Philippines: Improved emergency communication blunts impact of typhoon Hagupit

Dec 8, 2014

UNDP, along with other UN agencies, has supported the local situation assessments leading to early evacuations, particularly in the Eastern Visayas Region. Photo: UNDp in the Philippines

In Tacloban City, Philippines, the past served as a lesson for the present, in the form of a simple communications system.

As residents and city officials braced for the worst from Typhoon Hagupit there were nagging fears from the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), a little over a year ago.

Yolanda struck the coast of the Philippines with such force that it resulted in the death of more than 6000 people. Many of those deaths were in Tacloban, and journalists then described the devastation as “off the scale and apocalyptic.”

Now a radio communications system is said to have played a vital role in reducing risks and saving lives. While typhoon Hagupit was not as fierce as Yolanda, and several other improvements played a role in protecting the city – the system, set up by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) helped keep city emergency crews networked and nimble - before, during and after Ruby hit.

Recognizing that Tacloban City’s emergency preparedness was hampered by the absence of emergency communications, UNDP contributed a centralized radio system, to ensure effective emergency communication and coordination covering the entire city.

The agency partnered with Radnet 5 (Radio Amateur Network 5) to strengthen the local government’s communications system, and trained city staff in using the equipment.

The equipment -- that includes 46 units of portable VHF radios, mobile base units for ambulance and rescue vehicles, dual band base radios and a repeater system -- played a key role this time around.

“The target of zero casualties in a massive typhoon is unachievable without using advanced emergency communication systems and equipment,” said the Mayor of Tacloban City, Alfred S. Romualdez. “The key to achieving such high standards is using emergency communications equipment, and we thank UNDP for extending such equipment to the city just in time before another major typhoon (Hagupit) hit.”

In defining the relationship as a “milestone,” Mayor Romualdez commended UNDP for strengthening Tacloban City’s communications and technology infrastructure to face frequent and intense typhoons, and said he looks forward to a “continued partnership in building resilience.”

Following Typhoon Yolanda, UNDP’s objective was to ramp up support to national and local governments in protecting vulnerable regions to reduce the risks from disasters.

“Our experience in dealing with, and robust evidence we gathered from disasters such as Typhoon Yolanda has allowed UNDP to invest heavily in developing and sharing innovative solutions to reduce risk,” said Maurice Dewulf, UNDP Country Director in the Philippines.

“While we are all devoted to recovery efforts when disasters strike, our goal is to work proactively with governments to build resilience so no lives are lost.”

Mr. Rene Moshe Amano, a star rescuer with the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO) and Tacloban City Rescue Unit (TACRU), said that because of the communications system, his unit “was able to attend to many emergency calls the night typhoon Hagupit struck the city, and saved lives of four people, including two pregnant women who safely gave birth.”

In addition to the emergency communications equipment, UNDP also provided the city with audio-visual equipment and high-end computers to advance the capabilities of the city officials in monitoring, information gathering, and decision-making during emergencies.

“Without such vital information and an emergency communication system, the city would not have been able to so effectively coordinate typhoon Hagupit preparedness and response activities,” said Mr. Amano.

Building on the effectiveness of this collaboration, UNDP is already preparing to provide several emergency crews with more modern rescue equipment to further strengthen Tacloban city’s ability to combat disasters.