Monthly Archives: February 2014

#startuplife: The Evolution of Emergency Management in the Philippines

While SFDEM was visiting the TaRSIER 117 Operations Center an emergency call came in about a shooting in Taglibaran City.  A call taker took the information from the caller and a radio dispatcher notified the Philippine National Police.

Startup life… It’s a lifestyle and a popular hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.  It’s the hustle and the grind.  The marathon hack-a-thons and the late night drinks where ideas are born.  It’s developing the next product or service that’ll change all of our lives.  In San Francisco, it drives our economy but there have been some unintended consequences as well.

Over here it’s different.  In a two room building in the Bohol province of the Philippines they aren’t developing a new social network, e-commerce site, or dating service.  The men and women of this startup don’t develop code or design products.  Instead the scrappy staff that make up this startup are dispatchers, medics, and emergency managers and they are making TaRSIER 117 work with nothing more than sheer will.  TaRSIER is short for Telephone and Radio System Integrated Emergency Response.  1-1-7 is the phone number Boholinos are encouraged to call when they have an emergency.

TaRSIER 117 is housed in a two room building in Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

TaRSIER 117 is housed in a two room building in Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

Darwin, Operations Manager, watches as a TaRSIER Call Taker and Dispatcher respond to shooting.

Darwin, Operations Manager, watches as a TaRSIER Call Taker and Dispatcher respond to shooting.

Alfonso is a proud Boholino and TaRSIER was his idea.  Many years ago his father, Alfonso Sr., had a stroke so they jumped in a car and rushed him to the closest clinic.  It took an hour and half…the damage was done.  Bohol had ambulances, they had firefighters, and they had police officers but they weren’t coordinated.  On top of that each had their own phone number and often that number was different from barangay to barangay (neighborhood to neighborhood).  What was needed was central place in Bohol where aid and assistance could be coordinated effectively.  Years later, Alfonso became the Provincial Administrator and in March 2011 TaRSIER 117 was launched with a staff of 8.

If TaRSIER was Alphonso’s idea, then Darwin and Mark are the key developers.  Darwin was trained as a nurse, but had difficulties finding a nursing job in Bohol, so he worked for a customer call center. When he started at TaRSIER, he drew upon his background to develop the protocols and script his dispatchers use when people call.  Mark is also a trained nurse and a former Philippine Red Cross volunteer.  Mark uses his medical and Red Cross experience to train TaRSIER’s medical response and rescue teams. Together they are taking what they know and developing the lifesaving protocols, procedures and training for TaRSIER.  If something isn’t working they learn from the experience and make adjustments.  From what DEM could observe they are doing a phenomenal job with scarce resources and without formal training.

Darwin, Mark, and SFDEM's Francis Zamora ride in the back of a TaRSIER response vehicle.

Darwin, Mark, and SFDEM’s Francis Zamora ride in the back of a TaRSIER response vehicle.

Cecile Soto, SF DEM 9-1-1 Operations Manager, with TaRSIER 117 Dispatchers.

Cecile Soto, SF DEM 9-1-1 Operations Manager, with TaRSIER 117 Dispatchers.

Rod Dudgeon re-lives his paramedic days and talks shop witth TaRSIER medics.

Rob Dudgeon re-lives his paramedic days and talks shop witth TaRSIER medics.

TaRSIER has grown to 47 people who staff and operate Bohol’s emergency operations center, emergency dispatch, and provide ambulance and rescue services.  While they have grown with the support of Bohol’s governor, like any startup, they have had their challenges.  Educating the public to call 1-1-7 has been an enormous task.  TaRSIER averages 250 emergency calls per month for population of 1.2 million.  By comparison, San Francisco’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center averages more than 3,000 calls per day for a similar population.  It’s not because San Francisco has more accidents, fires, or crime. It’s because many people in Bohol in still prefer to seek out help on their own or call the police or fire department directly.  If they do call, sometimes it’s for non-emergencies.  TaRSIER staff cited examples of people calling to ask what the traffic is like.  In other instances, the caller gets upset and asks the dispatcher why they are asking so many questions.  DEM assured our counterparts that we also get similar calls.

Retention is another challenge for TaRSIER.  Most of the team went to school to be nurses and have had a hard time finding a job in that field.  As the staff gains experience and training, they often get offers for higher paying jobs as nurses or in more established emergency management departments in the Philippines.  According to Alfonso, in the past year, 14 staff members have left TaRSIER for more lucrative or high profile opportunities.

NDRRMC Emergency Operations Center

NDRRMC Emergency Operations Center

NDRMMC tracks the movement of a typhoon earlier this year.

NDRMMC tracks the movement of a typhoon earlier this year.

Not all emergency management departments in the Philippines are startups.  The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is the Philippine government’s version of our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  During our visit to NDRRMC headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, we found highly professional, knowledgeable, and experienced emergency managers.  In addition to earthquakes, the Philippines must contend with 15 to 20 typhoons each season.  While NDRRMC is nowhere near a startup, their focus has shifted from managing the response to reducing risk through preparedness.

