Disaster Risk Management Initiatives


Living in today’s “uncertainties of boom or bust economies, global climate change, rapid urbanization, technological advancement, and continuing war on poverty or terrorism present a lot of risk necessitating people to prevent the occurrence or mitigate its impact.” However, when there is extreme danger ahead, we must prepare to accept reality and respond accordingly. This has been explained as follows:

Life without risk would be very simple, requiring few resources, with a simple organization, system of resource allocation and even state of mind. However, in the real world, life is not simple, as the elements of risk like volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) affect one’s personal or organizational outlook of the present environment and future trend. The fear of the unknown may either delay and complicate decisions or turn the tide to better opportunities in looking beyond the horizon with optimism, to be prepared and to act ahead.

The elements of risk are always present in varying forms and degrees. Ubiquitous as it is, the fear of falling into some danger, committing injury and absorbing loss, is one of the primal fears that influences the psycho-social, political and economic behaviour of an individual, a household, a country or even the world, to determine its decisions and actions. Whatever risk will entail, they will always pave the way for scenario-building, policy formulation, risk reduction assessment, crisis and consequence management. Risk will set the environment for forward planning, managing risk, solving the problem and leading away from harm’s way.

Risk may connote different pictures in the minds of different people. Some fear risk and relate it with danger while others would simply avoid it and not be risk-takers. A few would not think of it but some would accept and take it as part of everyday living. Many risk-takers would not only welcome but also seek its thrill because it compels their minds to do some bold moves in their work aside from the need for adrenalin rush. The word “risk” has two distinctive meanings–general speaking, the focus is usually placed on chance or possibility; whereas in the technical sense, the emphasis is placed on the effect or impact, in terms of “potential losses” for some particular cause, place and period.

People are often used to cope with certain level of risk within the normal everyday life. Driving down the road has an inherent risk related with it such as being bumped by another car or hitting a pedestrian. Individual person does not think of risk on routine matters. Failing to manage it properly may affect the person or may be his nearest of kin.

However, when the whole country is at peril and national security is threatened, then assessment and finding solution to these risks will be a matter of vital importance among the leaders and every conscientious member of the society. When the physical state or condition of a nation is threatened by natural disasters, when the food supply and distribution system is being hampered, when the people’s way of life and institutions are being constrained, when the territorial integrity is being infringed by external aggressors or local secessionist groups, when the national interests and objectives are being controlled by multinational institutions or derided by local insurgency groups, when the very foundation of sovereignty and independence of a nation is being undermined by a stronger state in the guise of free trade or globalization, the call to protect one’s national security deserves a high-level of priority in the agenda of the people and its government.

Identifying, understanding, preventing, mitigating and preparing for the possible threats, damages and losses to national security caused by natural or man-made disasters will require concerted action and call for risk management especially on the critical infrastructure a nation possess.

Risk Management

Measuring the possibility and effect of threats and analyzing the methods and processes of controlling and allocating resources involves risk management. Risk management requires a holistic approach and methodology to resolve the negative impact of risk, especially in the field of insurance and finance where the most complicated mathematical theories like probability, optimization and statistics are applied. The multidimensional features of risk make it imperative for risk managers to innovate their methods, tools and techniques to process information at a faster rate.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defined in its publication ISO/DIS 31000 “Risk Management– Principles and Guidelines on Implementation (2007) the processes involved in risk management as follows:

  1. Identification of risk in a selected domain of interest.
  2. Planning the remainder of the process.
  3. Mapping out the following: a) the social scope of risk management, b) the identity and objectives of stakeholders and c) the basis upon which risks will be evaluated, constraints.
  4. Defining a framework for the activity and an agenda for identification.
  5. Developing an analysis of risks involved in the process.
  6. Mitigation of risks using available technological, human and organizational resources.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) (2009) defines risk management as “ the systematic approach and practice of managing uncertainty to minimize potential harm and loss.” Risk management involves two basic steps as follows: 1) risk assessment and analysis, and 2) the implementation of strategies and specific actions to control, reduce and transfer risks. It is widely applied by many institutions to reduce risk in their decisions and to address operational risks such as those of bankruptcies, breakdown in production, environmental pollution, social alienation and physical injury from earthquake, fire, flood and other natural hazards. Risk management is a major planning tool for vital industries such as water, energy and agriculture whose efficiency is directly affected by natural hazards such as inclement weather, climatic change and man-made terrorist acts such as bombing, extortion or kidnapping of personnel.

