How disaster prepared are our government websites?

As my beloved Philippines is again buckling down from an impending “super typhoon” after we were hit very hard by the previous one a week ago, we must try to assess the situation in order to prepare for it in the future.

Dean Andy Bautista’s column in Philippine Star enumerated how we can better deal with these situations when it happens again. He said that we must device a new system to assess weather disturbance, purchase modern equipment, acquire right equipment, think environment and review changing landscapes.

Call Emergency
I like to suggest another one. Coordinate a single quick response hotline so that it would be easier and faster for people who are in need of help to get in touch with the proper government agencies. Similar to “911”, the government must assign a common number for all concerned departments and local units so that they can be reached quicker and the response time would be shorter. But alas, we have none! 😦

As I was watching the news programs and telethons from two competing local TV networks, I can’t help but frown on the many numbers posted as marquees on their screens. How can I call those numbers if I can’t even memorize any one of it? Too many to memorize!

Let’s say I need medical assistance. What number should I dial? Should I call the National Disaster Coordinating Center (How the hell did I know that agency?) or my nearest hospital, or my own local government unit, or the local police, or the Philippine National Red Cross? Two days after the typhoon, most of the telephone lines are already operational. Cell phones are already working and electricity is restored. So calling for help won’t be a problem anymore. Unless, you don’t know what number to dial.

Website Help
Now, let’s say I want to donate my few hard earned money, where would I send it to, in a Kapuso or a Kapamilya station? An issue was raised in Twitter about a Hollywood celebrity who was very eager to donate some cash to Philippine National Red Cross. But he was so disappointed because their website (at that time) is not equipped to accept donations.

This brings me to my other suggestion. The government’s online presence should be accessible and equipped to disseminate and receive information from people worldwide. The vital government websites should have the complete information on where to get assistance, how to interact with the agency and immediately report any emergencies. The government must strengthen their management information system in order to fully deal with these situations.

Now how do we carry out these information if these government sites are inaccessible? Also, a sizable number of local government units still don’t have websites. The governors and mayors should give emphasis on these inadequacies so that they can better serve their constituents.

As of this hour, the Department of Public Works and Highways site is inaccessible. The Department of Education site does not have a list of government schools that are being used as evacuation centers. They have a list of damaged schools. But not the ones where people can go for temporary shelter. The Department of Transportation and Communication site has nothing to offer that even Pres. GMA flared up with it’s secretary during an emergency meeting, for not doing anything.

The Internet is now turning into a very potent medium where information can easily be attained by almost everyone in the planet. In my Facebook wall, I read users post important hotlines on whom to contact. I also find up-to-the-minute accounts of disasters and tragedy waiting to happen within the community. I also read some advisories on what roads are impassable and warnings on the impending calamity. That’s technology used at its finest. The government must tap into these tools in order to fast track their services.

On the sad note, government employees displaced by the typhoon who sought the help from Government Service Insurance System to avail of their emergency funds were not as lucky. GSIS’s computerized database bogged down in the first two hours of business as queues spilled over outside the building. Some workers were fuming mad when they cannot apply for calamity loans. Let’s hope that their system would be restored and people would get their much needed cash.

I pray that the government would get its act together, create a unified hotline for quicker response and strengthen their online presence in order for people to immediately access their services. 🙂


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