In the face of the global coronavirus crisis, as in any other emergency, the speed and efficiency of the global response is proportional to the level of preparedness. To help countries better manage disaster response activities at a time when the frequency, intensity and human and economic impact of disasters is on the rise worldwide, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has issued new guidelines for the development and implementation of National Emergency Telecommunication Plans.
These guidelines will assist national authorities and policymakers in developing policies and regulations that can ensure the continued use of telecommunication networks and services before, during and after a disaster.
“The exceptional COVID-19 crisis we are going through right now shows how vital information and communication technology networks and services are, both to respond to the current pandemic and to address disaster management,” says ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “Now more than ever, the implementation of comprehensive national emergency telecommunication plans can ensure there is effective and timely sharing of information across all levels of government, within affected communities and among humanitarian agencies to prioritize response efforts and to save lives.”
A national emergency telecommunication plan sets out a strategy to enable and ensure communication availability during the phases of disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery by promoting coordination and engagement across all levels of government, humanitarian agencies, service providers and communities at risk.
The Guidelines also highlight major areas of risk during a disaster, provide justification for the funding of vital equipment and personnel in an emergency, and advocate the need for day-to-day resources and procedures that keep national authorities prepared, especially in relation to maintaining vital communications, the essential lifeline during emergencies.
“When disaster strikes there is no time to think about what to do and how to organize response. It is crucial that all stakeholders are prepared beforehand and ready to take action,” says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Mock exercises including tabletop, talk-through and walk-through exercises to full-scale drills, help to ensure smooth emergency response among those involved in disaster management and communications.”
ITU has already assisted several countries in developing their national emergency telecommunication plans, setting up of early warning and monitoring systems and the provision of emergency telecommunications equipment.
With emergency readiness in mind, ITU and the Global Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organizations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies, have joined forces to develop a Tabletop Emergency Simulation Guide which offers tools to test and refine the national emergency telecommunication plans using simulated scenarios.
“With the growing frequency and complexity of disasters, it’s vital to test, identify and close any gaps in national readiness. The scenarios in this simulation guide will make it easier for all stakeholders to do that ahead of time,” says Enrica Porcari, Chair of the ETC, CIO and Director, Technology Division of the UN World Food Programme (FAO).