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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.)
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View the documentIntroduction
Open this folder and view contentsPart 1: Information management systems
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Open this folder and view contentsPart 3: Setting up the systems
View the documentANNEX A. Disaster and Emergency Information Management Sites on the World Wide Web
View the documentEvaluation


By Jeffrey S. Klenk, InterWorks

Disaster Management Training Programme


Utilization and duplication of the material in this module is permissible; however, source attribution to the Disaster Management Training Programme (DMTP) is required.


This training module has been funded by the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs. The draft for this text was reviewed by Rob Stephenson, Mark Wood of the Disaster Relief Communications Foundation, and Hans Zimmerman, United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs.

Editorial services, including design and formatting, have been provided by InterWorks. Design consultation and desktop publishing have been provided by Artifax.


Purpose and scope

This training module, Emergency Information Management and Telecommunications is designed to introduce two essential aspects of disaster management to an audience of UN organization professionals who form disaster management teams, as well as to government counterpart agencies, NGOs, and donors. This training is designed to increase the audience’s awareness of the nature and management of disasters - and particularly the emergency phase - leading to a better performance in disaster preparedness and response.

By highlighting fundamental aspects of information management and telecommunications with regard to emergency management, we hope to provide an orientation and starting point for the review and enhancement of your own agency’s existing systems. Our intent is to suggest feasible measures that can improve emergency preparedness. Such measures do not inexorably require the acquisition of more expensive, more sophisticated technology, although, to be sure, such enhancements can be of much benefit to readiness given proper conditions of use, personnel, and training. While some of these technologies are, in fact, covered in this module, our primary focus is on basic policies and procedures of good emergency information management and telecommunications which can raise the level of emergency preparedness - without the tremendous costs necessarily required by acquisition of state of the art technology.


The primary objective of an emergency information system is to improve the capacity of decision-makers to take needed action. Effective information management and telecommunications systems are key. It should be noted from the outset, however, that these are two very different aspects of the emergency management:




Emergency information management - defined as the collection, consolidation, analysis and dissemination of the information - requires that the emergency manager be fully cognizant of the needs of the eventual users of the information. Effective emergency information management requires concerted planning, organizing, controlling, and influencing of human, material, and information resources to ensure that information is disseminated to the right decision-makers at the right time to satisfy those needs.


Telecommunications, on the other hand, is defined as the equipment and networks used to transport information from point to point. These include terrestrial and satellite-based systems, public and private networks, as well as the policies and procedures developed to run those various systems and networks. Emergency managers must be sufficiently knowledgeable of the various telecommunications system options to know when it is time to consult a telecommunications expert.

This module, then, is intended to highlight the key knowledge, responsibilities, and tasks which can enable emergency managers to make informed decisions about the information system they manage, and the type of telecommunications system which is most appropriate to their particular needs.

In Part 1 of this module, we present the essential concepts of an information management system designed to serve the needs of emergency managers.

In Part 2, we present the essential concepts of emergency telecommunications to provide managers with a basic understanding of the various system options open to them, and to ensure they are able to define and describe their own particular telecommunications needs.

In Part 3, we provide emergency managers with checklists in matrix format as a starting point for the review and analysis of their own information management and telecommunications systems.

Training methods

This module is intended for two audiences, the self-study learner and the participant in a training workshop. The following training methods are planned for use in workshops and are simulated in the accompanying “training guide”. For the self-study learner the text is as close to a tutor as can be managed in print.

Workshop training methods include:

· group discussions
· simulations/role plays
· supplementary handouts
· videos
· review sessions
· self-assessment exercises

The self study learner is invited to use this text as a workbook. In addition to note taking in the margins, you will be given the opportunity to stop and examine your learning along the way through questions included in the text. Write down your answers to these questions before proceeding to ensure that you have captured key points of the text.



This part of the module is designed to enhance your understanding of:

· the concept of information management as a systematic cycle

· the categories of information needed by emergency managers at the various phases of response

· the various techniques and tools of data-gathering and analysis available to emergency managers

· the issues of information dissemination in an emergency both within and outside of the organization

· the need for and steps involved in building, maintaining, and using institutional memory.

In setting up - or assessing the effectiveness of - an information management system, a manager should consider the various meanings of the word system offered here:


system (sis’ tem), n. 1. an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole. 2. any assemblage or set of correlated members. 3. an ordered and comprehensive assemblage of facts, principles, doctrines, or the like, in a particular field of knowledge or thought. 4. a coordinated body of methods or a complex scheme or plan of procedure...

- The Random House Dictionary of the English Language

In each meaning, there is the concept of wholeness, of unity, of the coordination of the various components of the system. An effective information system provides selective information relevant to the user’s needs, clarifies particular problems and available options, and helps the user to make reasonable choices. It does not drown the decision maker in a sea of information but, rather, adds value and coherence to the decision maker’s activities. It provides a whole picture.

An emergency information management system is no different: it, too, must select from and organize the various data collected and disseminated by what is likely to be a multitude of emergency respondents. The system must process that data to enable the development and implementation of a clear plan of action in response to the emergency.

The Information Management Cycle

Such a system may be viewed as a cycle (see figure) starting with the identification of user needs and continuing through the feedback of lessons learned (here termed institutional memory) into program design or modification.

The emergency manager responsible for the information management system must ensure that each of these five components of the system are funded, well-staffed, and coordinated with the other components. Neglect of any of the parts can bring the cycle to a halt with potentially devastating results for the affected population.

This part of the module is sub-divided according to the components of this information management cycle, starting with the essential concepts and issues involved in needs identification.


The starting point in the design of any information management system is the identification of the eventual users of the system and their particular needs. Emergency managers should beware: later requests for information of a type not considered during the system design stage are often extremely difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy by that system. When these unmet needs proliferate and eventually reach unacceptable levels, then managers start looking for new information management systems.

The users of information in most disaster situations are numerous. Each is likely to have specific information needs which the designer of the disaster information management system should consider in advance. These users will include some or all of the following:

· The affected population
· Private donors (individuals, corporations, and foundations)
· Public donors (taxpayers and government funding agencies)
· Government response organizations (national, regional, and local authorities)
· Military forces and civil defense units
· UN organizations
· Non-governmental organizations (both international and local)
· Religious institutions
· The media (international and local)

Phases of Disaster Management

Clearly, with such a varied list of users, perceptions of information needs will vary greatly. Information that is indispensable to one type of user may be deemed superfluous by another. For example, the leader of a community affected by an earthquake may need information on methods of constructing permanent, earthquake-proof housing. The representative of an international relief agency responding to the same disaster may, on the other hand, wish to obtain information on the local availability of tents, plastic sheeting, or other forms of temporary shelter.

The information needs of a particular user also differ according to the phases of the disaster of concern to that user. For example, the needs of the chief of the Civil Defense Unit or of the local Red Cross or Red Crescent are likely to consist of search and rescue information. The in-country representative of the World Bank or of the United Nations Development Programme, however, may require information on the prospects of the value of longer-term activities on the country’s future recovery.

Note: The capacity to respond to the needs of various donors is one indicator of highly effective information management. This implies being able to provide situation and financial reports as needed and in formats acceptable to each donor.

