?ICT Bayanihan? stresses need for communication tools during disasters

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By Edd K. Usman TACLOBAN CITY ? After suffering through all those disasters in the last few years and decades, it?s now time for the Philippines to be a ?safe-certified? nation through the aid of information and communications technology (ICT). [caption id="attachment_32477" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Partners of ICT Bayanihan, with Smart's Darwin Flores (second from left) in Tacloban City Partners of ICT Bayanihan, with Smart’s Darwin Flores (second from left) in Tacloban City [/caption] This is according to mobile operator Smart Communications, which has spearheaded a series of summits since July 2015 for disaster preparedness dubbed ?ICT Bayanihan? covering the public and the private sector. For its latest ICT Bayanihan workshop, Smart and its partners National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) brought the initiative to Region 8 to discuss the importance of communications during disasters and emergencies. The seminar assembled several agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs), which tackled the establishment of disaster communication protocols and the institutionalization of a rapid emergency telecommunication teams (RETT) in times of disasters. Among the speakers were Darwin F. Flores, head of community partnerships at Smart Communications; Samuel A. Young, regional director of the National Telecommunications Commission Region 8; and Army Lt. Col. Edwin C. Sabang of the Office of the Civil Defense. Flores said there is currently an urgent need “to collaborate and agree on common communications protocols in times of disasters.” Young, meanwhile, said the gathering underscored the importance of ICT in disaster response and management, noting that Eastern Visayas needs to create a rapid telecommunications team. As can be gleaned from the country?s experience during the onslaught of typhoon ?Yolanda,? he said communication tools should not be limited to mobile phones as cellular signals could also break down. “In those situations, we can use radio, VHF and UHF, which can be easily tapped,” said Young. Sadang, on the other hand, said stressed the importance of having information available after a disaster through communications. “This is very important because the traditional relief goods that we know are usually water, shelter, and medicine,” said Sadang, who was one of the earliest responders in Tacloban when Yolanda barreled through Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013. He said across the world, “it is already accepted that one of the relief goods that is very important right now is data information through communication.” The Army officer said information — if made available at the right time through the right channels — can save lives and prevent casualties, he added. Sadang also batted for the formation of “PPP”, which stands for public, people, and private volunteer groups. “We should continue to develop a better working relationship and teamwork because it takes a team to realize a dream,” he said. Smart and its partners have also created the hashtag ?#SafePH? to push the program and to indicate whether an area has already has already undergone disaster preparedness and management. So far, areas of the country that are already #SafePH-certified are Regions 4A, 6, 7, Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR), and CARAGA in Northern Mindanao. [caption id="attachment_32481" align="aligncenter" width="537"]Edd Usman of Newsbytes.PH (right) and Voltaire Tupaz of Rappler trying out Smart's satellite phone at a memorial for "Yolanda" victims in Tacloban City Edd Usman of Newsbytes.PH (right) and Voltaire Tupaz of Rappler trying out Smart’s satellite phone at a memorial for “Yolanda” victims in Tacloban City[/caption] Ramon Isberto, head of public affairs at Smart, cited the company’s participation in getting vulnerable communities prepared. “Our #SafePH advocacy underscores Smart’s responsibility and critical role in disaster response. We have taken an active role in strengthening the capacity of high-risk communities to prepare them, and help them recover from the impact of disasters,” said Isberto. Aside from organizing nationwide summits, the mobile firm is also supporting the OCD by providing technology solutions that can help facilitate immediate response. One of the solutions provided by recently by Smart, together with Voyager Innovations, and Rappler online news portal is Project Agos SMS (short messaging system). Project Agos allows users to ask for rescue, search, or relief assistance using SMS. A team of volunteers are tasked to validate crowd-sourced information collected through the Project Agos SMS service before they are passed on to concerned government agencies. Relatedly, Project Agos and Ateneo’s e-Bayanihan are soon to be merged in a single platform and will be re-named Agos powered by e-Bayanihan. Other solutions that Smart provides include a web-based disaster communications solutions called Smart Infocast for local government units (LGUs) and agencies, and disaster-prone communities to help with weather forecasts, and evacuation advisories. The telco also created what it dubbed the Batingaw mobile application (app) for OCD-NDRRMC, which is a handy resource and reporting tool for nationwide disaster management. Batingaw can be downloaded for free at Google Play Store and Apple App Store. During disasters Smart has also provided ?Libreng Tawag? services and satellite service support to affected areas during disasters. Isberto said the initiatives strengthen Smart’s commitment to the GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter. “By providing communication as aid to vulnerable communities and local support units before, during and after disasters, Smart is able to push for safer communities. We are very happy with the outcome of the summits we have mounted together with OCD, that have laid the groundwork for a stronger and more resilient Philippines,” he said. ]]>

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