Disaster agency gets modern communications facility post-Yolanda

Voltaire Tupaz
Disaster agency gets modern communications facility post-Yolanda
The national disaster management agency builds a communications facility it believes can withstand even disasters of Yolanda’s magnitude

MANILA, Philippines – November 8, 2013: Communications were down in Tacloban City; Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who were both at ground zero to supervise government response, could not be reached.

“We are blind especially in Region 8,” National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) executive director Eduardo del Rosario said at the time, describing how clueless the government was on the ground situation in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

On Monday, May 5, almost 6 months after the crisis, the NDRRMC announced the establishment of the Intelligent Operations Center (IOC), a communications facility it believes can withstand even disasters of Yolanda’s magnitude.

“If you look around, the NDRRMC is not that at par with high-tech equipment. And with this, we can now say that we are globally competitive as far as an operation center is concerned,” Del Rosario said.

Currently, the NDRRMC has a weak communication backbone, which was exposed during Yolanda. It does not have a radio communication system; and its satellite communications equipment is only available in Luzon, said Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Sadang, who heads the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) operations division.

At the height of the Yolanda crisis, Del Rosario came under fire for NDRRMC’s slow and allegedly inaccurate reporting on the casualty in affected areas, particularly in Leyte. Del Rosario made a second attempt at resigning on April 24. The President is expected to name his replacement in two weeks time, Del Rosario said.

Wish list

The NDRRMC has recently acquired from the World Food Programme (WFP) 40 sets of satellite phones, which will be distributed to its 17 regional units.

Sadang said that, to be able to effectively respond to disasters, the NDRRMC should ideally have the capacity to preposition or deploy at least 6 rapid telecommunications teams with the following equipment:

  • Satellite phones (10 units)
  • Very high frequency (VHF) base radios (6 units)
  • High frequency (HF) radios (6 units)
  • VHF handheld radios (30 units)
  • Cellphones (10 units)
  • Mobile generators (2 sets)
  • Solar cellphones (6 sets)
  • Integrators (2 sets)
  • Pocket Wi-Fi (6 sets)
  • Tool kits (6 sets)
  • Laptops (5 units)
  • Drones (2 units)
  • Public announcement system

Rapid emergency communications team

The disaster management agency’s operation center should have a massive communication setup with the capability to deploy a rapid emergency communications team, Sadang said.

The IOC could be the answer to the wish list of the disaster agency’s information technology (IT) team.

Donated by SMS Global Technologies (SMSGT), an IT and telecommunications systems integrator and solutions provider, the facility will showcase a communications vehicle for rapid telecommunications teams.

“This project is aimed to enhance the effectiveness of our DRRM (disaster risk reduction and management) efforts through the use of modern information and communications infrastructure and technology,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in a statement.

SMSGT will conduct management and technical trainings to update the capacity of disaster management personnel who will run the IOC.

Strongest operations center

As the center of gravity in disaster management, the NDRRMC operation center has to be transformed into the “strongest OpCen” in the country, Sadang told Rappler.

The IOC project involves the construction of a 600-square-meter, state-of-the-art operations center within the premises of Camp Aguinaldo, the central military headquarters. Big screens will be installed to help the NDRRMC and its secretariat to determine areas that need government intervention, and to show news feeds coming from the field.

“The key idea here is to have facility so that all the information can be integrated and processed, and with the use of technology, hopefully we can get the information consolidated and aggregated in one specific area in order for the government or the OCD to be able to manage as soon as possible,” SMSGT president Anthony Christian Angeles said.

The IOC, which costs around P300 million, will be functional in 6 months, according to Angeles. The OCD said the project will be completed at no cost to the government.  Rappler.com



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