Asia Pacific Telecommunity Initiatives in Disaster Management

During my stint as Commander of the National Development Support Command (Nadescom), the unit became so involved in the Typhoon Sendong Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Operation (DRRO) in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

We partnered with MarForPac to bring in water systems. With DepEd and ABS-CBN to build schoolhouses which were convertible to evacuation centers. With DPWH for the clearing and repair of roads and bridges. With the NHA, the LGUs, Gawad Kalinga, Habitat and other private groups for the construction of resettlement areas. With DSWD and other government agencies and private companies or individuals for the acquisition and transport of relief goods, as well as the temporary shelters. And so on. Working with such diverse public and private groups gave me a wonderful enlightening experience, and a different kind of fulfillment. Our participation therefore – which had previously been limited to purely engineering concerns – had been expanded through creative public private partnership initiatives.

It was a pleasant surprise for me therefore to receive an invitation to attend and chair a session of the 4th Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) Disaster Management & Communications Workshop last 23-25 July at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

The APT is a joint initiative of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It is an intergovernmental organization that serves as the focal point for ICT in the region. It fosters the development of telecommunication services and information infrastructure throughout the region. Telecommunication playing a key role in Disaster Management, the APT has been actively involved in developing ICT initiatives along this line.

Key personalities present during the 4th APT Workshop were: DOST Sec Mario Montejo, Usec Louie Casambre, APT Sec Gen Mr Toshiaki Yamada, Smarter Philippines’ Chief Exec Mr Bud Melchor, and APT’s Stuart Davies. There were close to 100 attendees to the said workshop. The objective of the workshop was to bring together stakeholders responsible for emergency communications and warning systems in the region to discuss availability and use of such systems for public protection and disaster relief.

The development of the Philippines’ Project NOAH was one of the highlights of the workshop, with its initiatives along remote sensing, nowcasting (detailed forecasting of weather from 0-6 hours ahead), geomatics (the use of geospatial technologies), etc. Project NOAH (for Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) is a proudly-Pinoy initiative spearheaded by the DOST for a more accurate, integrated and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system for high risk areas in the Philippines. (More on Project NOAH on a later, more comprehensive post.)

The Japanese experience in the tsunami disaster that hit eastern Japan in 2011 was also discussed, along with the ongoing drought in the Marshall Islands. The attendees provided practical experiences for future use, identifying gaps and finding innovative ways to address them. Valuable lessons were discussed and creative redundancies in information management and dissemination volunteered.

The meeting coincided with the DOST’s celebration of National Science and Technology Week, where Sec Montejo emphasized the need to harness today’s transformational tools such as smart technologies to open new doors leading to exciting opportunities for development and social advancement. Mr Yamada in turn talked about how APT could help mitigate results of disasters if we look at how best the present communication equipment can cope or provide warning systems to save lives.

APT came up with a Plan of Action in Bali in a previous conference. This was finally approved in the last conference. The plan of action covered 5 main objectives with a total of 69 actionable points. Key to these actions was the need to change the people’s mindsets from complacency to action, particularly in the light of the climate change phenomena. These actions clearly manifests the organization’s noble intentions for the betterment of the Asia Pacific region.

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