PAGASA Gets Support from Private Sector

“To provide protection against natural calamities and utilize scientific knowledge as an effective instrument to insure the safety, well-being and economic security of all the people, and for promotion of national progress.”

This mandate reflects the important role of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

“PAGASA is a key agency in terms of disaster preparedness, as illustrated during typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng,” says Butch Meily, executive director of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF).

The PDRF is working in partnership with PAGASA to strengthen the country’s capacity for disaster risk reduction and management via an effective early warning system.

Co-location of rain gauges in cell sites

Set to roll this April is a groundbreaking project on installing PAGASA rain gauges in strategically located cell sites of cellular companies nationwide.

“MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan) met with us to ask about PAGASA’s needs, as well as limitations and deficiencies in terms of equipment. He wanted to know what things we could immediately undertake. Co-locating the rain gauges in the cell sites was one of them,” says Dr. Prisco Nilo, PAGASA Director.

Pangilinan also heads PDRF, the private sector arm of the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission created in the wake of the devastation brought about by typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng and Frank.

Smart Communications, Inc. (SMART), Globe Telecom, and Sun Cellular have all agreed to participate in the co-location project that is part of PDRF’s program to help upgrade the country’s weather and flood forecasting system.

“PDRF adopts an industry-wide approach in its undertakings. Hence, it was important for us to include everybody,” says Meily.

Upon the instruction of Pangilinan, SMART Public Affairs head Ramon R. Isberto arranged a meeting between the three telcos and Director Nilo.

“I have to give credit to everybody involved – Ernest Cu of Globe Telecom, Bill Pamintuan of Sun Cellular and Mon Isberto of SMART. They all came together and agreed that this is a worthwhile project for the country. It’s a positive thing for the Philippines. If competitors can get together then we can do things. The only way we can achieve difficult projects is if we all work together,” says Meily.

The installation of rain gauges in cell sites is expected to help PAGASA issue timely and more accurate flood forecasts and warnings.

“One of the problems of PAGASA in improving our observing network is to choose a site where our equipment will be safe. Another is communication. By co-locating in a telco site, we are assured of security and an effective system to transmit the data from the site to the broadcasting center,” says Nilo.

“And because of the many cell sites all over the country, it would not be difficult for us to find
ideal site locations for our rain gauges,” he adds. These are in places in the country where PAGASA doesn’t have any rainfall data in flood-prone areas, and those pinpointed as sources of heavy rains or flood waters.

Dr. Susan Espinueva, chief of the Hydro Metrological division of PAGASA, notes that while it is necessary, it is also difficult to find and maintain a site in the mountain area. “This is where flood waters come from. If we can monitor the amount of rainfall in higher places, we will have more lead time for warning residents in the low areas.”

“For the initial salvo, we have three rain gauges ready for installation within Metro Manila,” says Nilo. These are Tipping Bucket rain gauges that can automatically send rainfall data to PAGASA by telemetry at a desired frequency and the required parameters. PAGASA got the rain gauges from a project funded under the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

Last March, PAGASA met with SMART engineers and firmed up 15 possible sites. Separate surveys of Globe and Sun cell sites are scheduled this April. The target is to have the rain gauges installed before the onset of the rainy season.

“This is a dream we have been pursuing,” says Espinueva. She revealed that they had interference problem in their communication link when their frequency backbone of 800 to 900 megahertz was allotted to the cellular mobile telecom system band. An upgrade was needed but it was too expensive. Now that they are co-locating rain gauges in cell sites, they can ride on the expansive coverage of CMTS.

Rehabilitation of flood control system

PDRF is also working with the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission on the rehabilitation of the Effective Flood Control Operation System (EFCOS) of which PAGASA is the monitoring agency.

EFCOS was envisaged to achieve effective flood control operations for the Pasig-Marikina-Laguna Lake complex through the Manggahan Floodway and the Napindan Hydraulics Control structure. Data gathered from rain gauges and water level stations set up in key locations are transmitted through a telemetry system to the Rosario Master Control Station.

PAGASA automatically receives data from the Antipolo Relay Station that is linked to the control station in Rosario and a monitor station located where the lower Marikina River, Napindan River and Pasig River meet.

The multiplex radio link between PAGASA and the relay station in Tanay was damaged in 2006 when super typhoon Milenyo directly hit Metro Manila. It hasn’t been restored since.

“There’s a network of flood monitoring and rain gauges which is supposed to be in there. Seventy percent of the system is working, but the 30% is the important part. That’s what a group of Dutch experts is looking at. We’re getting cost estimates on what it will take to patch it up and repair. It’s an old system, but we think it can still be used,” says Meily.

The rehabilitation efforts will benefit both PAGASA and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to whom the control of EFCOS was turned over in 2002.

The flood warning system in Metro Manila was a brainchild of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Its first phase, completed in 1992, was financed through a Japanese loan amounting to P600 million. The second phase, completed in 2001, was a P500 million grant from the Japan International Cooperation Agency

Doppler radars

The assistance being extended by PDRF in upgrading the country’s flood forecasting system complements PAGASA’s monitoring system that is getting a boost with the addition of Doppler radars.

Doppler radar provides real-time information on rainfall intensity, location of a typhoon and its wind strength. It can gauge the volume of water that may pour into specific localities for issuance of flood bulletins identifying flood-prone areas.

PAGASA has acquired two brand-new Doppler radars to be installed in Subic and Taytay. The agency is assured of a total of 10 Doppler radars. Two of its five existing radars have been upgraded into Doppler.

Referred to by Pangilinan as “the eye of the Philippines when it comes to early warning for natural disasters”, PAGASA is certainly poised to better watch over the country in the coming days.

“We thank PDRF for recognizing the importance of PAGASA’s services and for taking the initiative to extend a helping hand,” says Espinueva.

(Published 23 July 2010, Smart Communications Inc.)

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