A team from the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC), a research and training center at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, recently visited the Visayas region of the southern Philippines that was devastated in November 2013 by Super Typhoon Haiyan. One of the most destructive storms in modern times, Haiyan left thousands dead or missing and had an incalculable impact to loss of property and livelihood. NDPTC researchers along with other researchers and scientists examined the ongoing recovery efforts and assessed how storm victims are coping with only the most basic necessities of daily living available close to a year after the catastrophic event. The trip was organized by the Consuelo Foundation, a Hawaiʻi based non-profit organization, and is the subject of an Emme’s Island Moments Thanksgiving special “Haiyan After the Storm.”

From Tropical Storm Iselle that hit the island of Hawaiʻi in 2014, to Super Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines in 2013, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers and scientists continue to be at the forefront of natural disaster training and assistance.

UH is home to the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC), funded by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The center leads a consortium that develops and delivers training and educational programs to help safeguard the nation, and the world, against natural and man-made threats.

“We’ve trained more than 12,000 first responders and emergency managers and others involved in disaster response and recovery in more than 200 cities across the U.S,” said Karl Kim, a UH Mānoa urban and regional planning professor and the NDPTC executive director.

The programs and courses are developed, in large part, by studying how communities prepare, respond and recover from disasters.

National Disaster Preparedness Training Center Executive Director Karl Kim (second from right)

“Disasters are teachable moments,” said Kim. “They magnify what works and what doesn’t work in a society or a community.”

A UH team was on the ground shortly after Iselle struck to assess, among other things, one of the programs the center developed—FEMA’s first course on social media for disasters.

“It’s a way to push information out to other people who have smart phones and other social media devices but it is also a way to collect information from households and communities,” explained Kim.

It provided critical information to government agencies before they were able to get personnel on site. Members from UH and the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center were brought to the Philippines in the summer of 2014 by the Consuelo Foundation, a Hawaiʻi based non-profit organization. The group was there to assess and assist in the recovery of Typhoon Haiyan that killed thousands and left more than a million people homeless.

“It’s really an effort to bring together scientists who are experts in disaster recovery and mitigation to the Philippines to match them with their Filipino counterparts,” said the foundation’s president and CEO Jon Matsuoka.

UH officials along with researchers and scientists from other universities toured some of the hardest hit areas, collecting important information while learning valuable lessons.

“One of the things is the power of community and that it is really important to build community capacity to work together,” said Kim.

The trip also led to technical exchanges with Filipino officials on subjects like creating updated wave inundation maps and the impact that information would have on future urban planning.

“We provided them a lot of FEMA documents and also a lot of documents that we produced at the University of Hawaiʻi,” said Dennis Hwang, an NDPTC instructor and coastal hazard mitigation specialist at the UH Sea Grant College.

A team from UH and the NDPTC also traveled to Indonesia in 2014 to deliver a series of workshops to emergency managers, first responders and others working on disaster risk reduction. The ultimate goal of every effort by the center is to build stronger communities.

“We can reduce the number of people that are killed, or injured, or lose their homes, or have their lives disrupted,” said Kim. “And I think that is a very, very important role that we as a university can play.”