SM City Marikina: A Benchmark of Resilience

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SM PRIME Holdings, Inc. (SMPH), known as one of the largest integrated property developers in Southeast Asia, opened the doors of SM City Marikina in 2008. A year after it started operations, its resilience was put to a test.

Typhoon Ondoy Experience

In September 2009, Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) affected 4.8 million people in the country — leaving 464 dead and P11 billion worth of damage in infrastructure. It particularly battered Luzon, leaving cities in Metro Manila submerged in flood. One of those cities severely affected was Marikina City, which witnessed widespread flood like no one has seen before.

Amid barangays sunk in rooftop-deep flood, SM City Marikina remained standing despite being situated within the flood-prone Marikina River Watershed. Marikina River’s water rose to 23 meters during the peak of the storm in comparison to its normal depth of 13 meters.

Science-based Resilient Design

The mall was able to withstand this extraordinary act of nature because it was built on the foundation of resilience. Backed with scientific study, the six-hectare property was designed to sit atop cylindrical stilts without wall enclosures. This design concept enabled the rush of flood water to just pass through the stilts during the typhoon, and prevented damage to the property.

This design is consistent with SMPH Chairman of the Executive Committee Hans T. Sy’s firm belief that building disaster-resilient properties is an investment, especially that the Philippines experience an average of 20 typhoons a year.

“SM considered even the hundred-year flood cycle of Marikina watershed in designing these facilities alongside specialists and local authorities. SM built the mall an additional 20 meters farther than the required 90 meters from the Marikina River to minimize the potential damage of the property. The roads surrounding the mall lay on natural ground level, thus, SM constructed the lower parking level without walls or enclosures, allowing the water to pass through. The upper parking level and the main mall area rests on an elevation of 20.5 meters and operates safely even on times of extreme flood,” Mr. Sy, who is also a member of the UN Office for Risk Reduction’s (UNISDR) Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE), said.

Advancing Disaster Resilience

Having a disaster-resilient mall matched with trained employees on disaster preparedness enabled SM City Marikina to immediately respond to the needs of the community. Without stopping its operations, the mall kept its doors open for those seeking help during the three-day peak of Typhoon Ondoy. More than 3,000 individuals took shelter within the mall’s complex; 1,400 of which camped inside the mall building, while the others had their cars safely parked within the vicinity.

Within those days, SM City Marikina distributed food, water, and blankets to those who camped within the mall complex. Moreover, the mall’s staff called on volunteers to address the medical needs of distressed evacuees. SM City Marikina also became one of the driving force behind the city’s bayanihan spirit as local government units and other volunteers partnered with them in order to distribute relief goods in badly hit communities.

Marikina City Vice Mayor Jose Fabian Cadiz told BusinessWorld, “SM played an important role in saving Marikina. It became a refuge for Marikeños because it remained open during the height of Typhoon Ketsana. Several thousands sought refuge here, and they were even given food and water. The supermarket remained open, and the prices of basic commodities remained the same. It paid that the building was disaster-resilient.”

SM Prime allocates 10% of capital expenditure for disaster risk reduction in construction of buildings. By investing in resilience, we minimize vulnerability, better safeguard physical assets, reduce recovery expense, and contribute to local government efforts. Ultimately, we are able to better protect lives, and have safer, healthier, and happier communities. — Hans T. Sy

Replicating the new model for resilient structures

Having withstood the catastrophic level of Typhoon Ondoy, SM City Marikina then became a benchmark of resiliency in their city. Establishments being built post-Ondoy have been modelled after the stilt design of the mall.

“SM City Marikina helped us a lot in designing our buildings after Ondoy,” Vice Mayor Cadiz shared. Within the Marikina City Hall complex, the trade center, and the newly built legislative building were built on stilts. Just outside the complex, Sta. Elena High School also adopted the same design concept.

“We passed an ordinance in 2015 stating that in low-lying areas, houses must be built on stilts. SM City Marikina building was, is, and will be our inspiration,” Vice Mayor Cadiz continued.

As a way to continue its advocacy and vision for building sustainable communities, SM City Marikina is working hand in hand with the local government to regularly conduct seminars regarding disaster resiliency.

The Global Perspective

As the world continues to face the pressing effects of climate change, SMPH takes a proactive role in making sure to relentlessly adapt innovative ways to make their properties resilient and sustainable. This, in return, helps in safeguarding the communities where SMPH operates in, and even inspires other global thought leaders to invest in resilience.

During his speech in Cancun Mexico, Mr. Sy said, “SM Prime allocates 10% of capital expenditure for disaster risk reduction in construction of buildings. By investing in resilience, we minimize vulnerability, better safeguard physical assets, reduce recovery expense and contribute to local government efforts. Ultimately, we are able to better protect lives, and have safer, healthier, and happier communities.”

Resiliency and sustainability as the core philosophy of SMPH was not only recognized locally but also globally. During the UNISDR Global Platform in 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland, Hans T. Sy presented the SM City Marikina’s case study as a model for resilience. From hereon, the UNISDR invited Hans T. Sy to be the only Filipino Board Member of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Office for Risk Reduction’s Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (UNISDR ARISE) as a way to bring the Filipino voice in the international stage.

In 2017, Hans T. Sy was invited to present the SM City Marikina case study to the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Cancun. With SMPH, Mr. Sy supported the founding of the Philippines’ National Resilience Council (NRC), a science and technology-based public-private partnership for climate and disaster resilience engaging the government, private sector, academia and civil society, where Mr. Sy also serves as the Private Sector Co-Chair.