PHILIPPINES: Technology increasingly used in disaster preparedness

Credit: IRIN

 The Philippines is a country beset with frequent disasters and  part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, so new ways to improve disaster preparedness and the resilience of the communities is a constant challenge for the Government and its humanitarian partners.

Addressing this issue of disaster preparedness, Filipino mobile operators came together with humanitarian partners to improve their ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters on 19 and 20 June in Legazpi City.  As the mobile industry is increasingly relied on to provide reliable communications in times of crisis, governments and humanitarian agencies, along with operators, are developing internal strategies and external partnerships to prepare for the realities posed by disasters.

The GSMA Disaster Response Programme brought together mobile operators with the international humanitarian community in the Philippines, hosting the first of a series of global seminars to address these issues. The seminars aim to share experiences with key actors in disaster preparedness and response.

“Technology’s role in disaster management is growing, and as the ‘info-ecosystem’ becomes more complex, a better understanding of how the global community can work together is essential,” said David Carden, Head of OCHA Philippines.

Scenarios of an urban earthquake and its potential effects on a city like Manila were discussed between mobile operators SMART, Global and Sun, the Government’s Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), OCHA, the Earthquake Mega-Cities Initiative (EMI) and the Corporate Network for Disaster Response (CNDR).

Experience was drawn from presentations by Ericsson Response and Digicel on the tragedies that unfolded during the 2010 Haiti earthquake including how emerging technologies were used to map the disaster. Japan's largest mobile service provider NTT DOCOMO, serving more than 60 million people, exchanged lessons on business continuity and how it maintained its infrastructure in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Technology for preparedness

“Along with other countries in the region, the Philippines is increasingly relying on technology in its preparedness and response as a key programmatic tool in reducing the impact of disasters while saving as many lives as possible”, Carden continued.

The National Telecommunications Company reported a total 94.2 million cellular mobile phone subscribers in the Philippines from an estimated population of 105 million in 2011.  It is, therefore, a critical step for the Government and major mobile telecommunications companies to develop text messaging as an integral aspect of its nation-wide early warning system. 

Mobile operators have established and continued to develop emergency preparedness and disaster response programs.  These include a range of wireless connectivity solutions, such as internet access to disaster affected communities and responding agencies, free text messaging, access to phone credit and satellite communications.

At the onset of Typhoon Bopha (locally known as Typhoon Pablo), OCHAactivated the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN).  DHN leveraged the support of volunteer digital networks from around the world to assist in collecting and analyzing data from social media, which augmented data gathered through traditional channels. DHN collected relevant microposts, including pictures and videos of the damage and flooding on the social media platform Twitter, about the typhoon.

Tweets

“Over 20,000 tweets were analyzed and a range of data visualizations were produced for OCHA and its humanitarian partners to supplement their existing knowledge,” said Imogen Wall, Coordinator for Communications with Affected Communities.

In response to the typhoon, World Vision and partners also piloted the Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS), an innovative software solution which reduces reporting inefficiencies through real-time tracking or remote data collection while enhancing the agency’s accountability to communities.

Government, humanitarian partners and the private sector continue to explore new ways of collaborating through technology. To improve humanitarian response, the GSMAseminar outcomes suggested that a stronger focus on multi-sector participation in activities, such as contingency planning and emergency simulations, is essential.

Updated Date: 
28 August, 2013

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