Implement the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act ASAP

The long wait for Mobile Disaster Alerts, via SMS, should be over soon. (Photo from The Asia Foundation.)

The Philippines’ de facto messaging standard is still text messaging. Most Filipinos have at least one phone and could be reached by relatives,  friends, schoolmates and officemates via text message.

While not all may have data subscriptions to be able check extreme weather news on Twitter or the websites of PAGASA and Project NOAH, the government knows for a fact that it could easily, cheaply and quickly send text messages to citizens.

Enter Republic Act 10639, otherwise known as the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, which was enacted into law on 20 June 2014.

RA 10639 provides for the following:

In the event of an impending tropical storm, typhoon, tsunami, or other calamities, mobile phone service providers are mandated to send out alerts at regular intervals as required by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) and other relevant agencies.

The alerts shall consist of up-to-date information from the relevant agencies, and shall be sent directly to the mobile phone subscribers located near and within the affected areas. The alerts shall include contact information of local government units and other agencies required to respond to the situation. The alerts may contain other relevant information such as, but not limited to, evacuation areas, relief sites and pick-up points.

The alerts shall be at no cost, whether direct or indirect, to the consumers; and shall be included as part of the service providers auxiliary service. The alerts may be in the form of SMS (text messages), MMS, or email, as needed and appropriate.

Typhoon Glenda, which weather forecasters are predicting to lash through Bicol and find its way through Metro Manila, could be a good chance to test and use this law.

20130512-172428.jpgThe United States and other countries have been implementing similar mobile disaster alert systems for many years now. In many countries, the alerts are not just pushed through cellphones via text. There are interruptions to regular TV, cable and radio programmingjust to flash important advisories on extreme weather events or disasters.

The only problem now is that the concerned agencies, led by the Department of Transportation and Communications, may not have drafted or finalized the implementing rules yet to make the law’s benefits a reality. They have 60 days from 20 June 2014 to finish their work on the implementing rules.

No rules yet? No problem

If there is indeed a delay in the formulation of the implementing rules, the DOTC and the National Telecommunications Commission could, on their own initiative and using powers of persuasion, direct the two major mobile networks, the PLDT-Smart group (including Sun Cellular) and Globe Telecom to still send mobile alerts to citizens located or within typhoon Glenda’s path.  The alerts could be drafted by PAGASA or the NDRRMC. That is, if the government agencies and the telcos could do collaborate and cooperate quickly for the public good.

It should be as easy as asking the television and radio networks to interrupt regular programming to accommodate a special speech of the president. This time, it would be involve asking only two entities (the two telcos) and the objective is simply too important to ignore.