. Understanding weather and the content of a warning will not always lead to evacuation, especially for places that have not yet experienced violent storms. There were differences found even in villages close to each other, so more research should be done on how communities understand their environment and weather warnings.

Ponce de Leon’s ORCID: 0000-0002-5963-5620.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Inez Ponce de Leon, iponcedeleon@ateneo.edu

Abstract

Supertyphoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, causing massive damage and loss of lives. The media blamed the government for faulty warnings, including using the term “storm surge,” which people reportedly did not understand. As a result, the national agency tasked with disaster risk management recommended translating the term for better response in future storms. Such an approach shortchanges the complexity of risk construction and dismisses the possibility that different communities also have different understandings of risk. In this study, the researcher examined the special case of Coron, Palawan: a major tourist destination that is rarely hit by storms but that became the site of Haiyan’s last landfall. Guided by encoding–decoding theory, the researcher interviewed local government officials and carried out focus group discussions with representatives of two communities (whose names have been hidden under pseudonyms for this study): Central, close to the municipal center, and Island, a coastal village far away from potential aid and rescue. The researcher found a portrait of contrasts that split Coron: a mayor who surrendered all control and a risk management officer who planned for long-term hazard response—Island waiting for government instructions despite knowing about storm behavior and Central taking the initiative to create long-term solutions. Island also knew what storm surges were and did not need translation of the term. These findings show that risk constructions can differ even at the municipal level, which should prompt further research into the role of local knowledge in understanding risk and hazard warnings.

Significance Statement

How do people who have never experienced a violent storm understand the warnings that announce it? The researcher studied villages in Coron, Philippines, and found that people understand storm warnings but need an actual experience of a storm before they choose to evacuate. This means that future warnings also have to show how people will be affected personally by the storm. Understanding weather and the content of a warning will not always lead to evacuation, especially for places that have not yet experienced violent storms. There were differences found even in villages close to each other, so more research should be done on how communities understand their environment and weather warnings.

Ponce de Leon’s ORCID: 0000-0002-5963-5620.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Inez Ponce de Leon, iponcedeleon@ateneo.edu
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