Soon: Early warning disaster alerts via SMS
MANILA, Philippines – Getting warnings about an impending super typhoon or heavy rain can soon be as easy as reading an SMS.
The Senate is endorsing a House bill that will require telecommunication companies (telcos) to send free mobile alerts in times of disasters in a country called the texting capital of the world, which sees roughly 20 typhoons a year.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Free SMS Disaster Alerts Act will be sponsored in the Senate next week after the House of Representatives approved it in early February.
Drilon said the Senate might be able to pass the bill before it goes on break on March 15.
“This is free, no additional charges and it will become a required additional service of telecommunication companies,” Drilon said on radio DZRH on Wednesday, February 26.
Drilon made the announcement after Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, one of the authors of the House version, called on the Senate to act on the measure.
Under the bill, telcos will be required to regularly send text messages in times of disaster, with the instructions and information coming from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), state weather bureau PAGASA, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), and other agencies.
The alerts will also contain the contact numbers of local government units, agencies responding to disasters, evacuation areas, relief sites and pick-up points.
In supporting the bill, Drilon cited Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), where many victims in the Visayas said they were not aware that the typhoon would bring a storm surge. Yolanda killed nearly 6,000 people and displaced 4.1 million when it hit the central Philippines on Nov 8, 2013.
During Yolanda, a key problem was the typhoon cut down power and communication lines, and wiped out cell phone signals. It is still unclear how effective the bill will be in case of a similar scenario.
Watch this report below.
In the version endorsed by the Senate public services committee, Drilon proposed amendments penalizing teclos that refuse to comply with the bill with a fine of P1 million to P10 million, or a revocation of the companies’ legislative franchise.
“It’s the obligation of telecommunication companies to give early warnings during disasters, and this is needed to give enough warning to our countrymen about an upcoming typhoon or whatever disaster so they can prepare,” he said.
During a committee hearing last Monday, the National Telecommunications Commission said the telcos agreed to comply with the bill because the SMS alerts will not require additional cost on their operations.
Lawmakers stressed the importance of the bill after past disasters showed that many victims did not get sufficient warning or did not know the magnitude of the typhoon, rain or floods.
Drilon cited a study of the Business Monitor International that said the Philippines will have 117 million mobile subscribers by 2016. He said the country has the “highest number of cellular phone users in the world.”
The Philippines is one of the most disaster prone countries, sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, home to active volcanoes and fault lines. – Rappler.com