Broadband/Network | Emergency Comms | Infrastructure | Network Management
October 6, 2017

Bracing for extreme weather: ITU standards for disaster relief, network resilience and recovery

By ITU News

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico totally without power and with only 5 per cent of its cell sites still operational. AT&T, Cable & Wireless Communications, Digicel and Facebook are among the companies scrambling to restore connectivity.

This work is critical to disaster relief.

Communications infrastructure is invaluable in coordinating humanitarian action in the wake of a disaster. ITU is working together with its partners in the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster to provide shared emergency communications services in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Maria.

ITU standards address increasing prevalence of extreme weather events

ITU standards provide international best practices in the technical dimensions of disaster management.

ITU standards have a long history of specifying means to protect ICT infrastructure from lightning and other environmental factors. However, in response to the increasing prevalence of extreme weather events, recent years have seen ITU standardization experts turning their attention to “disaster relief, network resilience and recovery”.

This ITU standardization work gained in urgency following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

At least 10,000 of Japan’s mobile base stations ceased operation immediately following the earthquake. Power outages caused major disruptions to telecoms service. Traffic running over the network increased by a factor of 10, a figure estimates suggest would have been as high as 60 were it not for the traffic restrictions applied by network operators.

The lessons learnt in Japan’s efforts to restore connectivity had the effect of accelerating ITU standardization work on disaster management.

This work goes well beyond traditional protections against lightning and other environmental factors.

ITU now issues guidance on network architectures able to contend with sudden losses of substantial volumes of network resources, as well as means to connect the surviving fibres of severed fibre-optic cables. ITU provides for emergency communications vehicles – based on those employed successfully in Japan – to rush to the scene of network failures to shore up losses in network capacity.

This work addresses emergencies as severe as Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico.

New ITU framework for disaster management

The new L Supplement 35 is a valuable reference for network operators bracing for extreme weather.

The supplement highlights technical mechanisms to prepare for disasters and respond effectively when disaster strikes. Network resilience calls for redundant infrastructure and robust design. Recovery demands rapid repair, the substitution of damaged equipment, and smart network congestion control to meet high demand for connectivity with fewer network resources.

The supplement points to established as well as emerging technical approaches to network resilience and recovery:

  • “Elastic optical networks” offer the high flexibility and configurability necessary to adapt the effects of a disaster. This design approach is based on the optical wavelength management technique of the “flexible grid” defined in the ITU standard Recommendation ITU-T G.694.1. The approach gives networks the intelligence required to make optimal use of the limited network resources still operational after a disaster.
  • “A local wireless network based on a decentralized mesh architecture” is a mesh topology of radio-relay nodes where each relay node operates independently, assisting the rapid restoration of connectivity against the backdrop of unstable node and link availability. A decentralized wireless network is effective in avoiding entire network shutdown.
  • “Movable and deployable ICT resource units” described by the ITU standard Recommendation ITU-T L.392 are emergency containers, vehicles or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source to provide temporary replacements for destroyed communications infrastructure.
  • “Practices for connecting surviving fibres and building temporary optical infrastructures” highlights how portable optical amplifiers (erbium-doped optical fibre amplifiers) assist the repair of damaged fibre-optic lines. These battery-powered amplifiers are shockproof and waterproof, and small and lightweight enough to be carried on foot to areas inaccessible by road.

Learn more about ITU’s standards catalogue for disaster relief, network resilience and recovery…

Photo credit Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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