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18 vulnerable towns in Eastern Visayas get high-tech satellite communications equipment

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has installed 18 Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) units and 18 power generator sets in disaster-prone and highly vulnerable areas in Eastern Visayas.

Among the areas that benefited from the project include the towns of Tabon-tabon, MacArthur, Isabel, Matag-ob, Abuyog, La Paz, Mahaplag, and Palompon in Leyte as well as Macrohon, Anahawan, and Hinunangan of Southern Leyte. Furthermore, the equipment has been set up in Tarangnan and Matuguinao in Samar, Gamay and San Roque in Northern Samar, Dolores and Balangkayan in Eastern Samar, and Caibiran in Biliran.

Disaster-prone area

Eastern Visayas is blessed with breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, where sparkling beaches and charming islands create a picturesque sight. However, the region's residents are no strangers to natural disasters and are often at the mercy of tropical cyclones, typhoons, and earthquakes that frequently strike the area. The frequent occurrence of such calamities makes it essential for communities to have a reliable communication infrastructure to enable quick and efficient response efforts.

The equipment boosts the government's disaster preparedness and emergency response capabilities. With these advanced tools, the government can ensure uninterrupted communication and coordination channels, vital before, during, and after disasters. This will enable authorities to take prompt and effective measures to mitigate the impacts of natural calamities and provide timely relief to affected communities.

It can be recalled that Eastern Visayas was cut off from the rest of the world after all communication lines went down when Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck in November 2013.

The installation of the VSAT deployed in Mahaplag, Leyte. (Photo courtesy of DICT-8 and DRRMO Mahaplag)
The internet and signal connectivity were monitored following the installation of the VSAT in La Paz, Leyte. (Photo courtesy of DICT-8 and DRRMO La Paz)
Its features

Installing Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) is a game-changer for Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices, as it allows them to transmit data and voice signals over long distances. It also serves as a backup communications channel in case main lines are down. 

This technology ensures that MDRRMO can stay connected and communicate with their constituents even in the most challenging circumstances. Its efficient and uninterrupted operation in such disasters makes it an indispensable tool for ensuring the safety and well-being of citizens in times of crisis.

The inclusion of generator sets in the project, in addition to the VSATs will guarantee an uninterrupted power supply, augmenting the sustainability of the connectivity infrastructure. During times of calamity, when power outages are frequent, the generator sets will play a vital role in preserving the functionality of the VSATs and supporting essential services.

DICT talks

Engr. Duke Renz Peñaranda, DRRM focal person of DICT-8, said that they used specific criteria when deploying equipment to certain areas, including the island municipalities. They also evaluated the local government units (LGUs) to determine which ones lack equipment and were in strategic locations.

Peñaranda added that the DICT DRRM project, funded by the Tingog Party-list, will deploy additional VSATs with satellite phones and solar panel sets to around 46 LGUs. Although the project has already been awarded to a supplier, the DICT is still monitoring its implementation. They expect to deploy this project in the second quarter of this year.

“Batid po natin na ang Region 8 ay isang lugar na madalas tamaan ng bagyo. Malaking proyekto ito na may malaking epekto sa operasyon ng pagtugon; madalas tayong bisitahin ng bagyo, kaya naman asahan natin na makakatulong ang kagamitang ito sa pagpapabuti ng komunikasyon. Inaasahan natin na magiging maayos ang koordinasyon ng lahat ng ahensiyang sumasagot, at mas mapapadali ang pagpapadala at pagtanggap ng mga ulat at tulong mula sa gobyerno kapag ito'y kinakailangan,” he said.

(Translation: We are aware that Region 8 is an area frequently affected by typhoons. This is a significant project that will substantially impact response operations. Since we often experience typhoons, we expect that this equipment will contribute to improving communication. We anticipate smooth coordination among all responding agencies, which will make sending and receiving reports and government assistance more efficient when needed.)

According to DICT Regional Director Felix S. Tabanao Jr., they continue to support the implementation of projects such as the installation of VSAT and generator sets. They are hopeful to expand their efforts by adding satellite phones and solar panels to their equipment procurement budget this year. 

He added that this would be a significant advantage for our fellow citizens across Eastern Visayas in promptly addressing and responding to calamities, especially considering that our region is frequently affected by disasters. They have strongly coordinated with their partners, ranging from LGUs at provincial and municipal levels to disaster risk reduction management offices.

MDRRMO talks

Gerrymar D. Borden, the unicipal disaster risk reduction and management officer of Matuguinao, said that Telco's network coverage and internet connection are not that stable. The LGU could enhance the internet signal by using the VSAT.

Borden added that, as a leading agency that responds during calamities or disasters, the two sets of equipment deployed in their area are helpful in their work. During heavy rain caused by typhoons or bad weather, the internet connectivity becomes slower, and sometimes the commercial Telcos network goes down.

He also mentioned that the VSAT will serve as communication redundancy for continuous information dissemination. Timely reports will be given to government agencies and nearby barangays that require updates from their LGU during a disaster. Meanwhile, the generator set will ensure that even during a power interruption, they can provide timely information to emergency response teams.

Aside from natural disasters, the MDRRMO can utilize the equipment during their day-to-day activities due to unstable internet connections and poor telecommunications signals in Matuguinao.

“Napakahusay ang ginawang pagsusumikap ng joint project ng DICT-UNDP dahil magkakaroon ng dagdag na kakayahan ang LGU Matuguinao. Isa itong napakagandang proyekto dahil hindi na kami mahihirapan sa pakikipag-ugnayan kahit kami ay ma-isolate sa panahon ng pagbaha. Marahil, ito ay isa sa pinakamalaking proyekto na ibinigay sa amin dahil ngayon ay kayang-kaya naming makipag-communicate nang hindi naaapekto ang aming koneksyon at ma-monitor namin ang impormasyon sa panahon ng kalamidad at maipaabot namin ito nang maayos. Kaya naman, congratulations sa pinagsamang pagsisikap ng DICT, bilang pangunahing ahensiyang nagbibigay ng ganitong uri ng serbisyo, at syempre sa UNDP sa pagpopondo ng proyektong ito. Ito ay isang hindi malilimutang proyekto dito sa Matuguinao,” Borden expressed.

(Translation: The joint project of DICT-UNDP has been remarkably successful in providing additional capabilities to the LGU Matuguinao. This is a beautiful project because we will no longer struggle with communication, even when isolated during floods. This is one of the most significant projects given to us because now we can communicate without affecting our connection and monitor information during calamities, ensuring we can deliver it properly. Therefore, congratulations to the collaborative efforts of DICT as the primary agency providing this kind of service, and of course, to UNDP for funding this project. This is a project that will be remembered here in Matuguinao.)

Tabanao wanted to express his gratitude to the office of House Speaker Martin Romualdez and the Tingog Party-list for their continuous support each year in funding this highly relevant DICT project.

The DICT-UNDP project in Eastern Visayas shows how advanced technology can help vulnerable communities. These communities are better prepared to face natural disasters with the new equipment provided. This project is essential for keeping communities connected during times of crisis. It is a significant step towards a future where no storm can break the vital threads of communication that bind a community together. (AAC/PIA Leyte)

About the Author

Aaron Cotejar

Information Officer

Region 8

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