European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) defines risk management as “the process, distinct from risk assessment, of weighing policy alternatives in consultation with interested parties, considering risk assessment and other legitimate factors, and selecting appropriate prevention and control options.”

UNISDR (2009) also expanded the definition of risk management to Disaster Risk Management (DRM) which means “the systematic process of using administrative decisions, organization, operational skills and capacities to implement policies, strategies and coping capacities of the society and communities to lessen the impacts of natural hazards and related environmental and technological disasters. This comprises all forms of activities, including structural and non-structural measures to avoid (prevention) or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) adverse effects of hazards.”

The National Assessment on the State of Disaster Risk Management in the Philippines Final Report (2008) by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council-Office of Civil Defense describes DRM in operational terms, as “the process of guiding and directing people, local communities and concerned organizations towards avoidance of exposure to hazards and minimization of getting vulnerable to disasters. Hence, DRM means managing people and organizations to develop a culture of disaster anticipation, preparedness, resilience and recovery.”

The Philippines as a Disaster Center

Geographically speaking, the Philippines is situated along the two major tectonic plates, the Eurasian and Pacific plates making it vulnerable to an average of 20 quakes per day but mostly unnoticed. It also lies in the “Pacific ring of fire” making 22 out of its 300 volcanoes very active. As an archipelagic country with over 36,000 kms of coastline makes it vulnerable to tsunami. And being the curtain of Mainland Asia, it receives an average of 20 typhoons annually and half of these are destructive. These configurations made the Filipinos resilient throughout its existence, as the people experiences various types of natural hazard that claim many lives and damages to crops and properties. The Final Report of the National Assessment on the State of Disaster Risk Management in the Philippines (2008) by the NDRRMC/OCD (at that time still the NDCC) revealed a total cost of PhP176.733 billion (about US$3.7 billion) in damages for the last decade (1997-2007) or PhP17.67 billion per year. An estimated 5,828 people have been killed, 3,632 missing and 8,000 injured. Staggering as it is, they may have been understated considering the lack of systematic data gathering and reporting by affected local government units and concerned agencies.

The damage was even worse as a result of the 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan (Named Yolanda in the Philippines), strongest typhoon so far in the 21st century, with damages reaching beyond USD 18 billion.

The Report also estimated that “tropical cyclones comprised 85% of the total number of disasters that struck the country from 1997 to 2007 claiming the lives of 4,357 people and 2,148 missing. Several heavy floods and landslides increased the number of death tolls to 1,384 fatalities and 1,484 missing. The economic loss due to damages to properties, infrastructures and agriculture amounted to PhP158 billion pesos were caused by tropical cyclones and almost 10 billion by floods and landslides. Several high intensity earthquakes hit various parts of the country with two of them generating tsunami. These earthquakes caused the collapsed of buildings that had claimed the lives of 3,390 people. The active volcanoes of the country were generally calm and quiet until 1991 when Mt. Pinatubo violently erupted, after an estimated 400 years of dormancy, with its ash reaching as far as Europe. About 934 people died and infrastructures damages have caused tremendous economic loss.”

Poverty is directly link to high vulnerability to disasters where majority are forced to build houses in disaster prone areas such as along river banks and esteros, coastal areas, on steep slopes in upland areas, and within volcanic danger zones. Many of the poor families are either unemployed or have very low paying casual jobs. Many cannot avail of the low cost housing projects. Most of the lands they occupy are sidewalks zones or public lands. Those marginalized families in rural areas migrate to upland forest areas and live through the slash and burn farming along sloping lands to grow rice, corn and root crops. Such practices cause serious degradation on the environment that triggers landslides, mudslides, overflow of rivers, and massive flash flooding downstream.

The Military in Disaster Management

The contribution which military forces can make in response to the disaster threat has long been recognized in many countries throughout the world. This contribution has usually been made through some form of official arrangement for aid to the civil power, as laid down in the national constitution or by special legislation. But it is important that the military budget is enabled to support these activities by legislation and existing financial provision and regulations.

Experience has shown however that if military resources are to be fully effective in this role, their capabilities and the constraints under which they can operate must be fully understood by the disaster management authorities. For this reason it is important that the military authorities are closely involved in the disaster preparedness planning process at all levels from national to community. This involvement will ensure that their roles and responsibilities and the constraints upon their commitments, are clearly understood and set out in the Disaster Preparedness Plan.


The organization and management systems of military forces make them particularly well suited to operations in disaster situations. Additionally many military activities parallel those in public emergency services. Military forces can therefore provide invaluable support in rescue, engineering, communications, logistics, emergency medical services, water supply, sanitation, emergency feeding and shelter. In particular their ability to deploy disaster reconnaissance teams by land, sea and air, to make disaster assessments and to report rapidly by radio is an invaluable asset.

