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For the next emergency

It was exactly one year yesterday when the infamous “Chona Mae” case broke out in Cebu City a few hours after an earthquake shook Negros Oriental and with it, parts of Cebu, including Metro Cebu.

The dark overcast skies didn’t warn residents then of the few minutes that the earth trembled under their feet and rattled their nerves. Old timers didn’t remember the last time they experienced a major earthquake since they were more concerned about flooding which has become worse as the years go by.

When residents went outside and asked themselves what could have caused the quake, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reported that the quake originated in Negros Oriental and battered some areas in Central Visayas as well as Dumaguete City.

It wasn’t long before residents of barangay Pasil were seen screaming at the top of their lungs and running like a horde of wayward bulls, alarming passersby when they shouted “tsunami!”

The year before, on March 2011, the world watched in horror as huge waves swept through Japan’s shores and devastating homes and buildings and damaging nuclear reactors that provided most of that country’s power supply.

The word “tsunami” was enough to cause city residents to abandon their jeepneys and cars, and make a run for it, despite Phivolcs later clarifying that Cebu couldn’t be hit by a tsunami because the province is strategically located between two islands that would absorb the brunt of a tidal wave before it reaches the province’s shores.

But a commotion ensued. In the aftermath, radio blocktime commentator Danilo Cogtas was identified as a culprit. Until now, the criminal charge of public alarm and disturbance is pending in court and Cogtas continues to maintain his innocence.

In the months since then, what’s been done to set up system that would prevent another false alarm from causing mass hysteria? Or to respond to a legitimate threat of calamity?

A long-discussed plan to set up a 911 emergency response system should finally get off the ground. Other cities like Davao, Taguig and Makati are way ahead of Cebu City.

The move of some concerned doctors and civic-spirited citizens to get this moving is a good sign. To leave the heavy lifting to the government is a sure recipe of delay.

A 911 system is something both Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and former mayor Tomas Osmena support (It was Osmeña’s original dream to set up a high-tech command center.). Before the election season heats up further, all stakeholders should push hard to make progress.

When a resident of Cebu City — or Metro Cebu — cries for help in a typhoon, earthquake, firestorm, landslide or three-vehicle collision — he shouldn’t be left struggling alone in ignorance. Aid and resources pooled by government and the private sector should be within his reach, a three-digit phone call away.

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Tags: Cebu City , Danilo “Danny” Cogtas , Earthquakes , Emergencies , Media , tsunami scare

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