Pinoys unable to access Phivolcs earthquake report

For nearly an hour after an earthquake struck parts of Luzon including Metro Manila at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, Filipinos had near silence from government about what happend.

Only at 2:15 a.m. was the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) able to send out via its Twitter account the full details of the magnitude 5.9 earthquake with its epicenter off the coast of Iba, Zambales.

The Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) first reported at 1:31 a.m. on Tuesday that it was a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that jolted parts of Luzon, including Metro Manila. But the bulletin could not be accessed.

GMA News Online repeatedly tried to access the Phivolcs webpage while much of Luzon was still being jolted by aftershocks, but the attempts kept timing out.

The news desk of GMA’s TV news department was able to reach Phivolcs by phone at 1:35 a.m., and was given only preliminary information about the intensity of the quake as it was felt in Quezon City. No further details were given by Phivolcs.

GMA News tweeted the preliminary word from Phivolcs at 1:35 a.m. Prior to that GMA News also tweeted about the quake at 1:26 a.m. citing the Global Seismic Monitor as the source.

The United States Geological Service (USGS) was the source of nearly all the initial reports about the quake. John Bellini of the USGS said in an email to GMA News Online that they posted a bulletin at 1:35 a.m. (Manila Time) or 20 minutes after the quake struck.

GMA News tweeted the link to the USGS post at 1:37 a.m.

Phivolcs claimed it issued its first bulletin at 1:31 a.m., or 16 minutes after the quake hit. Apparently, even the DOST had difficulty accessing the Phivolcs website as it was able to tweet the link to official government bulletin only at 2:15 a.m.


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GMA News sent via Twitter, the link to the Phivolcs bulletin at 2:18 a.m.

As of this posting, the Phivolcs web team could not be reached for comment.


Filipinos turn to Twitter

While Luzon shook with aftershocks within the hour after the quake struck, Filipinos flooded the Twitterverse with messages filling the void left by Phivolcs and DOST.

[View the story "Twittizens lead reportage of Manila quake" on Storify]

Technical difficulties?

In a telephone interview with GMA News Online late Wednesday, Phivolcs Science Research Specialist Henry Peñarubia confirmed that the first earthquake bulletin came out at 1:31 a.m., roughly 15 minutes after the quake hit, initially reporting a magnitude 6.2 earthquake.

Phivolcs has since updated their report, which is now aligned with the USGS report pinning the magnitude at 5.9.

According to Peñarubia, it takes roughly 5 minutes after an earthquake for Phivolcs to manually plot an earthquake and come up with a bulletin.

Asked why the bulletin was inaccessible on the Phivolcs website for nearly an hour, he said the Phivolcs web team should answer the question.

GMA News Only tried to contact the web team but no one answered anymore.

Once data from stations in the vicinity of the epicenter have been fed into Philvolcs earthquake plotter software, a bulletin is drafted and sent to the director, key personnel and field correspondents of the agency before it is posted on the website, said Peñarubia.

Peñarubia added that Phivolcs receives real-time information from its 65 seismic stations.

However, he explained that recently Phivolcs has been experiencing setbacks because of their transition to a new satellite.

He said that the transition from the old Agila satellite system — which expires this year — to the new Korean system began only last month or early this July and is expected to be completed next October. “[By October], it’s gonna be back to normal," he added.

Currently, only three monitoring stations have been reset to the new satellite system.

Peñarubia, however, said that Phivolcs has back up stations in place should a huge earthquake hit the country or if the main station in Metro Manila goes offline.

“[There are] mirror stations in Tagaytay and Davao that receive the same data the main office gets," he said.

However, the mirror stations’ ability to take over the main station’s role in the event of a disaster or a power outage is unsure. “Testing [of the mirror stations], nangyari na pero not yet in practice," he added. — With a report by Timothy James Dimacali/VS, GMA News

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