This has often proved problematic for emergency respondents whose information systems are organized around internal agency needs and who are today increasingly faced with donor demands for more reporting precision. As resources decline relative to global need, donors want to know precisely how their contributions are being programmed. The donors’ information “needs” increasingly include not only the type of program (eg, “maternal/child health” or “food-for-work”) but also the precise locations and actual beneficiaries of the response. This is especially the case in situations of complex emergency where, increasingly, the distinctions between the victims and the perpetrators of civil strife are blurred. Donors want to be able to assure their constituencies that emergency donations are well-programmed, and not “adding fuel to the emergency fires.”

Reporting difficulties can be minimized if respondents discuss with the donor that donor’s particular information needs - before accepting resources. The rule of thumb is: before any transfer of funds occurs, both parties should be very clear as to the reporting requirements that will be expected of the emergency respondents. These requirements can and should be worked out in advance of crisis so that time is not wasted negotiating agreements in time of need.

The remainder of this part discusses information needs of emergency managers prior to, during, and after the emergency.

Information needs: “pre-crisis”

Information needs for contingency planning: Most emergency managers, in preparing for disaster, follow early warning signs and at least informally consider the contingency scenarios that might occur. Whether these functions are carried out formally or informally, most emergency managers understand that choices will have to be made concerning where and under what conditions their organizations will respond. These choices will naturally be guided chiefly by the agency’s mission and strategic plans for the country or region, as well as by existing resource realities. Once these constraints are clarified, then realistic contingency planning “boundaries” can be set, and the information needs of the emergency manager - including the early warning indicators to be followed - can be identified.



In identifying these information needs, it is critical to understand the links between the early warning system and the contingency planning process. Early warning is defined as: “the identification, interpretation, and recognition of events that would indicate a potential emergency.”1 Contingency planning is defined as: “a forward planning process, in a state of uncertainty, in which scenarios and objectives are agreed, managerial and technical actions defined, and potential response systems put in place to prevent, or better respond to, an emergency or critical situation.”2

1. Cuny, Fred. Emergency Preparedeness. Dallas: INTERTECT.

2. Contingency Planning, Complex Emergencies Training Initiative, October 1996, page 6.

Emergency managers responsible for contingency planning must first consider the types of hazards to which their area of concern may be subject. They must then make decisions concerning the particular hazards and the phase(s) of the disaster to which their organization can realistically be expected to respond.

The information system, prior to the actual crisis, helps the organization to make choices about its potential future responses.

This essential process of winnowing forces the manager to reduce a universe of great uncertainty to a smaller more manageable group of realistic contingencies. No longer faced by an overwhelming number of potential events, the manager can begin to identify the information needed to monitor those contingencies; he or she can select the indicators that should be tracked to warn that one or more of these contingency scenarios is likely to occur.

In short, prior to the emergency situation, an effective emergency information management system monitors and provides warning information to feed an ongoing contingency planning process which, in turn, aims to establish a realistic view of the organization’s capacity to respond to emergencies. The information system, prior to the actual crisis, helps the organization to make choices about its potential future responses and, where needed, set realistic limits.

Note: Early warning indicators and the relative accuracy of their predictability have been recognized for a number of natural disasters (see DMTP Module: “An Overview of Disaster Management.”) There is more disagreement, however, on the capacity of emergency managers to forecast the flare-up of complex emergencies, with some observers insisting that it will always be difficult to predict with any degree of certainty when or why or how people will react to deteriorating political, economic, or social conditions.

Other analysts claim, however, that there are indeed indicators - sometimes referred to as “root causes” or the long-standing, underlying causes of complex emergencies - which can help to signal the likelihood of another displacement or outbreak of conflict. Monitoring these root causes may well assist emergency managers to perform an early warning function for complex emergencies. Examples of these indicators include:

· deteriorating political conditions, increasing hostility between/ among political factions
· passage of repressive legislation or decrees
· hardening ideological stance
· long-standing ethnic, cultural, religious tension or violence
· worsening conditions of poverty
· military movements and occupations

Q. Identify one of the major hazard types your country confronts and the early warning indicators that might help emergency managers plan for this hazard. Which organization(s) should regularly receive this warning information in your country?

A. Type of hazard ________________________________________________

Early warning indicators ___________________________________________

Organization(s) needing info ________________________________________



Type: drought leading to famine

Indicators: decline in rainfall, disrupted rainfall pattern, late flowering of food crops, civil strife in food production areas, sales of household assets, decline in livestock prices, sharp increase in grain prices

Organizations: Host Government (Min/Ag, Min/Social Services, etc.); UN (DHA, FAO, WFP, Unicef, etc.); NGOs (local, international Red Cross/Crescent, etc.)

Vulnerability analysis: Emergency planners increasingly use information on differences in vulnerability3 to fine-tune their contingency planning scenarios. Vulnerability analyses ideally provide indications of where the effects of disaster are likely to be the most pronounced (ie, by region and population), and to assist managers with future targeting decisions. Data ideally are gathered from organized surveys such as Rapid Rural Appraisals or other household surveys. Where feasible, precise data are sought on specific locales or segments of a larger population.

3. Vulnerability is defined here as the measure of the risk of exposure to disaster of a given population, and of the ability of that population to cope with the consequences of that disaster.

Formal surveys may be used by relief agencies to fine-tune the targeting of large relief programs and to gather information on changes in coping strategies and in household assets. Because of the high cost of such surveys, however, most vulnerability analysis is performed using national data sets such as censuses, and income and expenditure surveys, which are then geographically disaggregated to the extent possible.

Where precise data are available, vulnerability analysis can fulfill an essential information.

The difficulty is that the national data sets for those countries most in need of vulnerability analysis are generally thin and often unreliable - which means that forecasts based on those data may be suspect. In cases where an analysis of vulnerability to, say, food insecurity is desired, proxy variables (eg, “poverty”) must often be used as the desired variable (food insecurity) was not included as part of the national data set. As well, those wishing to use vulnerability analysis to help make decisions about future emergency responses should be aware that analyses based on existing national data sets often cannot be performed at a low-enough administrative level to assist actual targeting needs. According to WFP:

“In a country where both population data and income and expenditure data are so weak, room for error increases as the process extends down the administrative hierarchy. In the case of Sudan and Kenya, the Province is probably as far as the data permits. In such countries this approach may therefore be only of limited use from WFP’s perspective.”4

4 Ibid, page 6.

Nevertheless, where precise data are available, vulnerability analysis can fulfill an essential information need in helping decision makers better target future responses.


The Republic of Zenon

Background: The Republic of Zenon is a small, heavily populated country situated on the coast of a major land mass in the Tropics. The coastline forms its eastern and southern borders; to the north is the country of Nortenia. The fertile coastal plain is inhabited by farmers who work small subsistence rice paddies. The central and northern regions are mountainous, and here small farmers strive to eke a living from severely eroded hillsides denuded by years of deforestation.

The poverty of the mountainous regions has driven thousands of families into the northern regional capital of Montano and on to the national capital, which is situated not far from the southern coast. Government efforts to relocate migrants to Port Sound, a controversial new town built in a marshy area on the coast several kilometers from the capital, were abruptly halted two years ago when Hurricane Eva ripped through the area, destroying much of the low-cost housing projects, leaving thousands homeless. With the end of the Port Sound housing initiative, northern migrants have increasingly filled the squalid shanty towns in the hills around Montano.

