MANILA - The Office of Civil Defense - National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (OCD-NDRRMC) officially launched "Batingaw," a free mobile app designed inform, equip, and assist Filipinos in times of varying disasters.
Batingaw, which is the Filipino word for "bell" or "siren," hosts a number of features that can be used both online and offline.
Offline features include switches to turn one's phone into a flashlight, a strobe light, or a compass.
There is also a section that defines and explains the different disasters and calamities experienced in the Philippines, such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, storm surges, landslides, fires, crowds that go out of control, and even terrorism. Users are also given tips on what to do before, during, and after these disasters.
There is also a preset telephone directory of all significant government agencies.
Those with Internet connection can receive an aggregation of tweets and reports from the various government and disaster-related agencies such as NDRRMC, PAGASA, DSWD, and MMDA.
Once logged in, users may also send updates of their own by typing a message, or even sending photographs much like they would on social networking sites.
Their posts are immediately geo-tagged, and added as a pin on the Philippine map so that other users concerned about a certain location can tap them for themselves.
The launch of the Batingaw app was said to have been hurried to make it in time for President Benigno Aquino III's State of the Nation address on July 28.
There are, however, significant limitations to it.
Foremost is how much the features drain a phone's battery, which will be a problem in disaster situations like storms where power supplies are cut off.
Another is its dependence on Internet access and GPS, which are also likely to falter during storms and typhoons.
The preset phone directory only has landline numbers, which might not be open on weekends or after office hours.
The "I am safe" button, which should automatically send word to your loved ones that you are alright along with your location, only allows users to input phone numbers, not names. This glitch would require the user to memorize numbers they would like to contact.
There are grammatical errors on the information section, too.
Undersecretary Alexander Pama, executive director of the NDRRMC and administrator of the OCD acknowledges the app's shortcomings.
But Pama said this is where public dissemination will have to kick in.
At a time of disaster, those who will still have power and connectivity will have to devise ways to contact those they know who do not have signal or smartphones. Charging one's gadgets and securing secondary power supplies are also part of the preparation for disasters, said Pama.
The Batingaw app is developed by a Cebu-based startup company named Tudlo.
It is sponsored in full by Smart Communications for a year. Smart has committed to reviewing the current glitches and correcting them as the app goes public.