I recently had the pleasure of conversing with Philippine Coast Guard officers who are assigned the challenging task of implementing disaster response in coastal communities, particularly evacuation. This prompted me to share our research on non-evacuation decision-making during the 3-meter storm surge of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, which I'm also sharing here. This is a chapter from the book "Disaster Archipelago" edited by Carin Alejandria (UBD) and Will Smith (Deakin), and the manuscript approved for publication can be accessed here:
In this design anthropology x cognitive science piece we trace non-evacuation decision-making before & during typhoon impact. We resist the idea that non-evacuees are "hardheaded" and "irrational" by examining the cultural logic and embodied nature of their decision-making.
Prior to impact, the refusal to evacuate was based on past lived experience ("we are used to storms"), notions of class ("only the rich have the means to prepare for disaster), religion (only God can decide whether we live or die), as well as poor risk communication filled with jargon (before the typhoon "storm surge" was not a familiar term to many).
Our study also traced the decision-making of non-evacuees trapped in their homes during Typhoon Haiyan's 3m high storm surge. This diagram below (over)simplifies how decision-making is embodied. Residents monitored the unfolding storm surge relative to their body parts and house elements.
Image 1. Diagram of decision-making process during storm surge. Image credit: Oliver Ryan Salva.
Two findings that caught our team's attention:
1. The gendered nature of non-evacuation: the decision to stay in many families was made by men who took pride in the craftmanship of their home. Leaving meant admitting their craftsmanship failed.
2. The importance of lateral thinking, frequently associated with formally trained designers. Many survived the storm surge by quickly spotting the alternative affordances of household items: TV stands could be ladders for hoisting family members up the roof/ceiling, basins could be lifeboats for infant, refrigerators and plastic water containers could be repurposed as lifebuoys.
Image 2. Blue distilled water containers such as these, a common household item in the Philippines, were one of the items repurposed as life buoys during the 3-meter storm surge. Image credit: Oliver Ryan Salva.
The study also briefly traces the policy changes and improvements made in disaster management at the household and national level in the aftermath of the typhoon.
Epilogue: While significant strides have been made in disaster responsive, Philippine DRR remains reactive with an average of 60% of local government resources allocated for relief (Brucal, 2020). We're improving but still a long way to go in terms of shifting towards a proactive and long-term rather than a reactive and short-term orientation.