Thursday, December 30, 2004

Process for earthquake preparedness needed

Business Times p.B1
Thursday, December 30, 2004

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Process for earthquake preparedness needed

WHEN the earthquake struck Bangkok, we were on the 60th floor of the 84-story Baiyoke Sky Hotel, the tallest building in Thailand. We were getting ready to go out to visit the Ancient City in the suburbs. Then the whole room started to move.

We couldn’t stand still in one place; we swayed one way, then another.

According to the calculations of my son, Ronjie, a structural engineer, the building must have swung three feet in opposite directions. While looking outside the window, I wasn’t able to focus on any object or building. I also noticed creaking sounds as if some fixtures were being torn away from the wall.

My sons, Ronjie and Adrian, hurried to dress up. We decided on staying put, going up or going down. Remembering what happened in the Baguio earthquake, I decided that we should go up. Most of the Japanese guests in Baguio were saved because they were on the top floor when the whole hotel collapsed.

When I opened the door, I saw other guests descending and the hotel staff giving instructions for everybody to go down the fire exit. We followed and ran down 60 flights of stairs. We had to run at a steady pace lest we lose momentum and cause everybody to stumble. Some people were shoving. On the way down, we could hear loud breathing and some crashing sounds.

On the 20th floor, I asked my son to help me by propping my right arm while I held on to the rail with my left hand because my legs were giving up. As soon as we were downstairs, Ronjie led us to a safe place where the building couldn’t fall on us. In the meantime, many guests and hotel staff stood right just outside the hotel oblivious of the danger.

It was scary and exhausting.

Seated on the sidewalk was a family whose members were clad in hotel towels and sleepwear. When the father of the family arrived, he asked his wife and his other children why the others ran away and left him with his daughter. He then turned to us and said, “At the first sign of danger, my wife ran for her life. So did my son. My daughter and I were left to take care of ourselves. We are not a family.”

After an hour, the hotel management asked people to go up their rooms, declaring the building safe. They explained that the building was constructed to be earthquake-proof.

But we were wary.

According to Ronjie, the building needed to be inspected first by the proper authorities and that inspection will take at least four hours. As such, even the hotel employees themselves refused to budge from their safe location.

Finally, Adrian decided to go up to take a bath. He later sent us a text message that everything seemed “business as usual.” Then, we all went up and took our breakfast at the 78th floor. If anything happened again, I reckoned, we will be safer on higher ground or we could easily be dug out.

Grim thoughts on a bright morning in a peaceful city.

Watching what happened in Phuket, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and others on TV later, we felt blessed that we were only shaken and still alive.

Most of the tenants checked out immediately and transferred to “safer” hotels. Ronjie said that low-rise building are more prone to collapsing because there is not much engineering that went into building them. Remember also that Thailand experienced their last earthquake some 50 years ago and is not expecting any anytime now.

This brings me back to our Journey on Entrepreneurship on the subject of Balanced Scorecard. Baiyoke obviously didn’t have a process for managing disasters. The employees didn’t know what to do. They were the first to run out at the first sign of earthquake and the last to go back.

There was no organized process for environment, safety, health and risk management. It was to each his own. More on the Process Perspective of the Balanced Scorecard in the next columns.

But I am definitely going back to Thailand. Mag-iipon muna ako ng pang-shopping.

(Moje’s e-mail addy is

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