‘Balikatan’ to focus on quake drills

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02:59 AM March 12th, 2012

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By: Dona Z. Pazzibugan, March 12th, 2012 02:59 AM

Philippine and US forces will hold training drills next month on how to deal with the aftermath of a massive earthquake similar to the one that hit Japan last year.

The joint “Balikatan” military exercises will include simulating and planning for an 8.1-magnitude earthquake  in Metro Manila.

“The command post exercise will be conducted to test the current humanitarian assistance and disaster-response concept plans of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and other concerned government agencies,” said Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., the spokesperson of the AFP.

West Valley Fault

Burgos said the activity would seek to “identify gaps and solutions from disaster situations that occurred recently in the Philippines and anticipate future calamities.”

The response drill between Philippine and US troops will anticipate a disaster brought about by an earthquake originating from the West Valley Fault, a part of the Valley Fault System formerly known as the Marikina Valley Fault System.

Mahar Lagmay, of the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Geological Sciences, has said that the West Valley Fault had moved four times in the last 1,200 years in intervals of 200 to 400 years and is due for a big one.

The fault can generate a 7.2-magnitude quake, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Huge damage

Citing a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Phivolcs said a 7.2-magnitude quake could damage 38 percent of residential buildings, 38 percent of buildings between 10 and 30 stories high, 14 percent of buildings between 30 and 60 stories high, and 30 to 35 percent of all public buildings in Metro Manila.

The Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study also said such an earthquake could cause 33,500 deaths, an additional 18,000 deaths from fire and 114,000 injuries.

First responders

Moreover, that kind of temblor could damage nine bridges and cut 30 kilometers of electrical cables and 95 km of communication cables.

The military is a major component in every humanitarian assistance and disaster response effort as soldiers are among the first responders in calamities, Burgos said.

“The participation of civilian (agencies) is a major move toward establishing interoperability among military and civilian agencies in addressing disasters of such catastrophic scale,” he said.

Pacific Command, Red Cross

The exercise will also be participated in by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Office of Civil Defense of the Department of National Defense, and the Metro Manila Disaster Coordinating Council.

Other participants are the US Agency for International Development, US Pacific Command, United Nations country team, UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Food Program, International Federation of the Red Cross and the Philippine Red Cross.

Japan, along with Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, will send observers to the quake drills. Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia lie in the Pacific Ring of Fire, where most of the world’s quakes occur.

Burgos said that while Japan was considered one of the most earthquake-prepared nations, it was still reeling from the devastation and nuclear crisis caused by the March 11, 2011, earthquake.

The command post exercise will be held at the AFP National Capital Region Command headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

This year’s Balikatan is the 28th of the series of large-scale bilateral exercises between the Philippines and the United States, but only the third to be focused on disaster response.

Last month, the country suffered from a 6.9-magnitude quake that hit Negros Oriental, killing 51 people and injuring at least 112 others. Sixty-two people are missing.

Last week, Masbate experienced a 5.2-magnitude earthquake that injured several persons and damaged some structures.

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