/ / The Other Side


This volume we catch-up with AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme alumni Mary Ann Sarah Cruz Ulat (Sarah) from the Philippines National Disaster Management Organisation. Sarah took us through her work in the disaster management sector, her engagement in the ACE Programme and other ASEAN regional initiatives, and her experiences responding to disaster over recent years.

Sarah is currently the Head of the Operational Coordination (OpsCoord) Section of the Response and Operational Coordination Division, Operations Service, Office of Civil Defense Central Office (OCD CO). The Office of Civil Defense is the executive arm of the Philippine’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). Her team sits on the strategic and policy-making level, with the OpsCoord Section primary responsible for the formulation of policies, plans, programmes and standards related to operations activities and response initiatives. She has been part of the OCD for almost six years, and holds an array of interesting and challenging experiences as a result.

As her role is a relatively new one, Sarah highlights a number of challenges and changes that she is currently facing and adjusting to within the work. “Time challenges are many, as are the challenges of mobility and accessibility in a nation like the Philippines”, Sarah explains. “I also recognise the need for people to integrate different levels within disaster response”, she says, but follows by acknowledging these challenges are a common experience in disaster management regardless of one’s position.

Sarah highlights the ACE Programme as one of the defining milestones in her career to this date, and stated that it forms a key element of her ongoing learning journey in the disaster management field. “It developed both personal and professional aspects of my work”, Sarah remembers, “it allowed me to better myself, gain friends, and experience new things while also gaining technical knowledge on various tools and mechanisms, and being exposed to the international sector”. Sarah considers the ACE Programme as an opportunity to develop relationships that can be used in building resilience. “Learning is a journey and so is resilience” she states. “This couldn’t be more emphasised than throughout the ACE Programme, as it helped us develop our competency in leading emergency and disaster situations through shared theories and practices. Bearing in mind that the core of what we do is for the people, from saving lives and reducing human suffering during disaster, to the improvement of the community’s quality of life by building resilience within yourself and the community you are working with.”

Sarah’s experiences responding to disasters also continue to define her career journey, although she hasn’t been engaged in a response since completing the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) course in 2019. “As part of organising the Philippine humanitarian mission to Indonesia to extend assistance to the affected population of the Palu, Central Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami in 2018, I realised the importance of policies and plans being formulated and implemented in preparation for events like this”, Sarah says. “This then creates an enabling environment for a more unimpeded and timely response, even in a trans-boundary operation.”

Sarah also draws on her academic background in environmental planning and human ecology when looking at the disaster management scenarios, and highlights the importance of strong local governance and community engagement as the major contributing factors to achieve resiliency.

“Participatory and inclusive approaches are key in preparing and implementing people-centred and community-driven development and DRRM plans. Communities tend to be collectively unique, requiring a unique approach in collaborating with them also. We must try to build connection, relationship, and trust with the communities; dipping your fingers into the water will enable you to better understand and relate.”

Finally, Sarah talks of the importance and context of ASEAN for disaster management, and recognises that ASEAN nations can capitalise on relationships, promote togetherness, and learn from each other regarding disaster.

“I envision that disaster risk reduction and management (DRR) is embedded in everybody’s way of life, and there is a sense of common responsibility. Starting with a strong foundation of community-based disaster risk reduction and management. A collective effort towards a more holistic, inclusive and sustainable DRR in ASEAN can result in a region that is more proactive when it comes to disaster management.”


Written by : Moch Syifa, William Shea | Photo Credit : AHA Centre