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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

Equipment/infrastructure concerns

In a major disaster or emergency situation, the probability of disruption from system overload or from physical damage to normal public telecommunications networks is high. Indeed, as public telecommunications networks have become increasingly centralized and integrated - a trend characteristic of both global and domestic telecommunications systems - their vulnerability to hazards has increased substantially. Private networks15 as well face a high potential for disruptions from overloading and/or confusion over allocation of radio channels.

15 Telecommunications networks are generally characterized as either “public” (eg, permanent satellite and terrestrial conventional telephone/fax/data networks) or “private” (eg, fire, police ambulance networks, airports, ports; Amateur Radio Service, satellite phone terminals used by search and rescue teams). See: Zimmerman, Hans, Emergency Telecommunications for Humanitarian Aid, Speakers Paper, World Telecommunication Form, Strategies Summit, Telecom 95, Geneva, 1995.

In their preparedness activity, emergency managers must consider the probability of disruptions in both public and private networks. The following table highlights some of the equipment/infrastructure concerns of emergency telecommunications managers, and suggests some actions to take to prepare for and respond to these concerns.16

16 The obvious limitations of a training module preclude anything more than a brief overview of the many equipment/infrastructure concerns which confront emergency managers. For a more in-depth review of such concerns, refer to Disaster Telecommunications by Mark Wood of the Disaster Relief Telecommunications Foundation.

Note: Emergency managers’ priorities may not always conincide with those of power companies. Power-generating companies may set as top priority the re-establishment of power to large power users such as aluminium smelting plants for reasons of system stability and/or of revenues. As a preparedness measure, emergency managers should prepare in advance a memorandum of understanding with power-generating companies to ensure emergency management priorities are served.

Equipment or infrastructure concern

Recommended actions


Survival and recovery of public telecommunications networks

· Ensure route diversity; avoid reliance on one exchange or line to reduce potential for single point failure.
· Ensure redundancy: establish backup, hazard-resistant emergency telecommunications systems.
· Design components according to accepted hazard-resistant standards (fire-protection, seismic tolerance, etc.).
· Site exchanges, transmitting stations away from hazard-prone areas (eg, faultlines, flood plains, etc.)
· Route transmission lines around seismic faults, away from areas with adverse soil conditions.
· Establish dedicated landlines to support emergency operations.

Emergency response
· Ensure security for repair crews.
· Provide, supply repair crews for round-the-clock repair service; bring in crews from other areas if necessary.
· Provide fuel, spares, lubricants for emergency generators.

Public networks are composed of cables, aerials, transmitting stations, switching centers and components.

Landlines dedicated to emergency operations should be used daily for purposes of familiarity and maintenance. Fiber optic cables likely to be more hazard-resistant than other cable types.

Public network repair priorities (for emergency managers) include circuits linking:

· telecom company restoration activities
· emergency management centers
· public network-dependent lifeline services(eg, hospitals)
· remote communities

Physical damage to satellite, terrestrial microwave links

· Ensure capacity to protect dish antennas from storm/wind impact.
· Strengthen microwave relay towers against wind impact.

Systems are highly centralized and, therefore, highly vulnerable.

Physical damage to public network’s power supply

· Provide, maintain backup generators

Short-term solution; may be too costly for many poor countries.

Public network overload

· Configure public networks to include special trunk exchanges with range of assigned codes for incoming emergency calls; set up automatic “protection circuits”.
· Establish dedicated, private lines for key emergency operations centers; this includes at least one unlisted outgoing line for each key government center.

Emergency response
· Give priority to particular essential callers (eg, lifeline services, situation assessment teams)
· Publicize special trunk exchange numbers for incoming calls.

Cellular networks typically designed for 8-32 simultaneous users per network cell; traffic will increase exponentially during first days of disaster.

Incompatibility of radio equipment used by emergency services

· Set up preparedness plans through central provider (DHA/UNDAC, etc.).

Emergency response
· Invoke ITU Resolution 640 (use Amateur Radio Service to pass third-party messages and communicate with non-amateur stations).
· In urban areas, hire/appropriate cars from radio-equipped taxi fleet; position cars at key emergency centers (ensure fuel supply).
· Provide VHF radios and VHF repeater stations (to increase range) to each rescue team.

Agreements to standardize are unlikely; provision of external assistance likely to result in equipment incompatibility.

ITU Resolution 640 is for immediate term (4 weeks) only; messages passed via 640 should be logged for future audit trail.

Amateur Radio Service has two major functions: providing (permanent) network of stations worldwide, many of them independent of ground infrastructure) and providing highly qualified operators and technicians to work for relief agencies.

Uncertainty over state, availability, and location of equipment

· Pre-positioning of equipment
· Establish, maintain inventory at central location (eg, DHA).
· Ensure regular (3 monthly) charging of batteries for radios in storage (appoint specific staff member(s) to perform charging).

Inventory should include organization, location of HQ and field offices, equipment type, and staff skill levels.

Manager should personally conduct a physical check of radios and batteries on monthly basis to ensure proper maintenance and charging of all stored equipment.

Q. Review the previous table and identify the key emergency telecommunications equipment or infrastructural issues/concerns which confront your organization.

A. ____________________________________________________________


Q. What steps could your organization take immediately to minimize these concerns?

A. ____________________________________________________________