A Portrait of Contrasts in Disaster Risk Response: A Post-Haiyan Study of Coron, Philippines

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Supertyphoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013; causing massive damage and loss of lives. The media blamed the government for faulty warnings; including using the term storm surge"; which people reportedly did not understand. As a result; the national agency tasked with disaster risk management recommended translating the term for better response in future storms. Such an approach shortchanges the complexity of risk construction; and dismisses the possibility that different communities also have different understandings of risk. In this study; the researcher examined the special case of Coron; Palawan: a major tourist destination that is hardly hit by storms; but which became the site of Haiyan''''''''s last landfall. Guided by Encoding-Decoding Theory; the researcher interviewed local government officials; and carried out focus group discussions with representatives of two communities (whose names have been hidden under pseudonyms for this study): Central; close to the municipal center; and Island; a coastal village far away from potential aid and rescue. The researcher found a portrait of contrasts that split Coron: a mayor who surrendered all control and a risk management officer who planned for long- term hazard response; Island waiting for government instructions despite knowing about storm behavior and Central taking the initiative to create long term solutions. Island also knew what storm surges were; and did not need translation of the term. These findings show that risk constructions can differ even at the municipal level; which should prompt further research into the role of local knowledge in understanding risk and hazard warnings.