“I do not know if there are evacuation centers, that is why I just stayed here,” Zulieta Deopracio told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) during the organization’s relief efforts for those affected by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) in December 2013, the strongest to hit Southern Mindanao.
Zulieta and her family were among those who stayed at their damaged houses in Monkayo, Compostela Valley after the super typhoon, classified as a Category 5, made a landfall with winds of 280 km/h.
But while the strong winds and the gushing waters almost wiped out the province, it was the lack of power and means of communications that made the disaster and the disaster response much worse.
For the Philippines, one of the most natural hazard-prone countries worldwide, every disaster spells power outage and in turn, communication outage. The interruption in the communication system during disasters has not only led to long lines of people at private company cellphone stations. It also led to difficult and uneven distribution of relief goods.
As former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo M. Rio Jr. said:
“When there is a disaster, the first thing to go down is the commercial communication services. So there is a need for the government to put up at once a communication service that will be used before, during and after a disaster.”
Mobile Operations Vehicle for Emergency
Seven years after Typhoon Pablo and several other disasters in between, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) responded to this dilemma through the launch of a more or less P54-million project that will deploy emergency communication vehicles to support and service disaster-hit areas in various parts of the country.
The Government Emergency Communications System-Mobile Operations Vehicle for Emergency (GECS—MOVE) is a rapid deployable emergency communications system that aims to provide ICT-enabled support to disaster-stricken areas in the country.
“We can deploy these IT-equipped vehicles in areas immediately after the calamity to provide communication and other services,” DICT-Mindanao Cluster 3 Director Alimbzar Asum during the virtual Davao Business Forum last Thursday. The Forum is being held in coordination with SM City Davao and San Miguel Foods.
GECS-MOVE is a collaboration between the Philippines Government and the United Nations – World Food Programme (UN-WFP).
Asum said while private companies like television stations have a smaller version of this system for live broadcast, the adoption of the customized emergency vehicle system by the Philippine government is a first in the world.
The core of the integrated communication system is the MOVE Hub. This will be synced with the Operations Center of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to enable wired and wireless connectivity for data and voice communication. The MOVE system consists of:
MOVE Hub-A fully customized six-wheeler communication truck
MOVE Dispatch-A 4×4 dispatch pick-up utility vehicle that provides video and image data to the Hub for cross-validation
MOVE Motorbike-An off-road capable motorcycle to access disaster-stricken areas inaccessible to the Dispatch
“The MOVE is expected to provide situation awareness in the areas to assist decision-makers in the delivery
of government services during emergencies,” he said.
The country has acquired seven customized vehicles that just arrived from Dubai—five of which have already been deployed.
Once complete, the MOVE System will be stationed in the following areas:
Cagayan De Oro
National Capital Region
Other areas where the MOVE System will be rolled out in the future are Bicol, Tuguegarao in Cagayan, Samar and Zamboanga City.
“These sites were chosen because of their strategic locations to nearby provinces hit by typhoon and other calamities in recent years,” he said.
Will the MOVE System, powered by satellite, be effective in boosting disaster management in the country? Asum said the infrastructure and vehicles were acquired just last year and have not yet been used in any kind of disaster
“Hopefully there won’t be any disaster that will require its use,” he said.