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NDRRMC, Smart roll out emergency cell broadcast system nationwide

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and telecommunication company Smart Communications launched Tuesday a cell broadcast system (CBS) to enable the quick transmission of warnings to the public in times of calamities.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the development of the emergency cell broadcast system (ECBS) boosts government confidence in its ability to provide timely, hazard-specific, and location-specific warnings to people.

Hazard-specific, location-specific warnings

“‘Yung alert hindi pare-pareho, iba yung alert sa tabing-dagat, iba sa tabing ilog, iba rin sa bundok. Pwede i-localize ‘yung alert depende sa tatamaan ng bagyo o anuman. Ang takot natin yung lindol wala namang pasabi yan e. Ang challenge is palaging during and after na ‘yan,” he said during the press conference.

“Itong ating sistema ngayon marami pa tayong aayusin, the NDRRMC and OCD (Office of Civil Defense) meron naman silang regional stations d’yan. They are going to fine tune this with Smart,” he added.

The cell broadcast service can send emergency alerts quickly to a large number of mobile devices within a specified target area, making it an effective public warning system. It also allows telecommunications service providers to send out alert messages with minimal use of network resources.

Compliance with Free Mobile Disasters Alerts Act

Smart invested P500 million in ECBS, part of its 2016 capex outlay for network modernization in support of the NDRRMC’s efforts to reduce vulnerability during calamities.

This is the telecom company’s compliance with Republic Act No. 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, which mandates all telcos to implement free mobile alerts to the public in the event of calamities.

Ramon R. Isberto, head of public affairs at PLDT and Smart, said ECBS abbreviates the process. He said the system is critical in some situations like a tsunami where time can be limited and the ability to send out the message in such a short period of time can be very, very critical.

“You just need an access to computer, to a program, compose the message, define the area where the message will be sent, and then send the message. The system will send the message out,” he said during his presentation.

Advantage of CBS over traditional SMS

He said unlike short messaging system (SMS) or text services, CBS has its own dedicated broadcast channel, ensuring sustained broadcast alerts even when the network receives heavy traffic from all the calls and messages that are usually made during disasters.

He also pointed out that, in SMS, the sender has to collect the numbers in a given area—a painstaking and time-consuming process.

“It can take several hours. That is the process the ECBS bypasses entirely. This is not based on celphone number, the system is based on location. All the cell sites in that location that was defined will send out  the message to all mobile phones in the area. That is the very big and fundamental advantage of cellular broadcast system,” he said.

He said another difference between traditional short message service (SMS) and CBS is the message display: SMS messages are received in a phone’s message inbox, whereas cell broadcast alerts flash on the screen even without user interaction. The latter is also accompanied by a loud warning sound.

Isberto said most mobile phonescan receive CBS alerts only when the cell broadcast feature is turned on, however.

“It is thus important to make sure that one’s device is updated to the latest operating system, and that its CBS feature is activated. Please turn on the cell broadcast feature of your cellphone,” he said.

NDRRMC in charge of ECBS messages and broadcasts

NDRRMC  executive director Ricardo Jalad said that, with the ECBS, it is the NDRRMC that will craft the message with inputs from different government agencies and send it unlike in SMS where they need to send the message to the telcos which in turn will send it to recipients.

“With this technology wala na yung telcos, kami na ang magka-craft, kami na ang magpapadala ng message,” he said.

He said their biggest challenge is the limit in the characters that they can send.

“Ang challenge doon ‘yung pagcraft ng message dahil limited ang characters,” he said.

He said they will send messages only during emergency situations.

“Ayaw naming abusuhin ang paggamit nito. Gusto namin marealize ng tao na pag pinadalhan sila e urgent talaga kaya dapat silang sumunod,” he said.

NDRRMC and Smart are set to conduct test runs of the ECBS in Northern, Central, and Southern Luzon in the next few weeks, following successful runs in Mindanao on Jan. 24, Visayas on Jan. 25, and Metro Manila on Jan. 26. — TJD, GMA News