LGUs in the Philippines

Morong, Rizal unveils first ‘next gen’ emergency command center in the Philippines

Lance Arevada

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Morong, Rizal unveils first ‘next gen’ emergency command center in the Philippines

ON DUTY. A local dispatcher handles a 911 call in her station at the Emergency 911 Command Center in Morong, Rizal.

Lance Arevada

Residents in this second-class town can now call 911 to connect with local responders in case of emergency

RIZAL, Philippines – Scaling up its emergency and disaster operations, the municipal government of Morong, Rizal, launched its Emergency 911 Command Center on Monday, May 6, equipped with an enhanced emergency response and public safety system.

Presented as the country’s first facility with “next generation” 911 technology, residents in this second-class municipality can now directly call for help via the 911 hotline, where local responders at the command center are available 24/7 to address their concerns.

“The creation of the Morong, Rizal Emergency 911 Command Center has arisen from our utmost desire to effectively and efficiently respond to emergencies and crisis situations, thus allowing us to give good public service to the people,” Morong Mayor Sidney Soriano said.

Soriano said about P3.5 million was allotted for the project, which was awarded to NGCS, Inc., a local subsidiary of US-based emergency technology company Next Generation Advanced (NGA) 911.

Soriano said NGA 911’s technology features “enhanced emergency response, improved location accuracy, enhanced coordination and collaboration, integration of surveillance systems, and access to real-time reports,” upgrading their town’s disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM).

Robert Llaguno, NGA 911 country manager, said the command center now allows local personnel to pinpoint the location of the caller and the nearest first responder within a search radius of five yards, or about 4.6 meters.

Llaguno added that they are currently working to make the 911 hotline available through text and online messaging platforms for greater accessibility among residents.

The project is in line with the Duterte-era Executive Order No. 56, which established 911 as the national emergency hotline number and ordered local government units (LGUs) to set up their own call centers.

Better, faster response

For the town’s first responders, the newly established command center enables them to provide a quicker response to various emergency situations they receive every day.

“It’s a huge help because there are remote areas in our place where the signal doesn’t reach, and the only way to get signal is through satellite,” Nicolas Espiritu, one of the center’s 911 call supervisors, told Rappler in Filipino.

According to Espiritu, nine personnel have been tapped to be on rotation 24/7 as dispatchers, who are tasked with coordinating the calls they receive with police, firefighters, and DRRM officers.

About four dispatchers work in an eight-hour shift in two stations, with a capacity of handling eight calls for every two persons.They have been trained for months prior to address every call they receive within a target response time of two minutes.

SECURITY. The center also handles the centralized operations of the town’s CCTV systems, monitoring peace and security in roads and streets in every connected barangay. Photo by: Lance Arevada

For FO3 Kristian Balajadia, community relations and public information unit head of Morong Fire Station, their office has usually received criticism for late responses since residents have tagged them on social media to ask for help.

But now, with the localized 911 hotline operations, he said the community has noted how they were able to provide a faster response for emergency situations.

“With this 911 innovation, since our community only needs to memorize three numbers, the transfer of information from the incident and caller to the responder has been faster,” he said.

“Now that our response has been sped up, we can limit and reduce damages and injuries in case a massive incident occurs here.”

More call centers eyed

Morong’s command center is the newest addition to the limited number of 911 emergency call centers in the country, which has stood at around 30 since March.

Emergency 911 National Executive Director Francis Fajardo said they plan to establish more local 911 call centers and command centers in the country to formalize a more uniform emergency response nationwide.

Fajardo previously vowed to build a 911 center in all of the country’s provinces, cities, and municipalities by 2028, in response to the marching order of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos. 

Yet, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) admitted in a Senate hearing in October 2023 that they are “still quite far” from their goal of building more local call centers similar to the practice in the United States.

According to DILG Undersecretary Lord Villanueva, the national 911 headquarters, with just a budget of 11 personnel per shift, handles around 60,000 calls daily – a significantly high volume, especially considering the absence of local dispatchers. – Rappler.com

Lance Arevada is a campus journalist at the Ateneo de Manila University. Managing editor of Matanglawin Ateneo, he is also an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow of Rappler for 2023-2024.

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