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 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.
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:
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