The democratically-elected, parliamentary Government of Zenon has proven to be remarkably stable despite two years of accusations from opposition parties that its ill-conceived housing policies led directly to the deaths of nearly 600 people in the Hurricane Eva disaster. Relations with its northern neighbor, Nortenia, remain tenuous at best. The Government of Nortenia, a military dictatorship led for the past sixteen years by the much feared General Noxuto, continues to accuse the Zenon Government of stirring up resentment among various factions in southern Nortenia, some of whom are ethnically related to the peoples of Zenon.


Early Warning in Zenon: On his first day at the office, the new director of the Emergency Preparedness Committee (EPC) in Zenon is appalled to find a total lack of awareness of the need for early warning on the part of his staff.

His assistant, a long-time EPC staff member who appears embittered by his failure to be named as head of the EPC by the Prime Minister, tells his new boss somewhat haughtily, “Early warning is really a waste of time and money for EPC. The IHTN - that’s the International Hurricane Tracking Network - is fully capable of handling hurricane warnings. There’s really no need to spend resources on early warning at our level. When there’s a problem, they let us know and we deal with it.”

That morning, the Zenon Daily Times reports increasing tensions just across the border to the north in neighboring Nortenia. The article notes, “President-for-Life Noxuto of Nortenia has announced he is sending the national guard to put a stop to the land-grabbing Marxist peasants’ in southern Nortenia. President Noxuto also announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the southern zone. The national security of Nortenia is at stake,’ he said. Those who are innocent have nothing to fear.’”

Q. You are the EPC director. What is your response to your assistant? What measures do you plan to take?

A. ____________________________________________________________


Information needs: “with onset of crisis”

Information needs for operations planning: With the onset of an actual emergency, just as the various contingency scenarios anticipated by managers are reduced to one actuality, the information needs of the various respondents seem to increase exponentially. In preparing operations plans to deal with this new reality, emergency managers must strive to add specificity to the planned response in terms of composition (demographics), needs, and numbers of affected, locations, targets, and resources.5

5 Ideally, the actual type of intervention has been anticipated in the contingency plans; if not, then decisions concerning the type of response must, as well, be prepared as part of the operations plan.


The International Organization for Migration notes ten essential steps of Operations Plan development.6 The following table lists these steps and suggests the type of information needed by emergency managers to complete each step:

Steps in operations planning

Information needed to complete step

1. Prioritize needs.

· Results of assessment of Immediate and longer-term needs of affected population
· Clearly-defined organizational mission/mandate

2. Assess material and financial resources as well as local capabilities and limitations.

· Inventory of existing and expected response resources (cash, in-kind, human) of all organizations
· Assessment results of status of coping mechanisms, of degree of social disruption of affected population

3. Identify the operation’s goals, what and how much assistance is required, and potential cost.

· Organization’s mission/strategic plans
· Listing of needed inputs
· Prevailing and expected prices of inputs

4. Define a set of realistic objectives, the accomplishment of which will ensure that the goals can be met.

· Results of damage assessments (health & medical facilities; agricultural land; industrial & commercial facilities; transportation networks; telecommunications systems, etc.)
· Location of affected population
· Precise number of target group
· Expected duration of disaster/emergency

5. Generate a range of alternative methods and tasks to accomplish the objectives.

· Available and expected staff and expertise from own and partner organizations

6. Choose the most effective and efficient methods and tasks.

· Amount of time available for response
· Costs of inputs
· Proximity of respondents to affected area
· Skill areas and levels of available staff

7. Identify who is responsible for implementing chosen methods and tasks.

· Proximity of respondents to affected area

8. Devise means to monitor and evaluate plan implementation.

· Availability of staff/expertise and transport

9. Establish procedures to adjust Plan of Action.

· Agreed measures of success or failure
· Likely constraints to prepared Operations Plan

10. Identify government liaison and secure government approval to proceed.

· Government organizational structure
· Government clearance procedures

6 “Emergency Migration Management” training module for the Migration Management Training Program, International Organization for Migration, 1994.

At this point, where emergency conditions prevail, an effective information system shows great flexibility in responding to the changing needs of its users. Information gathered by assessment, monitoring, and (on occasion) ongoing evaluation teams is fed into the system and analyzed with the aim of identifying needed changes in the response. Ideally, the system provides decision makers with a clear understanding of whether or not planned objectives are being met and, even more importantly, whether these objectives are still the essential ones.

Ideally, the system provides a clear understanding of whether planned objectives are being met and whether these objectives are still the essential ones.


Refugee emergency in Zenon: The director of the Zenon Emergency Preparedness Committee (EPC) receives a call from the Prime Minister who asks him to convene an emergency meeting. The Ministry of Interior is receiving reports from its border posts of a major influx of Nortenian refugees fleeing south into the northern, mountainous zone of Zenon. Early estimates range in the tens of thousands of refugees who are encamped just inside the border, about 100 kms from the regional capital of Montano.

The EPC director immediately summons the twelve members of the EPC to a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office. Only half show up. The Secretary-General of the Zenon Red Cross reports that apart from a volunteer coordinator and several hundred volunteers, the Red Cross has little presence in Montano. “Maybe three, four hundred tents, as many blankets.” He shakes his head. “We moved almost everything to Port Sound during the last hurricane.”

The Minister of Agriculture and Environment notes that the area where the refugees are believed to be has been heavily deforested in recent years. “With the rains about to begin there,” he says, “Mudslides are a real possibility.”

The Minister of Interior notes he has received reports of continuing violence in southern Nortenia. He suspects that a number of armed members of the South Nortenia Liberation Army have fled into Zenon along with the refugee population.

The Prime Minister stands. “Excuse me, but I have a meeting with a visiting donor delegation.” He looks at the EPC director. “Please have your recommendations for action on my desk in one hour.”

Q. You are the EPC director. What issues or problems concerning information needs do you face at this stage? What steps will you take to deal with these issues or problems?



Information needs: “post-crisis”


Rehabilitation and recovery: Emergency response organizations involved in the later phases of the disaster response should, ideally, begin planning their longer-term activities even before emergency conditions stabilize. The information needed for this process will vary with the type of disaster and the intended response.

In general, a decision to begin longer-term activities requires information on the damage generated by the disaster and the longer-term needs inflicted upon the population. A grasp of the longer-term political, economic, social, and environmental changes brought about by the disaster is also needed, as is an understanding of the coping mechanisms which the affected population still maintains.

In complex emergency situations, security is generally the major concern of those beginning to plan and implement longer-term activities. The emergency manager will continue to monitor such indicators as the current status of tensions among ethnic groups or other factions; the status of local market redevelopment, and the willingness of those displaced by conflict to return to their points of origin. Other information which managers need before deciding to implement rehabilitation or recovery programs includes: the level of political will and resource availability for longer-term activities; host government acceptance of or antipathy to longer-term activities; and the existence of other “more pressing” emergencies which could place demands on scarce resources needed by the rehabilitation or recovery programs.

Note: It is highly unlikely that all affected areas and segments of a population affected by emergency will make progress towards normalization at the same pace. More likely is the scenario in which certain zones of the country are still beset by emergency conditions while other areas make progress towards regaining their normal lives.

