November 20, 2013
On November 8, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall ever recorded in the world’s history. A vast expanse of the provinces on the Eastern part of the country has been devastated, some towns left in ruins and almost wiped out.
In the aftermath of the super typhoon which packed maximum sustained winds of 315 kph (by comparison, Hurrican Katrina’s was 280 kph) and brought a deadly storm surge, the affected areas lost telecommunication services vital to disaster response. This made everything much worse.
Despite having top national government officials pre-positioned in Tacloban City, one of the hardest hit, information on the extent of the damage and the amount of help needed came in trickles. In fact, assessment of the situation became more difficult twice over, especially since airports and ports were also wrecked.
People outside the typhoon’s path relied on intermittent TV newsfeeds by media people on the ground, who were themselves stranded and unable to use phone services.
For several days, survivors could not contact their government for help or get their message across to loved ones in other areas to inform them that they were alive and needed help.
The local governments in the province of Leyte struggled to function, because they themselves were victims. In Tacloban City, the number of police officers, fire fighters, and health workers was significantly diminished. It became almost impossible to mobilize personnel and resources from within.
In a country where mobile phones are ubiquitous and the need for texting has become part of the Filipino psyche, one could only imagine how to it was like for the government, the survivors, and relief operators to be cut off when communicating was needed the most.
In several provinces in Central Philippines, especially the Visayas, communication was either completely lost or poor. Smart Communications, Sun Cellular, and Globe Telecom’s 2G and 3G networks went down due to power outages and damaged cell sites. The whole region became practically isolated.