The units available to provide these services are usually deployed throughout the country and close to centers of population where disaster will have its most significant affects. If these military forces have been built into the national and local disaster preparedness and response plan they will have a very rapid response capability, taking with them their own management, communications and administration systems in a self-contained, self-sufficient and highly mobile form. They are well trained in the individual and collective skills necessary to perform their professional and functional activities and are well practiced in collaborative and coordinated action under their own flexible and adaptable management systems.
Add to this their capability for sustained operations away from their home base, in all weathers, by day and by night and one can clearly appreciate the potential inherent in any military organization for effective disaster response operations.

The Nature of Military Assistance in Disaster

The nature and extent of military assistance in disaster will obviously depend on the combination of in-country and overseas forces which are available. However, the following are typical examples:

  • Air, land and sea survey and assessment, especially to ascertain levels of casualties and damage.
  • Reconnaissance in the disaster zone and of the routes within and leading towards it.
  • Organized and mobile manpower to assist in rescue.
  • Well-trained and equipped engineers.
  • Communications units to provide emergency radio and telephone links.
  • Logistics units available to handle, store and transport goods and people over all types of roads and routes.
  • Emergency medical support to the civilian services.
  • Helicopters and aircraft for reconnaissance and transport duties.
  • Provision by naval forces of transport support when in harbor, also electrical power, mechanical engineering, water purification, long distance radio communication, cooking and baking facilities.

In some disaster-prone countries, military resources have been integrated into the national counter-disaster system, from national level through to local community level, with valuable results. In other countries, however, the absence of joint civil-military planning has prevented optimum use being made of military resources.


In most countries, military forces are outside the normal chain of command and communications which link the system of central and local government and their supporting public and emergency services. Military commanders will also have a different set of responsibilities and loyalties to those of the local government officials and administrators requiring their support. These military forces will also have a different set of financial controls and authorities, budgets and accountancy, procurement and supply systems.

In many countries military commanders at all levels are unlikely to be practiced in joint operations with civil authorities and public services and unused to their system of decision making, authorities and responsibilities. It is also true that the situation created by a major disaster, in any country, is one frequently leading to political instability in which the military authorities may have to assume temporary authority and responsibility. Such situations can easily lead to stresses and difficulties in relationships unless they have been anticipated by the involvement of all parties in pre-disaster planning at all stages and at all levels, so that the country’s military capabilities are well integrated with the civil authority’s and with its supporting public and emergency services.

These problems and constraints can best be overcome by properly framed legislation and financial provisions in the military budget. It is equally important that besides being involved in the pre-disaster planning activities that they are also involved in the training and practice discussed in previous sections and paragraphs of this paper. Finance never constrains the operations of military forces engaged in life saving actions.

Fortunately in the Philippines and many other developing countries, Disaster Response and Relief has been embedded in their mission statements, and indeed, it has become one of the non-traditional missions of armed forces as covered in their national legislations as well as in joint operations initiatives on bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Sovereign, national, military forces are clearly the most readily available and most importantly, as a result of their involvement in pre-disaster planning and preparedness, can be most effectively integrated with the resources of the civil administration and its supporting public and emergency services.

The regular, full-time military is best trained and equipped for this role but may have other responsibilities and commitments which may constrain its availability when it is most needed. Consideration should however be given to the possibility of having certain units on “Disaster Response Stand-by” on a rotational basis so that an element of the forces will always be available. There will also, probably because of climatic conditions, be times of the year when the disaster threat will be greater than others.

The second source may be found in local part-time militia, or “Home Guard”. These have the advantage that being a part of the community, they will know their own home areas and the people and will have a good and current knowledge of local resources. They will also know and be known to the personalities of the local authorities, the police, public and emergency services. On the debit side the personnel of the local militia may themselves, or their families or businesses become victims of the disaster. Nevertheless they must be counted a most important resource.

International Military Assistance

There has been over many years, an established pattern of military assistance being provided between friendly nations in disaster.

Although aircraft and naval vessels have access to airfields and ports throughout the world under normal international agreements, the introduction of foreign army units on the ground demands more formal arrangements and careful planning. Experience shows that for optimum benefit, army units should be small, specialist, self-contained and self-supporting and should be on-the-ground in the host country for a limited time only (during the peak emergency period). Again it is of great advantage if the arrangements can be made as part of regional mutual-support planning.

