Sen. Ralph Recto cited the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) for deploying what he called a “SWAT or Special Wi-Fi Access Team” to earthquake-hit Batanes, which enabled residents to call worried relatives and rescuers to synchronize their work.
Recto said such should become part of government’s “standard first response” to disasters, given the important role of communications in rushing help to people and places reeling from a calamity.
“Communications should be a constant — before, during and after a calamity. In this age, a cellphone, especially one hooked up to a broadband, has become a lifesaving device. Timely and accurate information saves lives and property,” Recto said.
Recto said resilience is strengthened and damage is mitigated by good communications. “Bago dumating ang bagyo, di ba dapat may text alert? Ganoon din pagkatapos ng lindol. Kung baha, may apps na magsasabi kung saan malalim ang tubig.”
Post disaster, rescue, and relief efforts depend on a functioning voice and data ICT infrastructure, Recto stressed. “If it is down, restoring it becomes a priority because all emergency responses depend on the ability of those who provide it to communicate with the people and among themselves.”
“In this scenario, DICT people should be among the first ‘boots on the ground’. I think DICT should become a first responder, too. As chief overseer of telcos, it should ensure that the phone network is working,” he said.
Recto said what the DICT did in Itbayat, Batanes, where it rolled out free Wi-Fi access points, should also be done in areas “facing the same trying circumstances.”
“Isa lang dapat ‘yan sa DICT response package. Mas madami pa at mas kumplikado kung mas malawak ang pinsala,” Recto said.
Recto said DICT should “scale up” its disaster response capacity while bringing down its huge backlog on WiFi hotspots.
Despite receiving P8 billion in taxpayer money since 2015, DICT has been able to roll out only 2,677 spots out of the original target of 34,236 sites by end of 2019.
Recto reiterated his belief that “mission-oriented Secretary Greg will be able to fix the bugs of this program and implement a catch up plan.”