Friday, September 25, 2015

US-based disaster education advocacy outfit mulls network expansion in PHL
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 24 (PNA) –- Impressed by the performance of its extension program in Bicol, the disaster education network of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is exploring the possibility of expanding its coverage all across the Philippines.

The first-ever and so far the only official member of the USDA Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) in the country was launched here in 2010 and made operational by the Bicol University (BU) under its Extension Service Center.

EDEN, which links various disciplines in extending research-based information and learning opportunities -- from food safety to field safety, from physical to psychological safety, from government to community development through disaster messaging and information, was introduced to BU by Dr. Caroline Crocoll, a professor from the USDA.

It happened during Crocoll’s visit in April 2010 when she came as BU’s resource speaker on Disaster Education and Messaging.

EDEN-Bicol was then conceptualized and was formally launched in July 29, 2010 to pull together almost all government and non-government agencies, hoping to reduce the impact of disaster in the communities since the region located in the southernmost part of Luzon is often visited by typhoons and heavy monsoons, among other form of natural calamities.

Since then, Bicol-EDEN has been US EDEN’s network in working collaboratively with the region towards having an institutional approach, giving rise to a national network that is now mutually beneficial to both US and Philippines through sharing of education resources and researches aimed at reducing the impact of natural and man-made disasters.

Owing to its commendable performance in accomplishing the task as member, EDEN voted in October 2012 to extend a three-year full membership to BU.

In choosing BU as a member outside US and voting for its membership extension, the Network recognized the university as “a public institution in Legazpi City which includes disaster education in its extension program”.

BU, with main campuses in this city recognized as Bicol’s center of education, is the premier higher education institution in the region.

It is the oldest state-owned higher education institution in the region which has been on the lead in producing globally competitive graduates imbued with the highly held values of scholarship, leadership, character and service toward generating and disseminating new knowledge and technologies beneficial to all stakeholders and to improve the well-being of the community.

Historically, EDEN membership has been available only to those institutions in the US and its territories that provide outreach through extension, offering non-formal education at the local level to reduce through education the impact of disasters.

According to BU president Arnulfo Macariñas, the university’s extension is similar to the EDEN extension service in the US.

The US EDEN, he added, is a collaboration of the various extension services to improve the nation’s ability to mitigate, prepare, prevent, respond, and recover from disasters by providing disaster education resources delivered through the Land Grant University System and is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

In an earlier statement, its chair, Rick Atterberry, said that “with this international membership, EDEN remains faithful to its roots while expanding its reach and expertise. Offering a three-year membership to Bicol University Extension gives us an opportunity to check the realities of international membership.”

Atterberry, who is a marketing and communications specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also noted that the advantages of extending membership to qualifying international institutions run in both directions.

“Traditional and international members gain access to additional research, new perspectives on understanding disaster, and contact with university-based and field-based experts from other countries, expanded reach, and potential new funding opportunities,” he added.

And as the three-year membership extension given to BU nears its end this October, EDEN representatives from US, along with Department of Agriculture (DA) officials in Manila, came to BU over the week as part of an evaluation towards the possibility of expanding EDEN-Bicol to EDEN-Philippines.

As a start, the team had a meeting with the BU officials and city mayor Noel Rosal about the project and to provide technical assistance in developing its framework and shared their best practices and experiences to be able to craft strategies on how to better improve the network and make it more efficient in serving the needs of the communities, according to Macariñas.

Beverly Samuel, the national program leader of the USDA who was in the team, explained that the mission of EDEN is to share educational resources to reduce the impact of natural and man-made disasters carried out through interdisciplinary and multi-state research and education programs addressing disaster mitigation, preparation, response and recovery.

It also provides linkages with state and local agencies and organizations, anticipates future disaster education needs and facilitate timely and prompt communications for the delivery of credible and reliable information that meets audience needs, Samuel said.

She revealed that the ongoing collaborative work of EDEN’s Disaster Issues Community of Practice provides the best of extension's research-based, interdisciplinary, educational resources to help people prepare for or recover from natural or man-made disasters affecting their communities, families, farms or businesses.

Its focus area, on the other hand, is agro-security wherein the community of interest includes producers of agricultural commodities, the animal health care industry, food and commodity processors, suppliers and distributors, consumers and the agencies that have responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of the country's food industry from farm to table, according to Samuel.

Another focus area is floods, wherein individuals, communities, elected leaders, agencies concerned and those that provide assistance to affected communities can access valuable information on all phases of flooding -- from preparedness, mitigation, response or recovery, she added.(PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD