Disasters, both natural and man-made, are inevitable in businesses in the Philippines and unfortunately, only a handful had deliberately crafted a program on how to respond to provide the much-needed protection to their people, communities, and properties. And while these crises are uncertain, one thing remains true: in moments of great risk, having a reliable emergency response team is crucial for businesses to flourish and communities to prosper.
Mekeni Food Corporation is no stranger to various kinds of emergencies. The food manufacturing company witnessed the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 and how it almost wiped Pampanga off the map. In fact, it became the response action center and communication hub to keep its community informed on the state of the eruption.
During the darkest days of that tragic time, the Garcia family provided the necessary help for the rescue, evacuation, and relief operations.
This experience led to the ideation and, eventually, the creation of the company’s dedicated emergency preparedness and response team (EPRT) that is equipped to respond during crisis situations. The team is composed of Mekeni personnel coming from various departments and from different levels—Managers, Supervisors, and Rank and File like production crews and operators—who voluntarily signed up to undergo relevant trainings to prepare them for the needed emergency response which might come any time.
Looking back at that moment, Marilou Uy, Mekeni’s AVP for HR and Exports, proudly shared the team structure and how they functioned daily.
“Our EPRT is composed of sub-groups including first aiders, food safety, evacuation, communication, fire brigade, and environmental health and safety. All these teams are supervised by our company president, Pruds Garcia,” said Uy.
Mekeni employees signed up for each sub-group regardless if they have prior knowledge about the task and responsibilities of being an EPRT member or none. Rene Gaspan, a safety officer, joined the group because he wanted to learn new things.
“Marami kang skills na matutunan na maaaring magamit hindi lang sa company,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ryan Tayag, a fire brigade team member, regards each day as an opportunity to learn.
“Hindi mo alam ‘yung maaaring dumating kaya naman kailangang lagi kaming aware sa aming paligid. Bago itong pandemiya, kasama sa aming mga gawain ang i-check ang building at ang mga equipment upang masiguro ang kaligtasan ng bawat isa. Nitong nagkaroon ng COVID-19, mas doble ang naging pag-iingat namin para masiguro na sumusunod ang lahat sa protocols,” he narrated.
Each member of Mekeni’s EPRT receives the necessary training and equipment to save lives and help their community.
“Our EPRT members are part of an extensive training program to get certification and have the maturity for the task assigned to them. For example, our first aid team must pass the Philippine Red Cross training for them to acquire a [first aider] license,” said Uy.
Such has a validity period of two years to prompt them to go through a re-certification program for skills and knowledge updating.
Mekeni even bought their own fire truck, which benefits the company and the communities surrounding the Mekeni HQ in Porac, Pampanga. On top of that, the EPRT volunteers are given a fair chance to be recognized annually at the company’s employee awarding program for their great service not just to Mekeni but also to their communities. They also receive separate recognition from the LGUs whenever the EPRT extends assistance, which motivates the team further to improve their skills and strengthen their communication networks.
“These serve as encouragement and reward for our hardworking volunteers who are risking their lives every day to make sure that everyone is safe. Because of these incentives and the new learnings they receive, we ensure that we maintain and sustain the gold standard that we have started in emergency preparedness and response,” said Uy.
As a testament to their skills and expertise in emergency preparedness and response, Mekeni’s Fire Brigade team won first runner up in their first attempt to participate in the National Fire Olympics in 2015, an event organized by the Bureau of Fire Protection. This showed how competent and skilled Mekeni fire brigaders are, besting more than 15 regional industry representatives all over the Philippines. The Mekeni team represented the whole of Central Luzon after bagging the Regional Champion award in the industrial category in 2014.
In another regional competition, Mekeni First Aiders got a Runner-Up award in their first attempt to participate in the Central Luzon First Aid Olympics.
Though Mekeni has made headway in building disaster preparedness deep into the very being of the company, Uy notes that one company’s efforts are not sufficient in shoring up disaster resiliency.
“One of the most challenging parts of it is having strong network support. For business sectors to be prepared to respond to emergencies, we have to have strong structure support, especially in corporations. We still have a long way to go when it comes to emergency preparedness, but we are hopeful that all together, we can come up with a more solid plan for disaster mitigation in the country,” Uy said.
Mekeni’s EPRT are actively participating in the efforts being initiated jointly by the Pampanga Chamber (PamCham) and Pampanga Provincial government to address this concern.
Meanwhile, Mekeni’s EPRT continues to thrive and find meaning in making a difference.
“Dahil sa EPRT, naisip ko na ang pagtulong ay hindi lamang dapat limited sa loob ng isang company, kundi pati na rin sa community kung saan tayo nabibilang,” Gaspan furthered.
As for Mekeni, Uy emphasized that bayanihan will always be at the core of its services.
“In times of need, we must always be ready to respond and uplift one another. We are facing risks and threats daily and we hope that with the help of our EPRT, we would be able to make a difference in the lives of our employees, communities, and the nation in general and we are so grateful and fortunate that the company’s top management led by president Pruds Garcia makes this as a priority program of the company,” Uy concluded.