Immigration, health regulations, customs and excise duties, airport landing and port berthing charges and jurisdiction arrangements, for in-coming disaster relief supplies, material and personnel, should be a part of the pre-disaster and preparedness planning at the national level. The waiving of certain national regulations, custom and excise duties and charges, must be one of the components of these pre-disaster considerations. For incoming international military assistance in disaster, these arrangements are particularly significant.

Under main consideration has been the contribution which national and foreign military forces can make in the period of disaster response. However national military forces can become involved in programs of structural and engineered disaster mitigation and preparedness and post-disaster recovery. They can also make significant inputs to warning systems, to community skills and public information programs.

The Threat and Vulnerability Analysis which must be the foundation of all Disaster Mitigation and Preparedness Plans will help to identify gaps in the national capability and the What, Where How and When of military assistance required.

In the case of Haiyan, response was initially slow, both from local and international players. But when the world were awakened by the extent of damage wrought, it became a sort of competition among various countries. China, with its issues on the West Philippine Sea Court of Permanent Arbitration (PCA) case filed by the Philippines, was especially slow but when Beijing woke up, realized the media exposure it could have and send various large ships with supplies in response.

Disaster Preparedness: Planning for Action

The NDRRMC describes the Philippine Strategic National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (SNAP) below.

The Philippine Strategic National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (SNAP) defines the strategic objectives, vision, programs, projects and strategies for the next ten (10) years while pursuing the strategic goals of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). The SNAP is anchored on the P-M-P Framework for DRM adopted by the NDRRMC necessary to sustain the gains from positive effects and lessons learned from disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiatives by different stakeholders. The SNAP utilizes the multi-hazard approach in managing the impact of natural and man-made disasters especially the threat of climate change. It is the country’s commitment to the principles of disaster risk reduction based on the HFA.

The SNAP document resulted from several national consultation workshops, multi-stakeholders dialogues and focus group discussions. SNAP has also been an inclusive and participatory process involving government, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, professional associations, the private sector, the academe and scientists. The SNAP process has sparked off a mechanism that promises to be the platform for disaster risk reduction in the country. This mechanism began with the National Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue held on 25 July 2007 with the President challenging the stakeholders to partake in increasing community awareness for efficient disaster risk reduction as agreed in the HFA. This was followed by several regional dialogues and focus group discussions.

The SNAP entails multi-stakeholder participation to mainstream DRR in relevant sectors of society. It is directly linked to poverty alleviation and development. The SNAP envisions the reduction of disaster losses in lives, in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and the country.


The management of risk for organizations like the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines is not as simple as it looks, for two reasons given. First, the implications of poor risk management can have negative consequence on the infrastructure, economy and the people, but also on the long term development of a nation, which can be greatly decelerated as a result.

Second, since the nature of risk within large organizations such as the military and civil defense organization is far more complex than the simple risks an individual have to manage, “the art and science of risk management is indispensable and an essential tool for all modern institutions to adopt and practice. Risk management must cover and manage strategic, operational and technical risks starting from the formulation of its mission and vision.” (NDRRMC)

Risk management is created because of humanity’s desire to be liberated from uncertainties and not to rely on luck alone but as the Council stresses “to develop a culture of preparedness that will establish institutional policies, plans and programs, standard operating procedures, capability-upgrade programs and design future scenarios to achieve success, or if not, reduce the risk to acceptable level.”
As experts say, “The prize of managing risk can be very fulfilling and makes life even more worthwhile.”


  1. Department of Energy and Department of National Defense. Report on the Workshop/Forum on Improving Security Arrangements for Malampaya Natural gas-to-Power Project and Other Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in the Philippines. 2008.
  2. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)/ International Electro-technical Commission (IEC). ISO/IEC PDTR 13335-1.
  3. ISO/IEC Guide 73
  4. NDRRMC-OCD. National Assessment on the State of Disaster Risk Management in the Philippines Final Report. 2008
  5. Crisis Management Institute, NDCP, Course Listing on Crisis Management and Disaster Preparedness and Response
  6. NDRRMC. Strategic National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (SNAP), 2008.
  7. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) UNISDR Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction. 2009
  8. Websites/Electronic references:
  9. Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003.
  10. http://www.enisa.europa.eu/rmra/glossary.html
  11. www.wikipedia.org

Editor’s note: This is an updated and shortened version of a lecture during the 1st Philippine Army Staff Officer Course (SOC) on Disaster Risk Management on 14 Sep 2009 at the PA TRADOC, then located at Fort Bonifacio, Makati City (now BGC, Taguig City).