The Philippines has invested time and resources in engaging the public through both digital and traditional social networks.  Facebook is the primary method of digital social networking since it is what most Filipinos use.  NDRRMC has also formed a public-private partnership with the country’s mobile providers and developed a smartphone app that provides useful emergency information that is set to launch in the summer of 2014.

The staff at the NDRRMC knows that government can’t be the only answer before, during, and after an emergency.  They are investing time in local leadership at the barangay level.  People everywhere, whether it is in the Philippines or San Francisco, are likely to listen to information if it is from friend, family member, or other trusted source.  This is why the NDRRMC is enlisting church leaders, school teachers, and barangay captains to help Filipinos get more prepared.

Manila DRMMC official demonstrates call talking capabilities.

Manila DRMMC official demonstrates call talking capabilities.

Manila's combined Emergency Operations and Dispatch Center under construction.

Manila’s combined Emergency Operations and Dispatch Center under construction.

Manila’s emergency management agency is in a state somewhere between TaRSIER and the NDRRMC.  The Manila DDRMC (MDDRMC) has taken steps towards preparing for the hazards that may face the city’s 1.6 million inhabitants.  MDDRMC is building a new combined emergency operations center and emergency dispatch center at Manila City Hall. The center will coordinate everyday emergency calls as well as respond during special event or disaster.  DEM was impressed by MDDRMC’s due diligence in designing their combined center.  Manila officials built a small demonstration facility and then required every hardware and software vendor to provide a proof of concept for their products before asking for bids.  As a result, they could test equipment and software before purchasing them.

While TaRSIER, NDRRMC, and City of Manila are different stages of evolution and capability they were all put to the test in some way in the fall of 2013.  DEM’s next post will focus on the response and recovery and lessons learned from the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in 23 years and the strongest typhoon in recorded history.

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President Aquino Thanks San Francisco

Benigno S. Aquino III remarks to Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco Manila Sister Cities Committee

President Benigno S. Aquino III addresses Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco Manila Sister Cities Committee

Thursday was a special day for Mabuhay Manila delegates as President Benigno S. Aquino III took time out of his busy schedule to thank Mayor Edwin M. Lee and San Francisco for their support in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.  The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management also go a little bit of love from the President of the Philippines:

“On top of this, I also hear that, in the next few days, some officials from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management will be flying to Bohol to share best practices with our local disaster management officials. This is truly heartwarming; it proves that our respective cities are sister cities not only in word but more importantly also in deed. On behalf of the Filipino people, I cannot overstate our gratitude. With your help—along with the unwavering support of our countrymen and friends the world over—our campaign to build back better continues with even more resolve. We can all look forward to the time when the survivors of Yolanda can take full control over their destinies once again.”

Watch President Aquino’s Full Address to the San Francisco delegation:

Three Things

Three Things

Mayor Edwin M. Lee presents a box of SFMADE products.

Mayor Edwin M. Lee presents a box of SFMADE products to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The first two days of the Mabuhay Manila mission were all about encouraging trade and business.  The delegation visited the Center for International Trade and Missions where we previewed Philippine-made products that you may one day see at Crate & Barrell or Whole Foods.  Delegates also participated in forums with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry about doing business in Manila and San Francisco.

Naturally, as emergency managers, we had to find our own spin on things.  We asked three things business leaders from Bay Area and Manila would share with customers about being prepared.

SFDEM with delegates representing the SF Bay Area private sector.

SFDEM with delegates representing the SF Bay Area private sector.

Dennis Biscocho, President, Bisocho Insurance Agency, Farmers Insurance

Dennis knows a thing or two about emergencies.  He was on the ground with the Farmers Insurance Emergency Response team following the San Bruno gas explosion and fire.

  1. Have an emergency kit nearby and accessible.
  2. Have adequate coverage.  Remember your homeowners or renters insurance doesn’t cover damage from an earthquake.   In the Bay Area, you need earthquake insurance too.
  3. Safeguard the things that are important to you like documents, photos, or mementos.

Jason Yi Ming Han, Vice President of Business Development, Anada-USA

Jason specializes in travel and you’ll find that preparing for a trip is similar to preparing for an emergency.

  1. Safeguard your documents.  Keep your passport and other important travel documents in a safe place.  A TIP FROM DEM: Upload your important documents whether for travel or life to the cloud.
  2. Prepare a safety card with your doctor’s information, important phone numbers, and meeting locations.  Sounds like preparing an emergency plan to us!
  3. Know the local culture.  Customs may be different in another country.  Researching your destination allows you have a smoother trip.   Knowing to drop, cover, and hold during an earthquake will help you too!
SFDEM and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry

SFDEM and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry is enthusiastic about helping Filipinos in a disaster.  Here are three things the private sector in the Philippines can do.

  1. Provide  education and engagement.  The chamber can educate their members and customers about how to prepare for an emergency.  The PCCI is considering forming a private sector disaster coordinating council to help Filipinos.
  2. Businesses can help with response and relief.  Private industry has the logistical capability and systems in place to deliver and distribute much needed supplies.
  3. PCCI can help the Philippines recover and get back on its feet.  Their members have the capital and resources to invest and help Filipinos get back to normal.