This is particularly true in complex emergency situations. In such cases, ongoing efforts by assessment and monitoring teams must ensure that emergency managers are aware of these critical population and geographic distinctions so that targeting and the type of response can be fine-tuned as needed.


Mitigation activities: Mitigation strategies, whose aim is to reduce losses in the event of a future hazard occurrence, encompass a wide range of activities, from infrastructure development - such as stronger and more rigorously enforced building codes; flood-engineering; improved structural resistance to high winds and earthquakes in non-engineered structures - to measures such as improved detection systems and public education.

There are many different stakeholders in mitigation activities, including the affected population; the business community; political representatives and decision makers; the development and urban and rural planning communities. Each of these groups needs to draw upon a common pool of information, and each also has its own specialized information requirements. Major contributions are made by engineers, technicians and scientists; the insurance industry; the banking and investment industries; and the individual activists and promoters of mitigation and preparedness measures who are often drawn from all these groups and who advocate for improvements in safety.

The following table lists the “menu of mitigation actions” explored in the DMTP “Disaster Mitigation” training module. Included here as well are examples of the information needs of managers charged with planning and implementing these actions:

Mitigation actions

Examples of information needs

1. Engineering and construction measures

· Map and inventory of non-engineered, disaster-prone buildings
· Design standards, building codes, performance specifications
· Listing of existing or potential incentives for construction of disaster-resistant structures or retrofitting of disaster-prone structures (eg, reduced insurance rates, preferential loan packages, land title or tenants rights agreements)

2. Physical planning measures

· Land-use and zoning regulations
· Map and inventory of lifeline facilities (eg, hospitals, water treatment and pumping stations, power generating and transmission structures, telecommunications facilities, etc.)
· Degree of concentration or dispersion of lifeline facilities
· Location of population concentrations
· Design of supply and transport networks

3. Economic measures

· Unemployment, income distribution, poverty levels
· Degree of diversification of economic activities
· Taxation policies
· Availability of, access to insurance and cost of premiums

4. Management and institutional measures

· Degree of authorities’ political will to implement mitigation measures
· Understanding of government structures established to plan, implement mitigation and preparedness activities
· Availability of human and material resources for training

5. Societal measures

· Degree of commitment (ie, resources and time) devoted to public education (radio broadcasts, posters, etc.) and drills
· Degree of inclusion of disaster education in public schools, meetings or other fora
· Degree of participation of community in decisions about mitigation activities

From the above table, it is clear that emergency managers have an obvious stake in mitigation planning. Those activities which are likely to reduce the impact of future hazards on emergency lifeline services - such as measures to strengthen the hazard-resistance of telecommunications, medical, and transport systems - clearly help to ensure a more timely, effective emergency response. Mitigation planners and emergency managers can have much positive impact by sharing information on the types of hazards likely to affect particular regions of the country and the state of essential lifeline systems in those regions which may require strengthening.

Note: Many of the above measures and information needs clearly relate to natural disasters, particularly those listed under “Engineering and construction” and “Physical planning” measures. Certain components of the table can, as well, be applied to complex emergency situations. Given that the root causes of many complex emergencies are actual or perceived inequalities in the distribution of power, income, land, and resources, then one can reasonably argue that actions taken to improve the political economic and social development of the poor may well be “mitigating measures.” That is, the very process of development is itself the best means of mitigating the potential for conflict - and for the eruption of a complex emergency situation.

The information needs of those who would seek to mitigate the effects of potential complex emergencies are similar to those of development workers. These include many of the needs listed in the table above as well as information on the skills, organizational capacities, and social attitudes of the population to be targeted by development assistance.

Q. Consider one of the disaster mitigation projects in your own country. Which categories of information concerning this project are likely to be of use to emergency response planners?


Mitigation project _______________________________________________

Information categories ___________________________________________



Project: construction of retaining walls along river banks population density in potential flood zone degree of protection afforded lifeline service centers (hospitals, communications centers)


Data-gathering is a continuous emergency management function; it is conducted before (warning), during (assessment and monitoring) and after (evaluation) the emergency operation to ensure that decision makers can stay abreast of changing conditions. There is a wide range of data-gathering techniques available to emergency managers, from highly sophisticated satellite and remote sensing systems to one-on-one interviews with key informants, including, among others, authorities, other emergency response agencies, and members of affected populations. Decisions concerning the particular techniques to be used in gathering data depend primarily upon availability of financial resources, expertise, and time. Decisions about the frequency of data gathering also depend upon these factors, although, ideally, “the frequency of data collection and reporting must match the rate of change in the situation being assessed.”7

7 “Disaster Assessment”, DMTP Module, page 7.

Without a carefully planned, well-organized approach to data-gathering, the information flow in an emergency can slow to a trickle with decision makers forced to take actions based on minimal information. In other situations, the flow swells to a deluge as response organizations, media, and other stakeholders generate volumes of data, drowning decision makers in statistics and reports. What is too often lacking, however, is that essential key information that can facilitate decision-making. The answer is in preparedness and planning: ie, the application of good management principles to a need.

Data-gathering is a continuous emergency management function.

No matter how sophisticated or simple the technique employed in data-gathering, a number of management issues and tasks should be addressed by all emergency managers. The following table identifies some of these issues and tasks, organized by general management function:

Management function

Issues and tasks for managers in data-gathering


· Selection of techniques appropriate to gather data to meet end-user needs
· Determination of needed expertise, skill levels
· Setup of an inter-agency approach for particular hazards and regions
· Budgeting of data-gathering resources: expertise, transport, data-gathering equipment, supplies to ensure continuity of data-gathering system


· Procurement of needed material resources for data-gathering
· Hiring of needed expertise
· Scheduling of data-gathering visits, of use of equipment (eg, satellite time or vehicles)
· Assembly and training of data-gathering teams in collection techniques
· Defining limits of data sample (area or population)


· Ensuring correct application of planned techniques and respect for limits set on population sample
· Reconciling actual vs. planned budgets for data-gathering


· Convincing donors of the value of the data-gathering activity
· Persuading affected population of importance of data-gathering
· Obtaining access and needed clearances from restrictive authorities or other factions

The remainder of this section details a number of other data-gathering issues of concern to emergency managers.

Establishing the baseline

The establishment of solid baseline data concerning a hazard-prone area is one of the most important - and most neglected! - functions of emergency information management. Effective emergency decision-making requires the comparison of newly gathered data against a baseline which represents the pre-disaster or “normal” situation. For example, it is not sufficient in terms of understanding the economic effects of a severe drought for an emergency manager to learn the price of cattle in the market today. For such information to be useful, the manager must know if the price of cattle is falling at an unusually rapid rate, and to know this, baseline data on the price of cattle sales for this time of year and for the particular market location are essential.

Effective emergency decision-making requires the comparison of newly gathered data against a baseline which represents the pre-disaster or “normal” situation.

