Experts urge effective communication programs as part of disaster management and relief.
Citizens have found a new and novel way of sending immediate aid to victims of the ongoing Luzon floods brought by Typhoon Ulysses: free cellphone load.
Michael Ramos Pagulayan offered to send Php50 worth of cellular load to those who need them in his home community of Auitan, San Pablo, Isabela.
Asked how much was he able to share so far, Pagulayan said he was able to send Php50 pesos each to his former elementary school classmates.
“I try to help because I have no way of going home because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. I can’t fly home, I can’t drive. So I thought of sharing mobile phone loads to flood victims who need to contact relatives here in Manila,” Pagulayan said.
Not many have taken up his offer, however, probably because they have ran out of batteries or have no mobile phone signals.
Auitan had been underwater for since Thursday in what many of its residents say is the worst flooding in decades.
Many victims in the community had been staying on their roofs as rescue efforts are frustrated by strong currents.
Anna Balasbas is a Pasay City resident who also gave Php30 to Php 100 cellular phone loads to 29 flood victims as of two o’clock Saturday afternoon.
Those who asked for load are from the Cagayan and Isabela provinces, Balasbas said.
Balasbas said she even talked to victim from Barangay Linao East in Tuguegarao City a few minutes past two o’clock who badly needed help, but their phone call got cut off.
“Her father suffered a heart attack. Her battery must have drained already,” Balasbas said.
Netizens had been storming social media sites demanding information on their families in severely flooded areas, especially in Cagayan Valley as well as in San Mateo and Rodriguez towns in Rizal and in Marikina City that were also hit by catastrophic flooding since Typhoon Ulysses hit Luzon Island on Wednesday.
Mobile phones had been the most reliable way for families to exchange information during disasters in the Philippines that break down as power and communication services are shut down by strong winds and flooding.
Communication as disaster aid and relief
Even emergency responses by the government are affected by breakdowns in communication and information exchange, United States-based public safety expert Thomas Connelly said.
“As important as the flow of information into the managers of any disaster situation is the flow of information out to emergency responders, residents, search and evaluation teams, other emergency managers and management agencies is critical,” Connelly wrote
“Dissemination of timely and credible information can minimize the potential for loss of life and injury, help residents understand the extent of the emergency, simplify first responders’ tasks, accelerate the recovery phase and minimize the overall impact of the disaster event on the community,” Connelly, a retired police officer who developed Los Altos, California’s emergency and disaster response plan, said.
Quezon City Disaster Response and Relief Management Council officer Ares Gutierrez said communications is the most crucial yet oftentimes neglected area in disaster and emergency management.
“Communications bridges everything. Disaster managers need an efficient communications system to enable them to efficiently coordinate response efforts and save more lives,” Gutierrez told Kodao.
Gutierrez said timely and frequent communication also prevents disinformation and assure the public that help is on its way.
Effective communications from the ground up will also enable decision-makers to determine whether response plans are working or needs calibration and now what type of further assistance is needed, he said.
“In times of disaster, the public wants to know how or where they can get help, what risks or dangers they face, and how they can protect themselves and their families,” Gutierrez added.
Gutierrez, a crisis and disaster risk management expert, said citizens offering mobile phone loads is a way of compensating for the perceived lack or breakdown of disaster communications.
“Humanity kicks in when you see people crying for help. You want to jump in and help. Sharing cellphone credit can be a lifesaver,” he said.
Gutierrez, however, warned that such gestures are useless if the phone network is totally down.
“A disaster-prone country like ours should have all types of communications platform in place so we don’t get cut off during crucial moments,” he said.
Gutierrez also urged the government, the private sector and the academe to act together to implement the many disaster preparedness and communication plans that languish on the drawing boards.
“Ondoy gave us a decade to prepare for Ulysses; Yolanda should have reminded us that we should get our acts done. The problem is, we easily forget,” Gutierrez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)