Friday, 5 March 2010

Rival giant telcos agree to help PAGASA

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Setting aside years of intense rivalry, telco giants Smart Communications Inc., Globe Telecom and Sun Cellular have agreed in principle to install rain gauges at their cellular sites, in a joint effort to improve disaster preparedness and save lives across the storm-ravaged archipelago.

Data collected from these strategically located gauges can help the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) forecast floods and issue warnings more accurately and promptly, according to the proponents.

The project also assures the security of the weather-reading instruments and save the weather bureau the cost of installing the apparatus.

A memorandum of agreement among Smart, Globe and Sun to base the PAGASA rain gauges at some of their cell sites is currently being prepared and is expected to be signed as early as next week.

National interest

The initiative is part of the program of the private sector-led Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) to help upgrade the country’s flood forecasting system, which came under heavy criticism especially in the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana) last year.

Smart chair Manuel V. Pangilinan, who also heads the PDRF, noted that the three mobile phone companies did not normally get together given the intense rivalry for the lucrative mobile communications market.

But the companies easily agreed to set their differences aside and collaborate for the national interest, Pangilinan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday.

“It is a wonderful joint effort. I am glad that all three have agreed to do it because it is very important to have those rain gauges,” Pangilinan said. “They can help avert disaster because the data can be used to warn people of floods and even mudslides.”

PDRF is conducting a survey of the existing early warning system used by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and has so far found that 70 percent of the system is still working.

But the survey also noted that some of the most critical portions of the system need to be upgraded or replaced.

Bayanihan spirit

Pangilinan said he also hoped that collaboration among the three companies would not stop with the rain gauges and also include joint initiatives to speed up weather data transmission to PAGASA.

Globe Telecom chief executive officer Ernest Cu said his company would always be open to collaborations for the common good.

“For us, telcos should really get together for these types of endeavors. This is not a competitive situation. There is no profit involved but the public interest,” Cu said.

“We are willing to help in the spirit of bayanihan,” the Globe top executive stressed.

William Pamintuan, head of the legal department of the Gokongwei-controlled Digital Mobile Philippines Inc. that operates the Sun Cellular network, described the partnership as unprecedented.

The project will benefit all Filipinos, Pamintuan said, adding that it did not take much convincing for Sun Cellular to join in.

Early preparation crucial

Pamintuan said the agreement was also timely since the rain gauges have to be installed before the onset of the rainy season and with experts predicting stronger and more frequent typhoons this year because of climate change.

Susan Espinueva, chief of PAGASA’s hydrometeorological division, said the project could give weather forecasters, local governments and disaster response agencies a “lead time” of six to 12 hours when faced with an impending calamity.

Such early preparations are crucial when mobilizing for mass evacuations or rescue operations, Espinueva said.

“The location of these weather instruments in cell phone sites will increase the lead time for weather forecasts and enhance accuracy,” she said. “More lives can be saved. It’s definitely a big step in weather forecasting in the country.”

“We have been toying with the idea of installing small weather stations on the cell sites. We have difficulty finding the appropriate sites because of security concerns. These instruments are expensive,” Espinueva said.

P.5-million rain gauge

A rain gauge would usually cost around P500,000, she said.

For pilot locations, Espinueva said the project had chosen 20 sites around Metro Manila, including ones in the cities of Pasig and Marikina, which were among the areas most devastated by Ondoy.

Outside the capital, other locations being considered are the Cagayan River basin and the provinces of Ifugao and Quirino, Espinueva said.

“Eventually, we would like to install these instruments in cell sites all over the country,” she said.

Espinueva said the instruments would work in tandem with two radar stations that were being installed in Subic and Tagaytay. With a report from Alcuin Papa

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