A key managerial concern in establishing a baseline is the issue of maintenance. Too often, because of resource limitations, baseline data are collected as a one-time “snapshot” of the hazard-prone area. What is actually needed, however, is a commitment to update these baseline data on a regular basis. In this way longitudinal studies can produce “rolling averages” of statistically vital data and assist decision makers to understand the actual scope of the changes brought about by the disaster. Managers must ensure that those responsible for establishing and maintaining the baseline return again and again to their sources to note any changes. These potential sources of critical emergency baseline data include the following:

Category of data

Potential sources

Demographics: composition, location, socio-economic data

· National or regional census records
· Local town, village records or authorities

Normally endemic diseases, prevailing morbidity and mortality rates

· Ministries of health, state office of statistics records
· Town, district office records
· Hospital or clinic records on admittance
· Local doctors, public health officials

Nutritional Status (prevailing malnutrition rates, food habits, normal nutritional deficiencies)

· Ministry of Health, university nutritional surveys
· UNICEF, NGO nutritional surveillance programs
· Local NGO feeding programs

Water sources, status, distribution systems

· Ministries of water, regional hydrological offices
· City planning offices, treatment plants
· UNICEF, NGOs active in water resource development

Weather, rainfall patterns

· National meteorological offices
· Local farmers

Transportation routes, systems

· Ministries of transport
· Commercial transporters

Q. Consider a type of hazard to which your organization is likely to respond. Identify ten categories of baseline information which would be needed by managers to design a response. Then list specific sources in your country for each category of information.

A. Type of hazard ___________________________________________

Information category

Source of baseline data







1. soil type on slopes - Ministry of agriculture or Ministry of soil and water
2. Urban population density - National census records
3. Urban water - Ministry of water, city planning office, etc. sources

Quantitative vs. qualitative methods of data gathering

Emergency managers are putting aside the age-old academic debate concerning the value of quantitative vs. qualitative techniques of data-gathering, realizing that each approach has much to offer in helping collect the information needed to design or modify the response. Assessment teams, monitors, and evaluators alike increasingly employ specialists in both approaches to gather data.

On the quantitative side, researchers and public health experts are often called upon to use statistical sampling in determining the magnitude of emergency conditions or concerns such as:

· the incidence of malnutrition in the population of children under 5 years of age
· average caloric intake per person participating in a relief food distribution program
· average household size in a refugee camp
· the prevalence of a particular disease in a displaced population
· the number of earthquake-resistant buildings in a large city

Field practitioners sometimes object that the demands imposed by emergency conditions preclude the use of “time-consuming” statistical techniques. More likely, it is the absence of available expertise at the start of the emergency which is the prime factor in the failure to apply such techniques. Organizations such as Mcins Sans Frontis and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly demonstrated the value of statistical sampling in their emergency health and nutrition assessments. Indeed, these organizations would argue that it is precisely the capacity of these techniques to generate knowledge about a large population quickly that makes them so essential to the emergency response.

Qualitative techniques of data-gathering, sometimes derided as subjective, anecdotal and highly inaccurate by more academically-oriented researchers, are generally accepted by field programmers as essential to understand the human dimension of the disaster. Techniques borrowed from qualitative academic research approaches (eg. Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal) seek to gather data on the changes in organization, attitudes, and activities of the affected population. Semi-structured interviews with key informants are used to glean information on, for example:

· the reasons that a community has been suddenly displaced
· the social conditions which must prevail before a return by the displaced can be considered
· current levels of anxiety and fear in a situation characterized by heightened insecurity
· changes in traditional, gender-related responsibilities since the disaster
· the degree of fatalism (or empowerment) among disaster survivors

UNHCR and WFP have both adopted a qualitative approach to gather assessment data termed (by UNHCR) “People-Oriented Planning” or (by WFP) “Social/Gender Analysis.” Each approach is based on the assumption that a clear understanding of the demographic composition of the population and the roles and resources of the various groups can enhance the probability that the disaster response will foster rather than inhibit longer-term development. The approach seeks to gather information via interviews on:

· demographic profile (particularly age, gender and family composition) and context of the affected population;

· activities of the affected population (changes in roles and responsibilities since the disaster)

· resources of the affected population (changes in usage and control since the disaster).

Emergency response organizations would do well to prepare an inventory of the local expertise which may be available to conduct quantitative and qualitative field research in times of disaster. Each approach can play a useful role.

The need for an “inter-agency” approach

The disaster response community has a responsibility to ensure that critical needs are not overlooked.

Organizational mandates understandably push field workers involved in data-gathering to focus on those needs which are likely to be served by the resources of the organization. The result of this “mandate bias” can be a set of data which fulfill the organization’s needs, but may in fact wholly neglect critical areas of the affected populations’ needs.

The disaster response community has a responsibility to ensure that such critical needs are not overlooked. The formation of joint or “inter-agency” assessment, monitoring and evaluation teams can increase the probability that the critical needs of the population are covered. Ideally, the inter-agency data-gathering team:

· is inter-disciplinary in composition;

· is balanced from the viewpoint of gender and (if appropriate to the particular disaster situation) of ethnicity, religion, or other social division which might affect the team’s access to various members of the affected population;

· has members who speak the language of the affected population, of the local authorities, and of any factions who could pose constraints to the data-gathering process.

Hardware and software tools for data-gathering

There is a wide range of tools available to assist emergency managers with their data-gathering needs. Descriptions and examples of actual uses of some of these follow:

Geographic information systems and remote sensing: For years, maps have helped decision makers to determine trends, patterns, and distance relationships; they remain particularly valuable as a focus for group discussions and choices. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are computer systems that allow users to collect, store, manipulate, link together, analyze, update, and present “geospatial” data. In mapping data stored in spreadsheets or databases that have a geographic component, a GIS enables users to see patterns, relationships, and trends that cannot be seen in normal data tables. A GIS allows users to select and remove any of the data categories from the map, thereby enabling quick analysis of how different factors might affect a decision.

The factor that distinguishes a GIS from other information management technologies is that it deals with spatial information. As such, a GIS requires spatial data to be gathered by location and attribute. Location may be annotated by x, y, and z coordinates of longitude, latitude, and elevation, or by such systems as postal codes. Each particular location may have a number of associated characteristics, properties or attributes - for example: vegetation cover, soil type, altitude, rainfall pattern - which can be measured and recorded, and consequently inter-related by a GIS quickly and much more easily than any manual system.

GIS packages are particularly powerful in detecting patterns and answering “what-if” scenarios. A few of the many GIS applications for disaster management include quantification of the total expected losses in a particular location from a flood; postal code-based maps of seismic effects such as ground shaking; and forecasts of locations where the heaviest damage from an earthquake may be located.

A surge in the availability of remote sensing data is greatly benefiting the spread of GIS. In brief, remote sensing involves making measurements of the earth from sensors, such as cameras carried on aircraft, satellites, or other devices. The sensors collect data in the form of images which can consequently be manipulated, analyzed, and visualized. These data can also be converted and used as input to GIS.

Remote sensing via satellites can play an important role in disaster and emergency warnings. It can be used, for example, to establish evacuation routes; to modify emergency plans based on an ongoing knowledge of changing conditions; to provide information on natural phenomena such as weather patterns or mudslides; and to identify logistical bottlenecks such as roads or rail lines blocked by the disaster. (Emergency managers must consider the possible constraints to the collection of remote sensing data imposed by governments who object to another country’s satellites flying over their territory taking pictures.)

GIS is increasingly used by emergency managers in those areas where a considerable amount of digitized computer-readable data already exists and in a form that can be easily converted for studies of risk, vulnerability, and response. Much of the data routinely collected by governments is geographically referenced (by latitude and longitude, place name, or postal code), thereby permitting various types of information to be spatially related.

