Typhoon Preparedness – A Quick Comparison Between Guam and the Philippines

Condition of Readiness ONE

We woke up this morning on Guam to the Calm Before the Storm (Typhoon Mangkhut) and found ourselves under “Condition of Readiness One,” which means destructive winds within 12 hours are to be expected. The only difference I notice this morning compared to yesterday morning is the direction of movement of low level clouds. Yesterday, they were moving with the Easterly trade winds and this morning they have done a 180 and are moving towards the storm center which is some 264 nautical miles to our northeast. This storm is expected to pass just north of Guam, which is a good thing for us (not such a good thing for Saipan and the rest of the Northern Marianas Islands). We will be on the weak side of the storm, or the left-front quadrant (in relation to movement). The right-front quadrant is not where anyone should want to be, except for thrill-seekers and videographers.

     Typhoon Mangkhut approaching Guam

Even though Guam is built to withstand the best any typhoon can muster, the residents here take these typhoons seriously and usually prepare well in advance. The Home Depot and other home centers around the island have been busy for days and today, well it is just a stand-down day waiting on the storm. While most folks appear to be ready, The Home Depot and Kmart are still open. It looks like the only thing to do now is go shopping or surfing, and my surfing days (or attempts at it) are long over. My plan is to wait out the storm in the comfort of our condo.

Differences.

There are a couple major differences that I would like to point out between Guam and the Philippines when it comes to typhoons. Here on Guam, most all structures are concrete and considered “typhoon-proof.”  There are very few homes left here that are constructed of wood framing and tin-roofed. People here ready themselves quite well, shuttering up their homes, cleaning up loose debris, and stocking up on rations. In the Philippines, people tend to take minimal measures. Outside the major cities, a majority of folks live in wood and bamboo structures. Hence the “Bahala na” attitude about storm preparations. Most families know that they could lose their roof or entire house during a major storm event, and have the attitude that if it happens, we will re-build. This “take it as it comes” attitude is likely responsible for many lives lost during major storm events.

Typhoon Mangkhut on our doorstep!

In Guam, the electical and communications infrastructure are robustly built – heavy concrete poles and towers as compared to the Philippines where wooden poles are still quite prevalent. Guam Power Authority takes a proactive approach to keep trees and limbs off and away from power lines, without shutting down the grid, while in the Philippines, not so much. There are days in the Philippines when we will have all-day brown outs as our power distributor (SAMELCO) will shut down the entire grid for what they call a “line-clearing” event.

Below is a message that was disseminated this morning by the Guam Power Authority:

STORM READINESS
Typhoon Mangkhut – Powering Through the Storm

GPA will run the island-wide power system (keep the power on) throughout the storm as long as possible. Field crews and essential personnel continue to prepare the power system for inclement conditions.

As the storm approaches and winds pick up we will eventually have to secure our field crews and generation personnel to ensure their safety.

We will have limited means to address outages at the height of the storm. Updates will be provided on GPA’s Facebook page.

TIP: Protect or unplug sensitive electronic equipment to prevent damage due to lightning strikes or power surges.

In the Philippines (Samar anyway), it is typical for SAMELCO to secure power to all areas before the storm actually impacts the area. It took me a long time to understand why this happens, and I surmise it is done with public safety in mind. Downed power lines are much more dangerous to the roaming public in the Philippines, especially children. Electrocutions and fires are more commonly experienced when power lines come down on top of metal roofed housing areas.  The overall electrical infrastructure (un-grounded system) in many areas of the Philippines is considered sub-standard and fragile (by western standards) and is more susceptible to catastrophic events than are western distribution systems.  Damages to the distribution system components (i.e., transformers, sub-stations), are almost eliminated by securing the power. Overall, Philippine power companies are much more risk averse.

Then there is the topic of flooding. It is common knowledge that major flooding problems exist in the Philippines because of poor drainage systems and drains that have been compromised because of an abundance of trash and litter. In Manila, street flooding is very common because rubbish on the streets tend to clog surface grates and drains causing water levels to rise, not drain. And it happens over and over and over again. And while Guam is not without their local flooding issues, it is more a result of smaller low-lying areas with poor natural drainage. Major storm drains on Guam rarely become clogged due to human neglect.

 

We have been through many of these (I’ve lost count) and just as there are distinct differences in everything from attititudes to storm preparedness between these two tropical island locations, the different outcomes are blatantly obvious – like night and day. The fact that these two locations are basically in the same neck of the woods as far as geography is concerned… just a mere 1,500 miles between them, they still remain a “world away” as they say!

Well, it’s just after 9am and skies are beginning to darken here and it’s time to take a walk around our complex to check things out. I’m hoping to get some video here shortely, so please stay tuned in to “Living in the Pacific!”

4 thoughts on “Typhoon Preparedness – A Quick Comparison Between Guam and the Philippines

  1. Interesting read mate.
    You a windsurfer by chance?
    Im living in boracay (an ozzie) retired. Windsurfing in november thru march.
    Recently visited ABCD beach in Samar (this early September) and am taking some gear back down there in december. Just for another look/see.

    Hope uou did ok thru the latest typhoon.
    Its headed for luzon tip on friday timeframe.

    Cheers.
    Hope to hear back.
    Rossco

  2. Hey Ross! No, not a windsurfer but I do have some friends here who do it. Too much coral for me, he he. I never heard of that ABCD beach in Samar, where is it located? I’m thinking the SE Samar coast? No problems here with that typhoon, just some downed trees and powerlines… and our power was restored after only 18 hours. In Samar it could take weeks (27 days with Yolanda!) But then Guam is much more prepared for storms than most of the PI. There is really no comparison. Hoping that Typhoon Mangkhut spares N. Luzon, they could use a break. Thanks for the comment mate!

  3. Great to hear back.
    I was hoping i could get some info on those mates of yours??.
    Sitting thru the typhoon here, not too bad (in boracay as i write)
    Abcd beach wasnearby guiuan. Yes south south east.
    I see the trade winds have started there already in Guam on the sourh east side.
    Would love to come for a visit, next few weeks or so.
    I will look for your email now…

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