The new normal posed by COVID-19 has fast-tracked the adoption by local government units and organizations of technology-based programs to keep people informed and help students resume their studies despite the pandemic.

Nagiel Bañacia, Officer-in-Charge of the Lapu-Lapu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office, has been at the front and center of the ongoing health crisis. He says that while traditional forms of communication like tarpaulins, leaflets and recorridas still work, tech-powered communications channels are more effective in reaching quickly and safely communities under lockdown.

“We address the ‘info-demic’ of misinformation about the virus by educating the people with legitimate information – the nature of COVID-19, its mode of transmission, and how to avoid infection,” Bañacia said.

This is why Lapu-Lapu City tapped Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) for its Infocast service, a web-based text broadcast solution that sends out SMS alerts to community members. It has been used by inter-agency task force groups and LGUs to broadcast text updates to officials and employees, health workers, and barangay and police authorities.

Ramping up information dissemination

Aside from Lapu-Lapu City, the Infocast service of PLDT’s wireless subsidiary has helped Dumanjug, also in Cebu Province. The third-class municipality uses the same platform to collect COVID-19-related feedback through the Infocast registration feature that allows residents to directly communicate with the LGU.

The local government units of Madridejos in Cebu and Ubay in Bohol have likewise been encouraging residents to register their numbers to Infocast in order to regularly receive pandemic-related text alerts. Officials of Mati City in Davao Oriental have also been using Infocast to encourage responsible use of social media.

Baguio’s Public Information Office has also been using Smart Infocast to broadcast programs, health advisories and efforts of the city against COVID-19, particularly to barangay captains who help disseminate information to the community.

Smart Infocast is also available in Albay, Batangas, Catanduanes, Laguna, Sorsogon in Luzon; in Batuan, Pitogo and Carlos P. Garcia in Bohol; Danao, Bantayan, Sta Fe, Lapu-Lapu and Brgy. Tisa in Cebu, as well as in Basilan, Cagayan De Oro, Digos, and Surigao del Norte and Zamboanga in Mindanao, among others.

Disaster-resilient education

Smart has also been working closely with schools and educators to roll out the CVIF-Dynamic Learning Program or DLP, a disaster-resilient, innovative, and low-budget teaching strategy designed to train students to learn independently, effectively, and responsibly, even with minimal supervision from both teachers and parents.

The brainchild of Filipino theoretical physicists and Ramon Magsaysay awardees Dr. Christopher Bernido and Dr. Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido, the teaching method focuses on student activity and aims to produce students whose competence in the Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (STEM) disciplines are comparable to global standards.

Applicable to flexible learning options – from online to on-air to offline modes of learning, DLP can help teachers, students, and parents, even those in remote, underserved areas, to hurdle the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Communication as aid

To ensure seamless communications during the COVID-19 crisis, Smart has also provided communication as aid in various municipalities.

Smart has rolled out Multi-Element On Wheels (MEOW) equipment in cities such as Ormoc, particularly its COVID-19 quarantine facility, to enable better communication among responders and frontliners, and to allow patients to stay connected with their families.

“Ormoc City is maximizing the use of technology and connectivity amid Covid-19. In being able to disseminate vital information to our people, we are able to work faster and more efficiently,” said Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez.

Aside from Ormoc, Smart has also rolled out MEOW equipment at the San Lazaro Hospital, a primary COVID-19 facility in Manila, to augment its network services.

PLDT-Smart has likewise provided other forms of communications assistance such as SIM cards, load cards, smartphones and Smart Bro LTE Wi-Fi to various government institutions, such as the Department of Health, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine General Hospital, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and the Department of Transportation.

Strengthening disaster resiliency

In line with the National Disaster Resilience Month, Smart continues to support the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) efforts to strengthen disaster resiliency across the country.

“The communications support extended by PLDT-Smart amid the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as during previous disasters—are all made possible by our sustained investments in network modernization and expansion over the last five years,” says Ramon R. Isberto, head of PLDT-Smart Public Affairs.

As of end-March 2020, Smart increased the number of 4G/LTE base stations to 26,000, up 6% from end-2019 and 60%n more than end-2018. PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, which supports Smart’s network by providing high-capacity links to LTE base stations, is now at 338,500 kilometers nationwide, 5% more than end-2019 and up nearly 40% from end-2018.

In April, Smart further increased the capacity of its LTE network by reallocating its assigned 1800 Mhz frequency from 2G to 4G/LTE. As a result, 3,785 base stations of Smart have also been providing additional capacity for its LTE network.

These efforts are also in line with PLDT-Smart’s commitment to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), particularly the 9th UN SDG on Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, through building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation.

“Through the years, Smart has delivered its commitment to keep everyone connected in times of crisis – from government officials, to frontliners, to the general public. Amid what could be the most challenging crisis of our time, we will continue to stay true to that promise,” Isberto said.

Top photo: Infocast SMS service in Madridejos, Cebu. (Smart)