Netizens speak up about the free mobile disaster alerts law
MANILA, Philippines – The typhoon season in the Philippines is fast approaching but the law that will allow Filipinos to receive free mobile disaster alerts could not yet be implemented.
Republic Act 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act mandates major telecommunication companies (telcos) in the country to send free mobile alerts to subscribers before disasters like typhoons happen.
While President Benigno Aquino III already signed the law on June 20, 2014, its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) have yet to be finalized. They were supposed to be submitted 60 days after the signing of the law. (READ: Will the free mobile disaster alerts law finally be implemented?)
The information for mobile alerts is supposed to come from concerned government agencies such as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and state weather bureau PAGASA. These will then be monitored by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
10 months since the law was signed, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has already conducted 3 public hearings, with different issues on certain provisions of the draft IRR coming up every hearing.
In the last public hearing on Monday, April 13, one of the contentious issues was the provision requiring major telcos to comply with a list of minimum requirements for the dissemination of the alerts.
Edgardo Cabarios, representative of NTC, said once the issue on the specific provision is already settled, the NTC can proceed with the signing of the IRR.
But are netizens optimistic that this law will be implemented before the rainy season starts?
MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, initiated a Twitter conversation on Friday, April 17, to discuss the importance of the law and its surrounding issues:
'It's high time'
It is important that this law is immediately implemented now that the country is still in the dry season, Ric Dayata, one of the netizens said.
In the US, a student from the University of Colorado Boulder who joined the conversation shared that students who registered in their system were able to receive weather alerts.
@MovePH Only weather alerts from my University while I was in school. Useful and convenient. People who didn't register wished they did.— ADPC (@ADPCnet) April 17, 2015
In the Philippines, considered the third most disaster-prone country in the world, free mobile alerts are not entirely new.
Major telcos reiterated in the past hearings that they already have the basic system that enables them to send free emergency alerts to subscribers.
A representative of NTC also said the public can already receive free mobile alerts; the law is just there to improve the system.
This is supported by netizen @puretuts, who said that in Cagayan de Oro, local disaster managers received weather advisories from Smart Communications in the past.
@MovePH OCD provide text blast to LDRRMOs. LGUs the relays it to Brgy Captains.PAGASA and PIA also sends thier own advisories.— Puretuts (@puretuts) April 17, 2015
Meanwhile, as early as 2009, netizen @pixiespell said she was able to receive weather alerts from PAGASA when Typhoon Ondoy, one of the worst typhoons to hit the country, paralyzed Metro Manila and nearby provinces. (READ: Worst natural disasters in the Philippines)
@MovePH I received a text alert the morning Ondoy struck the country. It stopped me from attending our org's meeting that day.— Marinella S. (@pixiespell) April 17, 2015
cont.. @MovePH It was really timely, 'cause if I went to our school that day, I might be stranded along w/ the others who were not notified.— Marinella S. (@pixiespell) April 17, 2015
However, when Typhoons Ruby (Hagupit) and Seniang (Jangmi) hit the country in December 2014, the public complained they did not receive any alerts, according to NDRRMC Executive Director Alexander Pama.
From technical to simple terms
Making scientific terms easily understood by the public is one of the difficulties faced by scientific agencies in the country. This, according to some netizens, will also be an issue should the law be implemented.
Daram, a town in Samar achieved the #ZeroCasualty goal when Typhoon Ruby hit the country because the Mayor and DRRM chief decided to disseminate weather alerts to locals through text messages. The residents were able to understand because the message was translated to Waray. (READ: How a small Samar town survived deadly storm surges)
Are 140 characters enough?
As the law aims to relay relevant and timely emergency alerts, one of the issues raised by netizens is the length of the message that will be disseminated.
The law’s draft IRR says the system that telcos have should “provide for a maximum of 140 characters, in line with standard SMS protocols." The number, however, may not be enough, considering that contact information of authorities and responders in affected areas, details on evacuation centers, relief sites, and pick-up points can also be included.
Usec Pama emphasized that the IRR should be hazard-specific, area-focused, time-bound, technology-neutral, and cost-effective.
The NTC targets the implementation of the law by the third week of April. What do you think should be added to the IRR? – Rappler.com
This conversation initiates #ZeroCasualty hour, a series of social media conversations on disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation that Rappler will be holding with key Project Agos partners and stakeholders.
Project Agos is a collaborative platform that combines top-down government action with bottom-up civic engagement to help communities learn about climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The project harnesses technology and social media to ensure critical information flows to those who need it before, during, and after a disaster. It is a partnership between Rappler and key government, private and civil society groups. It is also supported by the Australian Government.
Hands holding smartphone image from Shutterstock