Smart steps up participation in Davao’s biggest disaster drill

PLDT wireless unit Smart Communications participated and extended its support to the recently concluded citywide Davao Shake Out Drill.

The massive and full-scale earthquake and tsunami drill is now in its second year and is organized by the Davao City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO).

Like last year, Smart deployed a multi-element on wheels (MEOW) system or a portable cell site designed to provide mobile services to emergency responders and evacuees ideally within 4 to 6 hours after a disaster occurs.

“Communications is an important aspect of any disaster response and rescue operation, especially when simulating drills like the Davao Shake Out. We are projecting massive disasters where cell sites are down, our underground cables are cut and power lines are out,” said Maria Jane Paredes, center head, Smart public affairs for Visayas-Mindanao.

Davao Central 911 Head and city DRRM officer-in-charge Emmanuel Jaldon emphasized the importance of establishing communications for disaster response through the rapid emergency telecommunications team. Smart is a member of the RET team in Davao City.

“It makes sense to assume that communications would fail when a disaster of a massive scale happens. A communication system during disaster response is used to relay much-needed information to government agencies and to report the situation to our primary official, in this case, our mayor as the head of the DRRMC. We also use communication lines to update our constituents of the situation,” Jaldon said.

“It is important to ensure that our services will continue even after the impact of a disaster. The earlier we will be able to establish continuity of government service, the better and easier for us to stabilize the impact of the disaster,” he said.

At exactly 9:05 a.m. during the Shake Out, about five minutes after the simulated earthquake, Smart subscribers all over Davao City received an alert from the telco’s Emergency Cell Broadcast System. The ECBS is a system that sends emergency notifications during disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis to mobile devices within the affected area. Cell broadcasting is different from SMS or text messages because it operates on a different radio channel.

According to Paredes, many of the Smart and PLDT engineers are trained to provide emergency communications and their main task during calamities is to set up communication lines. During the Shake Out Drill, PLDT and Smart also set up a libreng tawag (free calls) and charging station.

“We have been providing free calls and charging services to responders and evacuees in disaster-stricken areas,” Paredes said.

Smart deployed these free emergency services when Typhoon Pablo hit Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley Province in 2012, during the Bohol earthquake in October 2013 and Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Tacloban in November 2013.

The Shake Out Drill aims to test the city’s disaster response, search and rescue, communications, life and business continuity and emergency management capabilities, according to CDRRMO administrative officer and training director Lyndon Ancajas.

“We want to see if we can further improve and if we can implement the changes that we have made based on our evaluations in last year’s Shake Out Drill,” Ancajas said.

All employees and customers inside the PLDT Ponciano Office participated in the drill. At exactly 9 a.m., everyone performed the “duck, cover and hold,” and joined the tsunami alert mock evacuation to the rooftop of the building.

By 9:03 a.m., Smart’s emergency response team based at the Shrine Hills field office and at the regional hub proceeded to the emergency operations center of the CDRRMO and simulated the setting up of a post-disaster communication facility.

Responders use the satellite phone and other communications services at the PLDT-Smart libreng tawag (free calls) and charging station at the designated emergency operations center during the Shake Out drill in Davao City.

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