Emergency Comms | ICT4SDG | Infrastructure
October 13, 2017

Emergency telecoms: Key lessons from the Caribbean

By ITU News

When disasters strike, information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a critical role in relief efforts. They facilitate the flow of vital information needed for early warning and monitoring as well as the coordination of food distribution, rebuilding and aid logistics.

Key stakeholders from around the world met Friday during a side event of the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-17) to discuss best practices for emergency telecommunications.

The event, held on the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, also showcased the work of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) in the area of emergency telecommunication deployment and its close cooperation with public and private sector partners.

Why emergency telecoms are critical

Information is critical for government agencies and humanitarian actors for decision making processes, as well as for rapid response during emergencies.

“ICTs can make the difference between life and death in these situations,” said Christopher Casarrubias, Senior Manager of International ICT Policy and Access Partnership for satellite communications operator Iridium.

“For us, one life lost is just too much.” — Cosmas Zavazava

ITU-D, for its part, plays an important role in ensuring that its Member States benefit from the huge opportunities that ICTs deliver for disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

Supported by many partners, ITU delivers ICTs for development across all phases of disaster management, and ITU-D’s work is multi-hazard, multi-technology, and multi-stakeholder.

“When disasters do strike, there is no country that can do it alone,” said Cosmas Zavazava, Chief of ITU-D’s Projects and Knowledge Management Department, explaining that ITU is committed to the concept of “Build Back Better” in which post-disaster recovery efforts aim to improve the systems that had been in place previously.

“For us, one life lost is just too much,” he said. “For us there is no sustainable development without effective disaster risk management and risk reduction.”

Lessons from the Caribbean

Ms Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) was on hand to discuss how the Caribbean has coped with back-to-back hurricanes that devastated several islands.

“Having weathered a very violent hurricane season, I think it is very appropriate [to have this side event] and I thank the ITU for having me here,” said Ms. Lewis.

Hurricanes are “an annual feature of our life in the tropics,” said Ms. Lewis. “We have learned some lessons. In terms of developing a response, from a government perspective, we need to build 21st-century governance. It calls for digitization of governance.”

She also highlighted the pivotal role of amateur radio in times of disaster.

“Amateur radio has been a staple and it is because of the amateur radio operators in the region that we get the information that we need,” said Ms. Lewis.

“One of the lessons we learned is that we really need to cultivate a new generation of amateur radio operators,” she said, adding that most of them over 50 years old. “It has been the bedrock of sustained communications during such disasters.”

She also underlined the key role of clear processes and procedures.

“You need to educate your population, so they know what to do” in the event of a hurricane, she said. “The relationships and management plans must be in place. We really have to streamline those plans, so that the ITU doesn’t receive 50 different calls from the Caribbean for the same thing.”

Dr. Hideo Imanaka, Adviser for the Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) was also on hand to detail some of the lessons learned after Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011. He showed the audience how Movable and Deployable ICT Resource Units (MDRU) help provide emergency telecommunications services.

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