GIS is increasingly used by emergency managers in those areas where a considerable amount of digitized computer readable data already exists.

Much of this information falls into the following broad categories:

· economic, social, and environmental statistics;
· geologic and topographic surveys;
· business registration data and accounting information;
· land registration data; and
· meteorological and hydrological data.

The willingness of parties to share data and resources is often limited because of fragmented and inconsistent data sets, incompatible data formats, and the cost of integrated data management. The development of standards for the gathering and storage of spatially referenced data is likely to be one of the most effective long term investments that emergency managers can promote. The formation of local GIS user groups may be an effective way of furthering this process.

Successful use of GIS by the wider disaster-management community depends greatly on diffusion of “geographic literacy” and on an in-depth understanding of the technical and analytical limitations of the technology. Key factors to assess when considering use of GIS to conduct geospatial analysis include the quality of the assumptions which underpin the model and the analytical methodology, the quality of the data gathered, and, of course, the cost of gathering data.


GIS example: The Quito Earthquake Risk Management Project

This pilot project in Quito, Ecuador, which involved staff from national and city governments and international earthquake specialists, encouraged direct involvement of local officials and the community in formulating ways of protecting people and public facilities against earthquake damage. Officials, in their efforts to encourage community understanding of the earthquake risk facing the city, used GIS tools to detail some of the likely consequences of particular earthquake scenarios.

The GIS relied on an existing baseline of digitized data from seismology and soil engineering in the region, and an existing GIS database at the Quito Municipality. The research involved classification of urban structures according to their earthquake resistance, location, and estimates of the expected behavior of each structural type under seismic conditions. Special structures such as hospitals, schools, and industrial facilities, the sewerage system, water reservoir tanks, transmission towers, oil stations, and the airport were examined in detail and precise locations recorded. The core activity involved the development of maps to establish vulnerable areas. Estimated damage was computed for three hypothetical earthquakes.

GIS map outputs were used as group focus tools in a series of discussions with city and national officials. Scenarios were developed covering the hours, days and weeks following a major earthquake. Then meetings were held to recommend solutions and implementation plans. Observers agreed that the process of obtaining commitment from local stakeholders was at least as important as the technical GIS mapping process.

Ground shaking intensities in Quito resulting from the local earthquake.

GIS Example: Flood warning in Bangladesh

GIS tools are being applied worldwide in flood prevention. In Bangladesh, the Disaster Management Bureau, working with a U.S. NGO, used GIS to develop an early warning procedure for areas prone to cyclone-generated floods. Flood patterns are also being mapped to guide the construction of more permanent facilities in areas least prone to flooding; less permanent structures are recommended for areas identified as most at risk.

Global positioning systems: The Global Positioning System or “GPS” is a satellite and computer-based triangulation (“locating”) system used to measure precise locations of positions anywhere on earth. The high accuracy obtainable with the Global Positioning System also makes it a precision survey instrument. Civilian use of GPS technology has escalated in recent years as the cost of hand-held GPS receivers decreases and new applications are realized. Uses include numerous applications in the fields of navigation, engineering, surveying and resource management. The emergency management community is just beginning to explore the myriad possible uses of GPS in data gathering.. GPS data, for example, are used in GIS applications to pinpoint critical locations in emergency preparedness mapping exercises.

GPS examples

Security in Sudan: The World Food Programme/Sudan uses GPS to monitor the precise location of its Nile River barges as they pass through insecure areas of the country delivering food assistance to the victims of war. The barges are equipped with GPS receivers and radio transmitters, and barge operators are trained to transmit their location coordinates every two hours. They are tracked by the WFP Office of Logistics in Khartoum. In the event that a barge encounters a hostile situation, WFP can readily locate and evacuate its barge crews by airplane.

Damage assessment in the U.S. A private U.S. firm under contract to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is using GPS/GIS technology to provide rapid damage assessment data for federal and state disaster officials during and after emergency crises such as the Mississippi floods, Hurricane Andrew, and the California earthquakes. Information, which normally requires weeks to gather, is acquired within days. Instant digital maps, detailing road conditions, damaged housing, downed power lines, or toxic releases, are transmitted to FEMA and state agency headquarters for planning and response purposes.

Epi-Info: Developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this personal computer-based software is designed to assist emergency assessment teams with the collection and on-site analysis of epidemiological data. The software assists the user to set up and process a data-collection questionnaire in minutes and also forms the basis for a disease surveillance system database. The software is made available by WHO and CDC and is not copyrighted; indeed, users are encouraged to make copies for others.

World Wide Web: This Internet-based information system is fast becoming one of the most useful information-gathering facilities in the world. Emergency managers can find on the Web daily situation reports concerning most of the world’s emergency situations filed by many response organizations, including DHA, the World Food Programme, and UNHCR. Information is available on telecommunications, prevailing health conditions in emergency-affected countries, visa requirements - the list is literally endless as more and more organizations and individuals go “on-line.” As well, the HTML and JPEG software protocols used by the Web to display text and images are fast becoming (unofficial) “standards” by which different organizations can easily share information across diverse hardware platforms.

A key concern for those emergency managers who must consider the cost of gathering information is the relatively high cost of Web use in remote locations. The Web is a graphics-oriented facility which means users may have to wait extended periods for highly graphic images to be downloaded to their computers; this can add greatly to telecommunications costs. One possible solution is for headquarters offices which often have low-cost, local access to the Internet (and, therefore, to the Web) to do the downloading themselves of requested materials, subtract the graphic images from needed documents, and then forward the text of the document through conventional telecommunications means to their field offices.


Refugee malnutrition in Zenon. An early needs assessment of the refugees north of Montano notes few apparent nutritional problems. Red Cross volunteers who arrive on the scene to hand out the few tents and blankets available report apparently little hunger amongst the refugees, many of whom have carried supplies with them in their exodus from Nortenia. The refugees, at this time, appear to be in relatively good condition.

Two weeks into the emergency, however, a few severe cases of child malnutrition are observed by a visiting public health nurse and reported back to the Ministry of Health. This surprises the EPC Director who has been assured by his assistant (who is the EPC attendee at the meetings of the Association of Humanitarian Agencies in Zenon or “AHAZ”, an NGO coordinating group) that food supplies purchased near Capital City are reaching the refugees on a regular basis. “Malnutrition!” the EPC director gasps. “Then what in blazes are they doing with all the food we’ve sent?”

Q. You are the EPC director. What issues or problems do you confront with regards to data gathering? What steps will you take to deal with these issues or problems?.

A. ____________________________________________________________



What decision makers clearly need is not sheer volume, but well-reasoned, insightful findings and conclusions.

Emergency managers, confronted with a deluge of unfiltered data, often tend to react more from personal experience than from any useful insights submitted by field staff. This tendency may be wholly acceptable given sufficient experience and familiarity with the location and population on the part of the decision maker. More likely, however, is a process of “second-guessing” as higher authorities, often far removed from the field and under a myriad of pressures to act, react to particular, subjectively selected bits of data.

What decision makers clearly need is not sheer volume, but well-reasoned, insightful findings and conclusions accompanied by recommendations for action and clear statements from data analysts on how particular conclusions were drawn.

