Risk reduction measures and early warning systems: the challenge of inclusivity

The NDRRMC is commended for its two projects–Project DINA and National Cell Broadcasting System–which will be launched soon according to the Philippine Star. These projects are designed to improve the dissemination of disaster information and warning.

In its future projects, however, NDRRMC could reach out to more by looking at results of studies, usually commissioned by the I/NGO community, on communication pathways that locals utilize relative to early warning and disaster information. I was part of a few of these commissioned studies and results of these point to some interesting facts, one in particular:

Radio is consistently the top source for disaster/emergency information of both adults and children. The medium is followed by word of mouth, that is, through local officials (i.e. the Barangay Captain and Councilors, or the Mayor) and neighbors. Information from these two sources are delivered in the vernacular. (I think it’s in this blog where I wrote about the use of high falluting language of PAGASA weather reports, which is like talking Russian to locals, hence do not serve its purpose in the localities.)

Text or mobile messaging and the Internet are not popular sources for this kind of information. This is partly due to location (i.e. there is no available service in so-called far flung barrios or villages) and of many villages being off the grid (i.e. electricity has not reached these areas yet). But it is these very facts that contribute to these folks’ vulnerability to disasters. Of warning messages from local officials, locals cited inconsistency in content (i.e. the Barangay Captain’s information differs from the Mayor’s or vice-versa). Also, broadband speed is not fast enough as marketed by the telecoms (on your unlucky day accessing the Net can take you hours and you may end up flinging the thing out your window in sheer frustration; or worse, if ever there was a flash flood again you’d have already drowned and died while the thing is still trying to log you onto the Net. I’ve been in areas where you have to get onto a tree branch in order to receive at least one bar of network availability–this means you can send and receive messages but calls are choppy; climb a hill, and perhaps one more bar and maybe improved calling service.). It means that information from the radio and local officials need to be accurate at all times otherwise the consequence may be dire. In fact, one reason why families were caught off guard in the recent disasters in the country is attributed in part to inaccurate information, delayed information, or not having received warning at all.

via seismicwarning

This reiterates the nature of ‘communication’, which is, it is a two-way street. While it is true that the Philippines is a top user of social media, the question is who are the users? What’s their profile? You’d be surprised that even in Metro Manila, not everyone has a 24/7 Internet service or an Internet-capable phone (you’d be even more surprised that there is no electricity supply in certain areas, the slums which ironically are more at risk). If this is the scenario in the mega city, what’s in the provinces, many of which have weak or entirely no Internet and/or mobile phone service yet?

Planning using the lens of inclusivity should change the current imbalance of things. A project costing, say, PHP500M should not cater to or benefit, say, only 500 people. Internet-based platforms may be relevant to urban areas but not to the many off the grid towns and villages. Project planners and designers should therefore look into, among other things, where are the areas more at risk vis-a-vis the different types of disasters (we’ve focused on natural hazards and merely on the elements but what about pandemics, floods as resulting from environmental degradation, civil unrest, terrorism, war, chemical spillages, etc.?) What’s the profile of these areas? the residents, in terms of their communication patterns and access to communication channels? And be conscious of the fact that data collected now is entirely not the same after 3 to 5 five years, meaning, an M&E system should be in place, preferably one that can be run by locals themselves and capable of vertical and horizontal integration with other but similar databases. Resilience of the project (or, system) is correlated with the quality of M&E systems; without needed data anytime and anywhere it is needed, planners and implementers are walking blind. You could rely on your guts perhaps in love (although what may be termed ‘guts’ is actually your subconscious seeing patterns in the behavior – which is a scientific procedure – and the familiar act is the one you often respond positively toward) but it is science that will get you to the moon and back.

Regardless, the launch of Project DINA and the NCBS should be accompanied, where these are needed, with increased access to improved utilities and telecommunication services and lines.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s