ITU initiatives to improve emergency telecommunications

Tuesday, 12 March, 2019

ITU initiatives to improve emergency telecommunications

The development of innovative tools and partnerships within emergency telecommunications is crucial to saving lives, according to the ITU.

Government, industry and community leaders gathered at the Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-19) in Balaclava, Mauritius, on 6–8 March, to explore ways to save more lives through the better use of emergency telecommunications.

“We are at a pivotal time in disaster management. Developments in disruptive ​technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and big data are transforming how we approach emergency telecommunications,” said International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

The ITU presented guidelines that aim to assist national authorities and policymakers in the development of national emergency telecommunication plans, and promote communication and information sharing across all levels of government, within communities at risk and between public and private organisations.

The ITU is currently helping to develop such plans in Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The Government of Mauritius, which hosted the GET-19 Forum, is working on ways to review and update the nation’s multi-hazard early warning system.

“With the growing intensity and frequency of natural disasters, there is a constant need to enhance the use of technology for disaster management,” said Yogida Sawmynaden, Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation.

“Several automatic weather stations have been set up with sensors to capture real-time data on weather conditions around Mauritius. The island is also equipped with a tsunami warning system which gives a lead time of five to seven hours before a tsunami may hit the coast.”

One of the initiatives the ITU presented is a ‘disaster connectivity map’ (PDF) that aims to provide real-time connectivity information when disasters strike. Information on the type, level and quality of connectivity is vital to identify gaps, and to make decisions on where and when to deploy resources to restore services.

A number of ICT industry sectors — mobile network operators, ISPs and internet and social media platforms — have data that can identify and monitor the status of connectivity, in near-real time.

The disaster connectivity map is being developed in partnership with the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster.

“​GET-19 has reaffirmed the need for a collective understanding of risks as well as all phases of disaster management, and the importance of data and trust for strengthening coordination and cooperation among producers, implementers and beneficiaries of emergency telecommunications,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin holding a microphone

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

According to the ITU, older technologies such as satellite imagery and seismometers are “still the most important methods for detecting, monitoring and accessing disasters”.

Nevertheless, as part of its work, the ITU has issued recommendations for governments, relief agencies, the private sector and assistance agencies to maximise the benefits offered by disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, the IoT, big data, robotics and drones.​​​ Those recommendations include:

  • Systematising and standardising of emergency technologies to make the benefits accessible to all. Open standards will help to lower costs, ensure interoperability and enhance scaling.
  • Establishing a global repository with information on how digital technologies are being applied for disaster management.
  • Training to understand how to properly and responsibly deploy new and emerging digital technologies in crisis settings.

ITU and the United States Telecoms Training Institute (USTTI) have launched an emergency telecommunications competition for nationals of developing countries. Successful candidates will be trained in the use of ICT for disaster risk reduction and management, and the development of their national emergency telecommunications plans.

Organised by USTTI, the training will be taught in English and will take place from 21 October to 1 November 2019 in Washington, DC, with training, travel and accommodation expenses covered by ITU and USTTI.

Images ©ITU/A. Munisamy

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