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ICT in disaster management and response

Information is critical in times of disaster — prior, during, and after. It is through the receipt of timely and relevant information that we are able to prepare for and effectively manage the risks of natural hazards. For instance, government agencies and local government units can prepare for an incoming typhoon, enforce evacuation, and preposition assets and supplies for disaster operations. Information and communications technologies (ICT) are highly valuable in lessening the risks brought by natural hazards to our communities.

However, even the most prepared communities can still be taken aback by nature’s wrath. For instance, in November 2013, in the town of San Remigio in Cebu, two days before Typhoon Yolanda made landfall, the municipal government made the necessary preemptive evacuation, ensured the timely delivery of essential relief supplies in evacuation centers, made sure that relief workers had mobile phones with internet connection, and ensured that evacuation centers could stay connected with the main disaster coordination center in the city.

But no one was prepared for Yolanda’s wrath, which pounded San Remigio, among many other areas in the country. Many of the evacuation centers were not able to withstand the strength of the typhoon.

Power supply went out and communication lines went down. Since the storm destroyed telecommunications network in badly hit provinces, both government and humanitarian response slowed down.

Even in the aftermath of disasters, ICT is crucial, especially when communication lines are destroyed. Without a means to send timely information about what is happening on the ground, rescue operations can be delayed, causing more harm and injury. When damage assessment reports cannot be delivered on time, government and humanitarian organizations remain blind on the needs of affected communities. Citizens, both victims and their families, would grow anxious as they are unable to communicate with each other. In times of disaster, knowing that one’s family is safe is the first and foremost concern. Thus, it is critical that telecommunication services are restored immediately after a disaster. But while restoration is ongoing, the use of ICTs is crucial to quickly re-establish connectivity.

In previous disasters, including after the recent onslaught of Typhoon Paeng, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) activated pre-positioned VSATs and satellite phones in areas with unstable cellular signal to help in rescue operations. The Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) is a two-way satellite ground station with a dish antenna capable of accessing satellites in orbit.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Paeng, as part of response to provide connectivity to the evacuees, the DICT deployed VSAT Unit for internet connectivity in several affected areas, such as at the Datu Blah Sinsuat, Maguindanao Command Center. It also provided Internet connection to select evacuation centers through the Free Wi-Fi for All Program.

The DICT, being the lead government agency for the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), remains responsive in disaster response by maintaining emergency communication systems to aid responders and authorities.

The Government Emergency Communications System (GECS) Project is the department’s solution to fulfill its mandate of disseminating vital information through the use of ICT for disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM).

The project consists of three major components — the Mobile Operations Vehicle for Emergency (MOVE), a rapidly deployable communications system to respond before, during, and after a disaster; the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Information System (DRRMIS), which is capable of automating most of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council’s (NDRRMC) current reporting processes during operations; and Capacity Building, a component that is aimed at developing necessary skill sets for personnel in GECS Project Management Team (PMT), regional officers, and other stakeholders to operate and maintain the aforementioned resources.

The operation, maintenance, and management of the GECS Project enable the government disaster response to be immediate, effective, and efficient.

The DICT will continue to help establish livable and sustainable communities through programs that maximize ICT in DRRM. Moreover, as the designated lead government agency in the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, the DICT will ensure the attainment of the Cluster’s objective to strengthen the ICT at the national cluster down to the local levels to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impacts of disasters.

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