top of page

Safety and Security: Schools as an evacuation center

By Alberto Z. Laborte Jr., MSDRM

Teacher I

Science Teacher/School Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Coordinator (SDRRMC)

Mambulo Nuevo National HS

Every parent and teacher aim to protect their children and students to be safe at all times, may it be inside the school or on the premise of their own homes. The concrete four walls of each classroom of the school serve not only to be a room for knowledge but are sometimes used as the protection of each student and the family of the community when a typhoon or volcanic eruption occurs.

An average of 20 tropical cyclones make landfall in the Philippines each year, according to the national weather service PAGASA. 70% of tropical cyclones turn into typhoons during the peak season of July to October. Schools aside from the Evacuation centers that we have here in the Philippines became the usual sites safe places where can a family stay when there is a high risk of flood and storm surge. This became a usual scenario in most of our public schools. During the stay in the school as an “immediate evacuation center” after the typhoon, affected families stayed at least for days more to prepare their homes. The recommendations on the cancellation or suspension of classes and work in schools in the event of natural disasters, power outages/interruptions, and other calamities were added by Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte in DepEd Order No. 37 series of 2022. In this DepEd directive, Duterte stated that "in cases of other disasters, schools may be used as an immediate evacuation site, which should not last for more than fifteen (15) days." This means that families staying inside the school as their temporary shelter should not stay as more than fifteen (15 days). Why?

Here are the reasons why families affected which such calamities like typhoons or volcanic eruptions should not stay long:

1. Classes are distracted and will not resume immediately after the calamities. This will be unfavorable to the students. As they need to wait a long time to get back to their class.

2. The classrooms were also used and somehow it was messed up like the chairs, tables and even the papers are used for their day-to-day need.

3. Staying in the classroom in a large crowd of different affected families for a long time can also cause diseases that can infect each other.

According to a case study conducted by Tsioulou et al. (2020) focusing on determining the sustainability of schools as evacuation shelters and aid distribution hubs following disasters, after surveying 38 school buildings in Cagayan de Oro the study identified key areas for improvement as being insufficient pedestrian access to evacuation at night and for those with mobility constraints and a lack of alternation spaces for evacuee activities leading to interference with education.

Indeed, schools can cater to families affected by disasters for a time being as long as it is already safe for them to go back to their respective residences. On a side note, certain restrictions can also alter the school’s capacity to provide firsthand needs to disaster victims since the school has only limited space to accommodate them. Moreover, classrooms cannot be utilized for a different purpose as it can interfere with the learning discussions. So, what do we get from here?

Since we cannot control various uncertainties, it is good to establish a sense of awareness and readiness when it comes to disasters and calamities. For this reason, the Department of Education integrated into its curriculum the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Service which served as the department’s pivotal coordination unit for disaster risk reduction and management, climate change adaptation, and education in emergencies. Every school year, schools implemented the said activities to educate students and reorient educators to the essence of being disaster-ready. Likewise, classroom discussions and pieces of training are held highlighting awareness to equip students with skills once a devastating event happened. Continuous updates on typhoons and other preemptive measures in case of an event are being disseminated by School DRRM Coordinators as well as teacher-advisers give constant information dissemination to their respective students.

Since it is well-observed that schools also suffer from calamities, it can be seen that classrooms also need to undergo repairs which can take a while to be granted due to fund allocation and approvals. Thus, this can be a hindrance in ensuring the safety of evacuees who opted to stay in school for their security needs. In addition, school administration specifically the adviser who is in charge of the classroom might also face some difficulties and disappointments as an aftermath due to the uncontrolled behavior of the evacuees.

According to Kawasaki et al (2021) in their study on Residents’ Concerns Regarding Schools Designated as Evacuation Shelters revealed that the guardians and teachers believed that there was a discrepancy between shelter capacity and the real situation; citing a lack of information and ill-preparedness of the schools for disasters as some of the problems. In addition, they responded that there was inadequate management, and evacuees faced difficulty living comfortably in the shelters. They also conclude that to use school facilities during any disaster, residents need to recognize the need to solve problems and to work with local governments to support improvements revealing a sense of ownership of emergency shelters and preventing confusion among residents. Also, this will help people to prepare for disasters and prevent disruption during evacuation.

The scarcity of resources and basic needs such as water and power supply, comfort rooms, etc. can also be considered as an additional problem that might be faced by the evacuees. On the other hand, the possibility of interruption in the readiness of students since classrooms should always be lesson-ready to suffice their academic needs which is the priority of the school.

It is indeed that disasters are unpredictable and preemptive measures can always make us ready to a certain extent but can still be ineffective and in a greater sense what we deemed as right can turn us upside down. We are always taught of providing help to those who are in need, but we cannot give what we do not have, and either way results of our actions will always have consequences.

Finally, what can we still do? Resiliency, inclusivity, and sustainability are always the talk of the town, but are we getting there yet? Or it will only just be another posted propaganda with intangible ideas and boasted actions? Guess, I’ll leave it here.


bottom of page