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The GSMA cites Smart's disaster preparedness and response programs

The GSMA’s Head of Disaster Response Kyla Reid is shown both the manual flood water level indicator painted on the bridge pillars (left) and the automated water level sensor (right) both being used in Marikina City.

The GSMA, the global trade association representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide, in a recent study cited leading Philippine mobile operator Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) for its innovative disaster preparedness and response programs. Through its Disaster Response programme, the GSMA conducted a study on how Smart has been utilizing its communications infrastructure and human resources for disaster response. The full case study will be presented at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in February 2013.

The GSMA study highlighted Smart's program as "an excellent example of leadership in disaster response within the mobile industry and a call to action for other operators to prioritize preparedness and coordination in advance of crises."

"The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world and it is only right that we Filipinos strive to become one of the world leaders in disaster preparedness," said Ramon Isberto, head of Smart's Public Affairs.

"We are honored that the hard lessons that we have learned in past disasters can be shared with other countries through the GSMA," he added.

Head of the GSMA’s Disaster Response Program Kyla Reid interviewed internal and external partners of Smart such as national agencies like the weather bureau Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and local governments down to the village level.

According to Smart, this close collaboration with the national and local governments, private companies and organizations like the Corporate Network for Disaster Response (CNDR), and its network of employees and retail trade partners all over the country has made it possible for the telco to act rapidly and effectively in times of disasters.

The GSMA study cited Smart's Libreng Tawag (free call) centers that the telco sets up in areas hardest hit by calamities such as typhoons and severe floods.

"In any disaster, communication is critical.  This enables people to call for help, check on their families and inform others that they are ok," said Isberto.  “That is why through the years, Smart has been working hard to make its mobile network resilient, enabling it to withstand the severe typhoons and earthquakes that hit the country."

During the August monsoon flooding, Philippine media reported how Filipinos used social networking – particularly Twitter and Facebook – to facilitate rescue and relief operations, making mobile data connection now equally important as voice and text services for emergency situations.

Smart itself utilized social media to provide regular network updates, inform the public about the setting up of Libreng Tawag stations and relief operation sites and other pertinent safety information.

The GSMA also highlighted Smart's other disaster response initiatives such as an emergency load facility for those with zero airtime balance, a person finder application to assist customers in locating loved ones via SMS, working with local government authorities to distribute essential aid in flood-affected areas, the opening of an SMS channel to receive donations for the Red Cross, among others.

While Smart has been active in disaster response, Isberto noted that the company has been stepping up its efforts in disaster preparedness.

Smart and sister company Sun Cellular are supporting Project NOAH (National Operational Assessment of Hazards and Risks), the Philippine government's ambitious weather and flood monitoring project.

The two companies have agreed to allow the Department of Science and Technology to install automated rain gauges in 600 of their cell sites in the 18 major rivers basins of the country.  Under a separate 2011 agreement, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has already installed automated rain gauges in 63 Smart cell sites.

Using the data from these instruments and detailed information to be gathered through advanced mapping technologies, the DOST aims to eventually develop computerized flood forecasting models that can predict the impact of rainfall on communities in these 18 major river systems.

Together with the DOST, Smart also helped develop and launch the Project NOAH mobile application for Android devices.

Smart has also supported the efforts of DOST Region 6 to set up a flood monitoring system in the province of Iloilo.

Smart has worked with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) to implement a World Bank-funded disaster preparedness project in Southern Leyte which utilized a text-messaging-based disaster alert system.

The same SMS-based system is being used by disaster preparedness officials in Albay province, which has one of the most comprehensive disaster preparedness programs in the country.

Smart is also one of the prime movers behind the Marikina Watershed Initiative (MWI), a project of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) that aims to reforest and rehabilitate the Marikina Watershed – a river basin that mitigates flooding in the low-lying areas that include Metro Manila. Working with the CNDR and the LGUs, Smart is also helping flood-prone communities design and implement their flood preparedness plans and community drills through the Noah’s Ark program.

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