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The Long View

A decade in the making

By and large, preparations and responses to the ongoing typhoon took place smoothly, with the national and local governments doing their part according to their respective missions. The private sector, too, knows the drill: Billboards were being rolled up as early as Saturday in the metropolis. By noon yesterday, classes in all the component cities of the metropolis had been called off, and work in government offices suspended. Though some did note that nothing, it seemed, would get in the way of the first G2E Asia Expo in Manila, which proceeded; typhoon or not, Pogos remain buzzworthy.

This left the NDRRMC’s cellphone alerts as the main topic of conversation, ranging from the supportive to the exasperated, with most being somewhere in between, because the alerts come with their own dramatic sounds and quite often at night. Many confessed to a feeling of mounting panic because of the alerts. One professional ventured a mild criticism concerning mobile alerts: “You don’t send repeated alerts. Desensitizes and irritates people.”

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That’s a fair statement, but it should be accompanied by the realization that this is the first time a major typhoon is being monitored with the vigorous use of the mobile alerts system. It will, by necessity, be accompanied by teething problems. For example, quite a few people received two separate kinds of alerts containing different storm level warnings, which suggests the authorities are trying to make the alerts responsive to the location of the receiver. This represents one of the goals of such a system: to tailor them to the recipient, so that the warning will be both timely and relevant.

Overall, what this demonstrates is that progress is being made, but government time is very different from rest-of-the-world time. The need for an alert system using mobile phones became apparent after typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng,” and the two preceding administrations moved things along, with the cooperation of the mobile telecom companies. Over time, a virtual infrastructure for alerts and advisories has been built up, with the media cooperating among itself and with government and the private sector.

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One can imagine that this typhoon will mark a tipping point, a positive one of sorts: Having proven that the alert system can be rolled out and sustained throughout an emergency, the question then becomes one of refinement and improvement. So long as the authorities are willing to listen, and hold post-situation assessments in cooperation with the private sector, it ought to be expected that the next time around, the system will be less prone to inducing panic, and more toward what it’s meant to achieve: potentially life-saving information in real time, for an anxious public.

It’s too early to tell what the real toll of the typhoon will be; initial reports from the first areas bearing the brunt of the typhoon’s progress have just started to come in as this is being written. The metropolis is still bracing for the expected impact of the wind and rain. Without having to check any media or listening to the radio or watching TV, the public, however, has been able to track the progress of the typhoon and the accompanying warnings concerning storm surges, wind strength and expected amounts of rain. That should be enough to offset whatever inconvenience or alarm people experienced from the alerts coming in, sometimes hours and sometimes minutes apart. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, after all.

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TAGS: cellphone alerts, disaster preparedness, Kammuri, Manuel L. Quezon III, NDRRMC, The Long View, Typhoon Tisoy
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