Our team enjoyed meeting with business leaders in the Philippines.  Soon, the focus of our mission shifts to the business of emergency management.  Beginning  Thursday, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management will spend our time in Philippines meeting with Filipino emergency managers, first responders, and local authorities involved with the Bohol Earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda relief and recovery efforts.

Ibahagi Ang Kaalaman (Share the Knowledge)

Bohol Earthquake

The rubble of the Church of Our Lady of Light in Bohol.

Last year the Philippines was hit by not one, but two, disasters in the span of 24 days. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook the province of Bohol. It was the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in 23 years. Three weeks later the most powerful typhoon in history made landfall, resulting in catastrophic damage and loss of life.

The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management will join Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco-Manila Sister Cities Committee on a business, cultural, and rebuilding mission to the Philippines. During our mission we’ll meet with emergency managers, first responders, dispatchers, and local authorities from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Manila Emergency Management, and TaRSIER 1-1-7.

So what is our mission?  Ibahagi Ang Kaalaman — or “Share the Knowledge” in Tagalog.  For an emergency manager, a 9-1-1 dispatcher, and a communicator, it’s about sharing our experiences and best practices.  For our hosts, it’s sharing the hard lessons learned from Mother Nature’s wrath.

Rob Dudgeon

Rob Dudgeon, Deputy Director

Rob Dudgeon’s job includes managing San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  He often shares his expertise with fellow emergency managers, and has learned valuable lessons from those who have faced disaster first hand.  Rob and his team know the importance of not only sharing information but also resources, and during Hurricane Sandy, Rob’s team gave much-needed relief to tired emergency managers.

Following a disaster it’s natural to want to help.  But often times, well-intentioned people have to be turned away.  This was true in the Philippines.  In his research for this upcoming mission, Rob found that the Philippines had an influx of volunteers following the dual disasters, yet couldn’t accommodate everyone who wanted to help.  We have no doubt that people in San Francisco will help each other in an emergency, yet are we properly prepared for others to come to our aid?  Rob will have in-depth conversations with local authorities and volunteers to share his experiences managing response and recovery, as well as learn how we can most effectively utilize volunteers in an emergency.

Cecile Soto

Cecile Soto, 9-1-1 Operations Manager

Cecile Soto, a Filipina who immigrated to the United States in 1985, has managed everyday emergencies for the past 20 years as a public safety dispatcher.  It is commonly known that in an emergency you call “9-1-1”.  But this was not always the case.  It wasn’t until 1968 that 9-1-1 became the national emergency number in America.  The Philippine national emergency number, 1-1-7, is just over ten years old.

For Cecile, the trip is opportunity to give back to the country of her birth by sharing what she’s learned in her 20 years as a dispatcher.  It’s also an opportunity to gain insight from the texting capital of the world.  The low cost of a cell phone and SMS plan compared to that of a computer and a broadband connection has made texting extremely popular in Philippines.  So naturally, Filipinos can text 1-1-7 in an emergency.  This is something we’re barely starting to do the United States.  Our mission to Bohol includes a visit to their 1-1-7 dispatch center where we will learn first-hand from Filipino emergency dispatchers who are already accepting text messages for police, fire, and medical emergencies.

Francis Zamora

Francis Zamora, Public Information Officer

Francis Zamora, also a Filipino-American, is responsible for communicating with the public during an emergency.  His job is to develop and deliver messages everyone can understand during crisis – whether through the press, social media, or the good ole’ Tuesday Noon Siren (or what some call their Tuesday Burrito Call).

In conversations with relatives and Philippine officials about Typhoon Yolanda, Francis found that many Filipinos simply didn’t understand the danger they faced.  Before Yolanda, there was no Tagalog term for “Storm Surge.”  Now there is some debate as to whether describing the effects of the typhoon as a tsunami, daluyong (big waves), or humbak (swells at sea) would have been more effective.  Understanding “Storm Surge” is even difficult in the United States.  During Hurricane Sandy many people didn’t listen to warnings to get out of water’s way because many didn’t know what “Storm Surge” meant.  For Francis, the trip is an opportunity to meet everyday Filipinos and find out what messages make sense to them.  He’ll spend time with fellow communicators to develop messages everyone – whether in the Philippines or in San Francisco – can understand in an emergency.

There is so much we can share with each other:  In San Francisco, we ask that you connect, prepare, and plan on sf72.org.  In the Philippines, PrepareManila.org wants to make sure that Manila is a prepared and resilient city. The Philippines recently passed a bill requiring text message disaster alerts.  This week mobile phones throughout the Bay Area flashed numerous Wireless Emergency Alerts.  We can’t assume that what works in San Francisco will work in the Philippines, however we do have an opportunity to listen and share, and perhaps teach others about effectively engaging our communities.

Three staff members from San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management will travel to the Philippines from February 16 to February 24.  Their mission will include exchanges with emergency managers, first responders, and local authorities in Manila and Bohol.  Follow the mission by liking SFDEM on Facebook, following @SF72org on Twitter, or by subscribing to the SFDEM Blog: www.sfdem.org/blog.