The term “data analyst”, with the image it implies of high-level technicians pouring over sophisticated computer-generated data sets, may seem somewhat intimidating. This admittedly is the case where, for example, GIS data or public health statistics are in need of analysis. However, although computer systems are now increasingly available, an information management system does not have to be computerized to provide good support. Often it may be faster and more efficient to use a computer, but it should be noted that sophisticated technology is not inherently more effective. In many cases, systems using only manual document handling procedures, card indexes, and calculators can provide needed support to decision makers. Refugee program managers have found it useful, for example, to use colored push-pins on maps of refugee camps to indicate critical locations such as feeding centers or storerooms. Such maps are in effect simple but effective “geographic information systems” which provide spatial information to decision makers.

The key word is support. Whatever technology is used, the information provided must help the decision maker to clarify particular problems and make choices. A well-designed information system adds value to a decision maker’s activities by:

· helping to select information relevant to the decision maker’s context;

· helping with the organization of information (ie, formatting, grouping, and classifying);

· supporting good analysis (ie, evaluation, validation, comparison, synthesis, and interpretation);

· improving the presentation of information, by allowing easy browsing, and guiding the decision maker through formal structures.

What is needed is a clear-thinking, experienced staff member who can read between the lines of (what is usually) qualitative data, who understands what the conditions of the disaster area and population were prior to the disaster, and who can express clearly to the decision maker an analysis of the changes that have occurred. Emergency managers responsible for overseeing the information production process, must be concerned with the issues described in the following sections.

Cross-checking and verification

Emergency managers generally obtain data from a wide range of sources, including the findings submitted by assessment or monitoring teams, situation reports from field staff, minutes from meetings with colleagues and counterpart organizations, and media reports. With increasing access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, second-hand sources are today practically without limit; every disaster seems to spawn a new set of Web sites, on-line documents, and Internet-based organizations.

This proliferation of sources has increased the need for data cross-checking and verification. Staff responsible for data analysis must quickly but systematically collate and cross-check data against reports received from other sources. Where discrepancies occur, these should be followed up and reconciled. To be sure, where lives are at risk, decision makers cannot and should not wait for perfectly accurate information before acting. The rule of thumb when lives are threatened is: “get the whole picture half right.” Once the situation stabilizes (ie, once lives are no longer at risk), there will be time to perform needed cross-checking and verification in order to fine-tune the response.

Analysts should be prepared to rate the information’s accuracy according to a scale acceptable to the particular organization: eg: confirmed by other sources; probable; doubtful; improbable; cannot be judged.

Verification of registration data in Liberia

A food relief agency decided to register the beneficiaries in its Monrovia distribution program. Household heads were asked for the names of family members, and household lists were then generated by neighborhood. Soon after, teams were sent house to house to verify the names on the lists. Household heads were asked once again to provide the names of family members. Where responses differed from the original registration data, the names of these imagined beneficiaries were stricken from the distribution lists.

Filtering and prioritization

The early stages of an emergency response are often characterized by very fast moving events and high levels of stress on operational staff. Mechanisms for filtering information are essential. Those responsible for filtering and prioritizing information for decision makers must be concerned with the following:

Translating and structuring incoming messages - Incoming messages often arrive in a format or structure that is of limited use to management. Unstructured messages can usually be translated into structured form by trained staff. Structured messages usually include activity or event descriptions, a spatially referenced location, and information on the team or unit involved.

Filtering - Staff will need to analyze, categorize, sort and select from the various types of messages sent. The main types of message arriving will be unscheduled situation reports, on-call situation reports, and scheduled summary status reports. Each will need to be read, classified, and routed.

Prioritization - Incoming messages will need to be sorted and labeled for urgency. Definitions of urgency will vary with the organization, although prioritization systems generally include the following concepts:

· Urgent: This message is of highest priority and importance. Anyone copied on this message should put aside all other tasks and take immediate and appropriate action(s).

· Priority: This message is considered very important and should receive your attention as soon as any “urgent” level messages have been handled.

· Routine: This message should be handled according to the organization’s standard operating procedures.

Note: Priority indicators used in marine radio distress transmissions, for example, are: (1) mayday (indicates that a station is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance; (2) pan-pan (indicates the safety of the ship or person is in jeopardy; and (3) security (used for messages about the safety of navigation or important weather warnings.) Radio operators will begin their messages with one of these indicators to give precedence over routine message traffic.

Corroboration - It is important to compare incoming data with a baseline: “Baseline” or background data should be readily available to provide a context and check for incoming data. Baseline data will need to be regularly updated and modified and possibly in real time as the operation continues. Analysts must avoid the tendency to generalize from data which cover only a small geographic area. The actual situation and needs of the affected may differ significantly over very short distances.

Reliability - Incoming information should also be assessed in terms of the source’s reliability: eg, completely, usually, not usually, unreliable, and cannot be judged. Analysts should as well consider the background and biases (eg, ethnic, religious, political, gender, cultural, etc.) of the information sources, particularly in complex emergency situations where one faction or another may provide selective bits of information to further political agendas.

Note: Filtering information is an essential information management function carried out at two very different levels in the organization. At the lower level, data analysts filter out information which is unreliable, inaccurate, or unrelated to the organization’s purpose. At the higher level, many organizations use a “gatekeeper” whose function is to decide what is politically relevant to top management’s needs, and to “filter” out that which lacks importance to top management.

The gatekeeper function is a positive one insofar as it ensures that critical information finds it way to those with authority to make decisions. The utmost care must be taken, however, to ensure that the gatekeeper does not serve to isolate top management from the reality on the ground. That is the role of gatekeeper must belong to a trusted staff member, one whose motivation is clearly in the organization’s interests.

Information presentation


Presentation formats are important insofar as they assist decision makers to grasp a situation more quickly. GIS maps, prepared situation report formats, commodity pipeline analyses - these are all essential tools for decision-making. What is key for the emergency manager is to ensure that information needs are identified in advance of the crisis; this includes presentation formats. Decision makers - donor representatives included - who are familiar with the layout of the information presented to them are able to function more efficiently and at lower levels of stress.

Software tools for data analysis and information production

At the most basic level, a manager wants to be able to ask the information system “What if...?” and get one or more meaningful answers. Data analysis software tools vary in their capacity to help answer the question “What if...?” from highly sophisticated complex GIS, statistical, and econometric modeling packages to the “lowly” but ubiquitous spreadsheet.

Emergency managers seeking software support for decision-making should always consider the availability of ongoing software support - particularly in remote areas where expertise may be lacking. The old maxim still applies: if there is little chance that needed expertise will be available, then use the KISS method of management: “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” That “lowly” spreadsheet package may be just what is needed to support the tasks at hand.

Spreadsheet modeling: The most widely used decision support software is the spreadsheet, familiar to almost all personal computer users (e.g., Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel, Quattro-Pro). Spreadsheets enable the manager to calculate - and visualize - the impact of changes in the values of input data. they help to answer the manager’s question “If I increase (decrease) these inputs, then what are the effects on those outputs?” They are extremely useful in analyzing, for example, the effects of changes in one or more budget lines on the total budget of the emergency response program.

