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From Where We Sit

When our plans were tested, did our execution pass?

Anton Ng

Two days ago, we experienced a magnitude 6.1 earthquake in Luzon. Another one hit Visayas yesterday. From what has already been reported, there are a number of casualties mostly in Central Luzon and Eastern Samar.

In Metro Manila, where the population is denser and the buildings are taller, evacuation plans were put to test.

While the earth shook and the buildings swayed, I, for the first time in my life, ducked under my desk. While taking cover, the Game of Thrones fan in me could have channeled Arya Stark by saying “Not today” in her response to Syrio Forel’s question: What do we say to the God of Death? Instead, my faith led me to utter, “Lord, is this going to be it?” It was neither sarcastic nor said in jest. It was an acknowledgment that I am not in control and that God is sovereign. I then called my wife and my kids to check on them and subconsciously, I presume, to hear their voices, for it may be the last time.

From the stories I have heard from friends all over, people had different reactions. Some prayed, others cried. Others were on their mobile phone, trying to get in touch with their loved ones; others simply froze. These are all understandable reactions in such tense situations. It led me to think that, since not everyone followed the protocol to “duck, cover and hold,” what does that say about how we execute our plans in an emergency?

This line of thought progressed to reexamining the relationship between plans and execution. Sometimes, there is a great divide between plans and execution; but I think these two concepts are always connected. A great plan, as they say, does not mean much without equally great execution. Others would even dare say that a mediocre plan could still produce wonderful results, when coupled with great execution.

When you were at work or in school last Monday, did you notice if the people around you embarrassingly slid under their desk to take cover? My uninformed guess is that, most likely, they did not. As soon as the shaking stopped, did people immediately proceed to the fire exits (if they even know where it is), or did you hear a lot of “Shall we go down? Shall we stay? Can we use the elevator? Where are the stairs?”

People who report to work, particularly in the central business districts, are accustomed to having at least an annual earthquake drill. However, those drills that may or may not have been taken seriously were put to the test on that Monday afternoon. Did people remember the evacuation procedures? Who is in charge? If we had doubts on what to do during the tremors, a question arises: Did we remember anything from our drills? Did we plan enough? Did our execution fail our plans?

Execution, as they say, is the key to unlocking the success of any great plan. We often hear that, in pursuing a great idea or plan, we are encouraged to fail fast. Failure is something we need to accept as part of the execution of the plan. In the execution of an evacuation plan, however, I do not think that failure is an option. We cannot rest on the fact that there were no significant aftershocks afterwards or that our buildings withstood the earthquake. The execution of an evacuation plan is something we have to get right every single time.

Now knowing how our organizations reacted to a real earthquake evacuation, it is the best time to conduct a debriefing on what transpired and if there are matters we need to reinforce to people within our organization. Matters such as: What do we actually do while the earth shakes? When do we evacuate? What should we bring with us?

Which stairway do we use? Where do we go upon exiting the building? Is our evacuation area safe? I know it is easy for those who handle these evacuation scenarios to say that all of these concerns have already been communicated to employees.

However, the fact that not everyone was aware of or remembered how to react means there are issues that need to be addressed. Do we need to improve anything when we conduct our next earthquake drill? Do we need to make evacuation procedures more visible within office or building premises? How else can we make the evacuation faster or more efficient?

May all these reassessments and tinkering of plans be done as soon as possible, not only because we might get hit with another earthquake, but also to take advantage of the freshness of the experience. Our evacuation plans were tested last Monday, but did the execution of our plans pass? If not, how can we make it pass the next time around?

Anton Ng is a Partner of the Audit & Assurance P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our Website:


As published in The Manila Times, dated 24 April 2019