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close this bookEmergency Information Management and Telecommunications - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 62 p.)
close this folderPart 2: Emergency telecommunications13
close this folderFundamental emergency telecommunications concerns
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPolitical/organizational concerns
View the documentEquipment/infrastructure concerns

Political/organizational concerns

Effective emergency telecommunications implies that an organization is able to start up a functioning telecommunications system - ie, with needed equipment and expertise on-site - within 24 hours of a sudden onset disaster. For most experienced emergency response organizations, this is not an unrealistic goal, provided the political and organizational constraints have been removed in advance of the crisis.

According to the Tampere Declaration14, however, two of the greatest obstacles to effective disaster telecommunications continue to be regulatory barriers which slow the importation and operation of telecommunications equipment, and organizational barriers which can impede the flow of information among the various elements of the international disaster response community. These barriers include, among others:

14 The Tampere Declaration - issued by the “Conference on Disaster Telecommunications” held in Tampere. Finland in May 1991 - was given an “official” character by ITU World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC) Resolution No. 7 (1994) which included the Tampere document as an annex, and by ITU Plenipotentiary Conference Resolution COM4/14 (1994) which endorsed WTDC Resolution No. 7.

Limitations on importation of telecommunications equipment: The importation of telecommunications equipment into many countries is prohibited without prior clearance and/or licensing of the equipment. Without proper documentation, customs clearance may not be permitted without the payment of import taxes and other licensing fees; in some cases clearance may simply not be granted.

Barriers to quick trans-border access for telecommunications experts: Given the need for immediacy of response in establishing on-site telecommunications (ie, 24 hours) and the lack of time for the training of on-site personnel, visa procedures which may take days or even weeks are inappropriate for quick access to international telecommunications expertise.

Regulatory barriers to radio use: Similarly, many countries still maintain excessively restrictive regulations on radio possession and use; on dissemination of technical information; on equipment-type-approval procedures; on the granting of operating licenses; and on the temporary assignment of appropriate radio frequencies.

Lack of agreement on and confusion over common calling channels: The lack of agreement on common emergency radio calling channels continues to pose organizational constraints on the timely free flow of information.

Efforts by emergency response organizations which can help minimize these political/organizational constraints include:

· Advance arrangements/agreements: Some organizations are currently attempting to obtain advance agreements with governments (on, for example, regulations concerning the importation and customs clearance of telecommunications equipment; access of expertise; and radio use and calling channels) which would cover the first three or four weeks of an emergency. Longer-term telecommunications systems would be subject to a country’s normal licensing procedures. Organizations can join in international efforts to establish HF and VHF frequencies for use by humanitarian agencies, and to license land stations for UN humanitarian networks and connections to functioning public networks.

Advance arrangements are possible for the provision of equipment through such mechanisms as DHA’s On-Site Operations Coordination Centers (or “OSOCCs”) which provide kits to enable immediate emergency telecommunications capabilities. This arrangement allows a government to know well in advance what kind of equipment will be brought in if requested.

· A coordination framework: The establishment of the Working Group on Emergency Telecommunications (WGET), a framework for coordination among all UN entities involved in humanitarian response as well as the major international and national governmental and non-governmental humanitarian partners, represents a major attempt to deal with the political and organizational constraints noted above. The 1994 meeting of the IASC gave the WGET the mandate to establish a telecommunications coordination structure for the various components of the international response community during the acute phase of an emergency. The WGET continues to develop and propose telecommunications coordination and equipment protocols; in 1996, for example, the IASC approved the WGET-defined terms of reference for the position of “Telecommunications Coordination Officer.”

· Use of amateur radio services: Emergency managers can bypass many of the import, visa, and customs constraints by establishing procedures in advance for dose cooperation between amateur radio stations and stations of other radio services. Amateur (known in the U.S. as “Ham”) radio users with “Class A” licensing have the right to use the high-frequency radio spectrum, enabling global telecommunications.

Note: Since passage of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Resolution 640, which called for “direct communications between Amateur stations and other stations in an emergency...until normal communications are restored”, the concept of using Amateur Radio Operators in emergencies has been internationally accepted by most governments. Resolution 640 enabled Amateur Radio Operators to pass vital communications on behalf of third parties and to talk to non-amateur stations, functions which amateur operators are forbidden to carry out in “normal” times. Today, in most countries, the concept has been institutionalized: in an emergency, everyone can and should use any means available to communicate.

· Preparation of rosters of experts: The compilation and maintenance of rosters of telecommunications experts who may be called upon at a moment’s notice to establish an emergency system in disaster-affected areas where expertise and equipment are lacking, are steps that all emergency managers can begin to take. DHA’s standby UNDAC (UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination) Teams are accompanied, whenever necessary, by a telecommunications officer who provides telecommunications for an OSOCC. For operations - particularly in complex emergency situations - expected to run for more than two weeks, DHA generally calls upon specialists from national organizations such as Swiss Disaster Relief.

· Local staff training: National and local organizations can increase their capacity to establish a working telecommunications system within 24 hours if more staff are trained in equipment setup, policies, and procedures, thereby decreasing their dependence on international expertise.

Q. Identify the key regulatory barriers which could constrain your capacity to establish a new telecommunications system in your country.

A. ____________________________________________________________

Q. What steps could your organization immediately take to minimize the impact of these regulatory constraints?

A. ____________________________________________________________



Train all staff in basic radio operations, train certain local staff in maintenance and repair of equipment, develop list of Amateur Radio Operators In-country, meet with government authorities to discuss “leniency” in times of emergency, etc.