These days, practically everyone in Metro Manila remembers a big quake that happened in the last 12 months.
It could be the 5.7-magnitude one in September when people had just gotten into bed, the 6.6-magnitude early-morning temblor that roused them from sleep in July, or the 6.3-magnitude Christmas Day tremor last year as they were sipping their morning cup of coffee.
Months earlier, when the country’s COVID-19 and work from home (WFH) situation had somewhat stabilized, the Lopez Group business continuity management (BCM) team thought it would be a good time to dust off their Big One framework.
“The interest was already there. All of a sudden everyone was talking about business continuity,” says First Gen Corporation’s DJ Gandionco.
BCM as guide
BCM serves as a guide for stakeholders during business interruptions, such as those caused by natural disasters. It has three components: emergency response aimed at saving lives; business recovery; and crisis management, which aims to balance the lifesaving aspect with recovering the business.
According to Gandionco, their Big One framework actually predated the one for the pandemic.
“We just adapted the layout for the COVID-19 pandemic plan from The Big One framework,” Gandionco recalls. “We had incorporated our learnings from an earthquake swarm into our earthquake plan for the power plants, and also we had it in mind in planning for The Big One.”
Gandionco notes that BCM is not always forward-looking or anticipatory, citing the case of the Batangas earthquake swarm which caused the First Gen power plants to trip in 2017. At the time, their plan did not take into consideration the existence of an unnamed fracture under the coastal municipality of Mabini, Batangas.
Post-earthquake swarm, First Gen made adjustments to further secure their towers and minimize tripping, while additional seismic monitors were positioned in Batangas and at the company’s head office in Rockwell Business Center in Ortigas.
Gandionco and First Philippine Holdings Corporation’s (FPH) Rene Mayol were in Ormoc when news of the Philippines’ first COVID-19 case broke in late January 2020. As soon as they got back to Manila, they drew up a pandemic framework, tapping the expertise of FPH’s head of occupational health, Dr. Lito Gapas.
“When we were putting in the details, we asked ourselves if we were being too foresighted or pessimistic. But that’s what BCM does,” Gandionco explains.
By early February, the plan had been presented to and approved by First Gen president Giles Puno. This, in part, was the reason the Lopez Group was able to institute its own lockdown a week ahead of the government-imposed community quarantine.
Over the next months, the BCM COVID-19 framework underwent revisions and updates as new information became available. But when the team came up with their first version, they were early enough that even the name “COVID19” was not yet in use, Gandionco notes.
For The Big One framework, the WFH setup posed its own set of problems.
“The pandemic complicated things because most of us are at home. Residential structures are less inclined to follow the building code and will likely not be able to survive a magnitude 7 earthquake. We have to consider that in the planning,” Gandionco points out.
FPH’s Mayol adds that the pandemic lockdown also underscored that not everyone can effectively perform their duties in a WFH setting because they do not have the necessary equipment or connectivity.
“A few days into the pandemic, a lot of things were going on in the background. The IT department had to provide or check our connectivity. We had some employees who had no connection in their area so we helped them with Smart and Globe,” he shares.
Then there are the employees with mission-critical assignments that require them to be on-site.
“By the nature of their work, they cannot work from home—they cannot operate the power plants at home or they perform regulatory, revenue and reputational tasks that require them to be physically present at the head office,” Mayol notes.
He emphasizes that while COVID-19 crept up on people—it started out as something that happened to strangers, until a member of their own family contracted the disease—the same will not apply to The Big One.
“The pandemic was gradual. The Big One is not going to be something you’ll read about in the papers or hear about from other people. The moment it happens, we will all be affected at the same time,” Mayol says.
Preaching family preparedness
When The Big One strikes, the BCM team preaches family preparedness instead of looking to the government or even to the company for assistance.
“Each of us has to be resilient. We have to be prepared in each of our households,” Mayol says.
He adds: “It can get very chaotic in the evacuation center during a fire incident in one barangay. How much more in a Big One earthquake? Let’s say most of Metro Manila’s 12 million population flock to the four main government evacuation camps, that’s three million people per area.”
The company on the other hand will have its hands full with scores of employees and their family members to look after, not to mention getting the business back on track as soon as possible.
Mayol stresses: “We want the employees to get themselves prepared in their respective houses. We’re not encouraging them to go to the government evacuation area. Be self-sufficient so you would not be dependent on what they can give you.”
However, the latest BCM earthquake framework does include provisions for an emergency operations center or EOC.
“It’s kind of like a 911 that, hopefully, only a very small portion of employees who badly need help can call,” Mayol notes. “Another key learning that we’re putting in place deals with communication. In a Big One scenario, the telecoms companies can’t guarantee that there will still be a cellular network. In a pandemic there is electricity, water, WiFi. But all of those will be a big question mark during The Big One.”
With Energy Development Corporation’s (EDC) Dr. Ted Esguerra on board, Lopez Group employees are assured of receiving the most comprehensive life skills training to prepare them to deal with fallout not just from The Big One but from other types of hazards as well.
Like Mayol, Esguerra is adamant about the importance of arming oneself with survival skills, including CPR, wound management, basic firefighting, online and offline communication, evacuation and even handling dead bodies.
“Pag may nangyari, ikaw muna. Anuman mangyari sa buhay mo, ikaw muna. Maheart attack, ikaw muna ‘yun. Madisgrasya ka, ma-terrorize, may criminal, major disaster, ikaw muna yun. Kung sa first impact nadale ka, wala na. Pero kung nabuhay ka, you should have skills na magkaroon ka ng sustenance, na magkaroon ka ng medical treatment,” says Esguerra, one of the country’s foremost crisis experts.
He is batting for a triad of programs similar to what they are implementing in EDC, which includes training and forming a pool of responders composed of EDC employees and members of their host communities; “1+1” training where an employee who attends a one-on-one session with Esguerra brings along a family member who can take over in case the former becomes incapacitated; and all-hazards training.
“Yung lahat ng pwede maisip mong sakuna na darating sa ‘yo, foresee it,” he explains. “Nilelecturan namin sa all-hazards. Ang problema sa survival is, who’s going to command sa loob ng pamamahay? For example, bumagsak bahay natin, lahat ‘yan magsisigawan. Tinuturo namin ang command structure because decisions have to be made. There has to be someone who will say, ‘Let’s prepare to evacuate.’”
Esguerra further emphasizes that a family or home preparedness program must be synchronized with a workplace incident action plan.
“Kailangan tumutugma para pag wala nang communication, hindi naghahanapan. Because when you remove connectivity of one man to his family, that’s when trouble will start. Magulo yan,” he points out.
Esguerra lauds the Group’s leaders—former Lopez Group chairman emeritus Oscar M. Lopez who brought him to EDC, FPH chair Federico R. Lopez, First Gen’s Giles Puno, EDC president Ricky Tantoco and the BCM team—for the speed with which they responded to COVID-19 and hopes this carries over to preparations for The Big One.
“During the pandemic we were ahead in so many ways. Tayo pinag-uusapan na paano kukunin ang family while ang iba (conglomerates) halos wala pa. Life skills are what we are trying to push through slowly. Sa 2022 makakabwelo na tayo. Let’s fortify ourselves para maka-survive tayo. Be proactive, be ready on all fronts,” he says.