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"""It's worth reiterating that for all the obvious destructive power of sustained wind speeds of almost 200mph, it was the associated storm surge – the rush of water into coastal areas – which caused the worst damage in Tacloban, and most likely many of the deaths. The storm surge in Tacloban was estimated at 6m, sweeping away even concrete buildings, and bringing the sort of devastation so reminiscent of the Indian Ocean tsunami."""

The primary constraint seems to be infrastructure to evacuate and shelter people. Reliable forecast of storm surge location and magnitude would save lives by allocating those resources to the correct places. Doing this well involves improved simulation methods, but also designing observational strategies, such as where to make more accurate measurements of bathymetry (one of the leading sources of uncertainty in storm surge and tsunami prediction). Disclaimer: I work in a related field and have colleagues that develop methods for storm surge forecast.

I've heard stories about some families who live in concrete houses decided not to evacuate, confident in being safe from the wind, only to drown in their own homes. :(

What would you suggest is a good system/set-up that would have made a difference here?

It's hard to say. You need large hurricane-proofed buildings in the higher barangays. As a person intimately familiar with the Tacloban/Leyte area, that's hard to accomplish since the area is so low-lying where it hit hardest.

The three biggest needs to prevent a large death-toll from something like this:

1. Education regarding effects of disasters (e.g. what a storm surge is, what areas are likely to be affected by landslides, etc.)

2. Basic first aid medication (having seen my fair share of misadventure in the Philippines, I can confidently say that a subsidized boy scout-style training program would work wonders there)

3. Instructions for putting together 72-hour crash bags, which should be kept in convenient locations (this is a good idea generally -- no matter where one lives a calamity could occur, and having copies of important documents/candles/matches/clean water can make a huge difference).

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