A key player and stakeholder in ensuring maritime safety, the Philippine Coastguard (PCG) is aided by social media in accomplishing the day-to-day tasks that prevent maritime disasters.

The Philippine Coast Guard is social media savvy

In a qualitative survey released to the officers of the PCG in April 2018, respondents stated that they used social media for their day-to-day tasks, from public advisories to reaching officers in other neighboring countries.

 Ensign Harvey G. Marmol PCG, the Deputy Station Commander of CGS El Nido, states that, “Social media is the fastest medium for information dissemination to prevent emergencies.” He shared how Facebook Messenger and Viber have aided them in conducting public announcements. Safety reminders and information on weather anomalies are circulated effortlessly through social media and mobile apps.
Social media also plays a critical role during emergencies. Marmol reiterates that using rich media such as photos makes communication more effective during emergencies. Stakeholders within an emergency (e.g. rescue units, the general public, passengers, and businesses involved) have a rich and real-time mode of reaching each other. Faster communication also allows for cooperation with the community during larger-scale emergencies when commercial vessels may be requested to assist in the calamity.

He further adds that because of the vast coverage of social media, Coast Guard Station El Nido is accessible to the public through their social media assets and is reachable 24/7 on these platforms.

Social media has its limitations, though. In a separate interview with Ensign Kate Desusa PCG, Public Information Officer and Community Relations Service Officer of Coast Guard Special Operations Force, she states that the proliferation of fake news is a challenge in their gathering of information through social media.

However, she also states that, “We are using social media to give tips and procedures such as how to save a drowning person, how to give CPR, etc.” Looking at both the limitations and advantages of social media, she concludes by saying, “we just need to maximize social media in a good way.”

These findings on the local best practices are somewhat at par with international practices regarding Search and Rescue (SAR) and social media. As an example, the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) state plainly on their website that they use social media for posting the latest updates about the association members and about public safety news, as well as on search and rescue operations in Canada, British Columbia and other areas.

Two technological trends that influence social media

Social media aiding search and rescue operations is a global trend, which will continue to gain traction. There are two main factors that contribute to this:

1) The widespread use of social media locally and globally, and

2) The increasing rate of smart phone penetration and use.

Widespread social media usage

Social media accounts are the de facto digital identities of almost every individual, organization, and business.
In the past couple of years, apps such as Bugle, Kitestring, Family Locator, and the Red Panic Button were developed to help keep people safe. Most of these apps are unknown to the general public, which suggests that for the purpose of SAR and emergency response, apps did not gain as much traction as social media did.

Social media accounts are not created for emergencies; it just so happens that they can be used during such times. However, it is already a fixture in the life of the majority. As such, using it for search and rescue is efficient, native, and seamless. For the third year in a row, the Philippines has kept its crown as the social media capital of the world. The average Filipino user spends almost four hours on social media every day.

Facebook continues to be the most popular social media platform in the Philippines. The total population of the Philippines is 104 million, with 69 million Facebook users aged 15 and above.

Smart phone penetration and mobile connectivity

The second thing that makes social media aid SAR successfully is the increasing rate of global and local smart phone penetration. The Philippines ranked tenth among the top countries with mobile social media growth. There are 8,000,000 more mobile social media users since 2016. Like the rest of the world, a vast portion of online information is now consumed through the smart phone. WeAreSocial 2018 states, “Smart phones are the world’s preferred choice for going online… accounting for a greater share of web traffic than all other devices combined.”

In the interview with Marmol, he shares that even local fishermen have access to smart phones. They either have their own phones or share them with neighbors. This is proof of the vast extent of smartphone penetration in the country.

Another aspect to be explored in line with mobile social is mobile connectivity. This is the number of mobile connections compared to the population of a region. Southeast Asia has the second highest rate of mobile connectivity worldwide. This further supports the effectiveness of using social media accessed through mobile devices to connect with SAR officers from other neighboring ASEAN countries should the need arise.

The social media and SAR outlook in the Philippines

In both interviews with Marmol and Desusa, it was disclosed that social media aids in their tasks particularly for information dissemination and public awareness. These are key to preventing and addressing maritime emergencies. So far, the outlook is to refine what is already working.

Responses to the survey, however, reveal that the level and mode of social media use varies per division. This is in adaptation to their scope and set of duties. It is promising that the PCG is at par with international best practices regarding social media use in SAR operations. It is also evident that they exert much effort in innovating and adapting to technological trends to better ensure maritime safety.

As a country with strategic geographical location and vast marine power, the Philippines has plenty of opportunities for growth in various maritime industries. With the help of technological trends such as autonomous surface vessels, virtual reality, drones, and robotics, the future looks bright and promising for the local maritime industry.

Ensuring maritime safety is key to attaining goals that eventually lead to the industry’s progress and expansion. This is the bedrock of any further development in the industry, and social media happens to play a huge role in this endeavor.

Credits : Manila Times

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