As they say, information is power. Indeed, it is. Information affects in a positive or negative way or sometimes in both depending on circumstances arising. But one thing that would ascertain information is power, on a very positive note, is that “it can save lives,” especially when the information is accurate, timely and conveyed in an appropriate manner and methodology.
This was what the Philippine Information Agency in Central Luzon has come to attest particularly during the wrath of Tropical Storm Pedring (international name Nesat) which was succeeded by typhoon Quiel (international name Nalgae) in September last year that has further brought enormous devastation in Region 3.
The bits of information that the agency disseminated, in various means, ranging from print and broadcast news production to sending of situation reports via short messaging system, during that time of catastrophe, had helped significantly in sparing a lot of townspeople from the ruins of the typhoon’s destructive force.
It was on the Sept. 24 when Typhoon Pedring entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). It left 83 dead, 52 of them from Central Luzon. It caused vast damages to agriculture that reached in billions worth, impaired major roads and other infrastructures, and inundated most parts of the region with floodwaters reaching elevations that have never been experienced before.
Seeing the magnitude of Pedring’s wrath, the PIA-Region 3 logically took it as another “call of duty,” not just to inform, but more importantly, also to save lives through the power of information.
Reporting for duty at the Operations Center of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council 3 (RDRRMC3) at the Diosdado Macapagal Government Center in Maimpis, City of San Fernando for six straight days, monitoring updates on the typhoon, with each staff barely having less than three hours of sleep per day, the PIA-Region 3 readily took the cudgels of having to inform the people of typhoon-related updates and situationers around the region.
With networks established, the PIA-3 easily gathered typhoon-related situation reports from almost everywhere in the region, ranging from flooded barangays and impassable roads, to flocking of affected families in congested evacuation centers and even rescue calls.
These situation reports were immediately forwarded to concerned authorities who greatly helped in the facilitation of needed support requirement.
Most notable was the gathered information on continuously escalating floodwaters in the towns of Paombong and Pulilan and in low-lying areas of Malolos City in Bulacan. In collaboration with the RDRRMC3, the PIA facilitated sending text blasts of a situation report urging residents living in said areas to evacuate and proceed to safer grounds. Through the PIA-Central Office which coordinated with big telecommunication companies such as Smart, Globe and Sun, the message reached all mobile subscribers in affected areas, thereby, eliciting a notable proportion of people’s compliance to the warning. The floodwaters may not have risen to the level as to what was then being experienced in the towns of Hagonoy and Calumpit, where floodwaters reached to as high as 20 feet, the PIA-initiated text blast message protected the people from what was then a looming threat to their lives.
Another story of life-saving information was that of the two Fermina Bus Liner and one Victory Liner buses which got stuck along the highway of Barangay Tuec in Camiling, Tarlac amidst a strong current of about four to five feet floodwater. The information, which was received by the PIA-3 thru text message and by the RDRRMC3 thru a phone call on the night of October 1, 2011, emanated from a concerned citizen calling for authorities to help the more than 50 passengers on-board the buses, which were then in danger of being carried by the flow of strong water current.
The PIA-3 was instrumental in mobilizing rescue teams, thru its own contacts, to save the bus passengers, with the RDRRMC3 on the spearhead. While mobilized rescue teams found it difficult to penetrate the area due to strong flow of floodwater rampaging the road section, all passengers were safely rescued by the joint elements of the Third Mechanized Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Camiling Police, after more than five hours of operations.
More so, in its endeavor to serve as a catalyst for public safety, PIA sitreps on flooded areas and impassable roads were forwarded to a number of recipients, public and private, including the media, hoping that the information might reach people attempting to go or traverse these areas, believing the messages would forewarn them of the danger they would have to face should they persist in going, and thus, save them from the perils of the battering typhoon.
Almost on an hourly basis during the time, the PIA-3 had been sending weather bulletins, advisories and updates through e-mails and text blasts, to media with the intention of having these information reach the public without delay, and thereby, keep them abreast of the current situation and spare them from having to confront the unanticipated perils of the ravaging effects of the typhoon.
Taking cue from RDRRMC-3 Chairperson and Office of Civil Defense regional director Josefina Timoteo, the PIA also served as the official spokesperson of the RDRRMC3, accommodating and responding to queries and interviews from both national and local media who fervently sought information and updates on what was then happening – rescue operations, government interventions, weather bulletins, among others.
These interviews helped significantly in putting across core messages that the disaster council intended to convey, for people to become more vigilant and constantly prepared to face the uncertainties of the times, reassuring that the government is doing the best job it could do to save people from the sweeping force of the catastrophe.
Truly, the power of information is indisputable. More than making people know and learn about things, the power of information can save lives, as well.
The PIA lives up to such reputation in performing its role in public service. The PIA does not just inform. It does not just provide people with adequate information to help them make better decisions and identify opportunities that could improve their quality of life.
The PIA also saves lives. (WLB/PIA-3)