Food deficit modeling in Armenia

In July 1993, an emergency assessment team to Armenia using a simple spreadsheet modeling tool, assisted the Ministry of Economy - which was charged with planning for the coming winter emergency - to forecast the January 1994 rupture in the state bread ration system due to a likely rupture in the wheat supply. The model permitted officials to visualize the impact on the food supply by varying a number of factors such as donations of EU grain, losses (eg, thefts along the Georgian rail corridor), and bread ration levels. Prior to development of this simple tool, the entire winter emergency planning effort had been focused entirely on problems of energy and heating. This simple software tool was significant not for complexity, but rather for its capacity to get ministry officials to focus on the coming food supply problem.

Database management system (DBMS) software: DBMS software packages are particularly useful to managers in storing and retrieving great volumes of data records quickly. All DBMS packages have what is called a “query” function. This is basically a feature that enables a manager to make a very specific request for information according to criteria selected by the manager. An example of a query might be: “select all the records of food deliveries to centers in locations A, B, and E, during the period from March to June from donors X and Z only; then sort the records by location, and sum the totals for each location by donor.” Such an exercise can be performed manually from written ledgers with a calculator; it is, however, performed almost instantaneously by a DBMS.

When emergency managers need access to large volumes (ie, hundreds or more) of similarly formatted records (eg, invoices, weight-for-height charts, transport waybills, registration cards), a DBMS software package can provide useful support.

Project management software: A number of project management software packages (eg. Harvard Project Manager and Microsoft Project) are available to assist decision-making with resource allocation, scheduling, and tracking. These packages are especially useful in planning and organizing projects which must share resources (particularly human resources) and in analyzing the effects on planned project completion dates of potential shifts in needed resources from one activity to another. Operation of these packages does require understanding of basic project management tools and concepts (eg, Gantt Charts, PERT, Critical Path, histograms, etc.)


Drowning in Zenon: The Nortenian refugee emergency is now three weeks old. It is Thursday, 16:00 hrs. The assistant EPC director is summoned to the office of the director who appears to be having a very bad day. The director’s desk blotter is strewn with papers, his in-box overflowing with documents, reports, spreadsheets, telexes and faxes.

“You’d better tell the staff to be prepared for a late night,” the director says as his assistant enters. “The PM has a donor rep meeting in the morning and he wants an EPC summary of the response to-date on his desk by 08:00 sharp tomorrow.” The director, red-faced, points at his desk.

“I’ve got reports from Red Cross, reports from UNHCR, Caritas, MSF, AHAZ, Save the Children, CARE, from the Friends of Nortenian Refugees whoever the hell they are! I’ve got reports from every ministry and department in Zenon and nothing, nothing adds up!” The director picks up a fistful of papers and begins to shuffle through them..

“According to this report, we’ve distributed 250 tons of food, but here it says we’ve delivered 680 tons. According to this report, we’ve handed out 24,302 blankets and here we’ve handed out 56,867. The EPC finance coordinator says the Government has received $72 million dollars in assistance but the Treasury reports deposits of only $46 million.” The director looks at his assistant. “I have been on the job now for exactly 24 days. You have exactly 24 minutes to explain to me just what kind of sea this agency is drowning in!”

Q. You are the EPC director. What problems do you confront with regards to data analysis and information production? What steps will you take to resolve these problems?

A. _____________________________________________________________



The gathering and analysis of data to produce information which consequently does not reach decision makers is an unfortunate waste of scarce resources - with potentially life-threatening consequences. Emergency managers should never assume that information finds its way to those who need it. Procedures for the dissemination of information to the decision makers and media who are positioned to set the wheels of the disaster response in motion should be planned in advance. Planning should take into account the geographical, political, and organizational location of those eventual users.

This section outlines some of the key issues for emergency managers to consider when formulating a strategy for information dissemination.

Organizational protocols

“Normal” information dissemination channels are often inadequate to engender a quick, effective response.

An organization’s “normal” information dissemination channels are often inadequate to engender a quick, effective response. In establishing a strategy for the dissemination of critical emergency information, emergency managers must consider the context of the overall disaster response goals and objectives of the agency. Organizational protocols which should be developed well in advance of a crisis include the following concerns:

· Levels of transparency: The question inevitably arises as to the degree of openness that an organization should maintain. The answer lies in the organization’s actual emergency response objectives: ie, an agency seeking to maintain a low profile in a disaster zone for security reasons is unlikely to adopt a policy of wide-open information dissemination, whereas one whose very security may actually depend on openness and worldwide scrutiny would likely do so.

Decisions about transparency must include a policy determination as to what constitutes internal vs. external categories of information. Organizations sufficiently well-endowed appoint public information officers whose main role is to serve as information “gatekeepers”, ie, to decide which information may be released externally. Where such officers are not vailable, emergency managers should ensure that field workers are well-trained in recognizing that which is to be guarded for internal use and that which may be released for public consumption8.

8 Related to this issue of transparency is the concern about the security of telecommunications links, i.e., whether or not a message intended for internal use only can be accessed by those outside the organization. Privacy of particular types of telecommunications systems is discussed in Part 2 of this module.

· Identifying the recipients: An effective dissemination strategy requires advance identification of the intended information recipients and of their particular needs. The time spent in identifying and periodically updating the list of eventual end-users is time well spent. (Even with this effort, in a crisis, the list will inevitably grow if the information disseminated is considered reliable and accurate.) Managers should beware: overlooking even one key user can, in some more bureaucratic organizations, slow certain aspects of the response to a crawl. Given the capacity of today’s information technology, shaping the information to each user’s particular needs should not, with some foresight, be problematic.

When the disaster strikes, the list of information recipients should be modified to include the population actually affected by the disaster. High priority should be given to informing those affected about, for example, assessment or monitoring team findings, actions already taken to-date or planned, and how others are responding to the situation. The constraints of language and illiteracy must be considered; the dissemination of information through verbal reports with on-site translators may be required.

· An emphasis on reporting: Many staff, in setting priorities, often accord low status to the reporting function. “I’ll get to it when I have time” is all too often the response to a request for information. Emergency response organizations should, as a preparedness measure, establish and communicate to all staff their expectations concerning reporting requirements. Staff should understand that “getting the information out” is a critical part of their jobs, not a burden but rather an essential tool in decision-making.

Q. Identify the various recipients of information produced by your organization.

A. ____________________________________________________________

Q. In reviewing your list, would you say that your organization employs an appropriate degree of openness? Explain your response.

A. ____________________________________________________________


Use of coordination structures for information dissemination

Emergency management organizations seek to coordinate their activities for a wide number of reasons. The UN’s Complex Emergencies Training Initiative (CETI) module on coordination identifies five chief objectives that most organizations seek from coordination activities:

· improved efficiency, cost-effectiveness and speed of humanitarian assistance

· a framework for strategic decision-making on issues of common concern

· a unified strategic approach to humanitarian assistance

· elimination of gaps and duplication in services to meet the needs of the affected populations; and

· appropriate division of responsibilities.9

9 “Coordination Among International Organizations in complex Emergencies”, A Training Module prepared for the Complex Emergency Training Initiative and the UN Disaster Management Training Programme.

A concerted effort to engage in information sharing should always be designed into the information management system.

While few emergency managers would dispute the importance of these five objectives, many would disagree as to the type of coordination activities needed to achieve them. Such disagreements often arise out of concerns that organizational sovereignty may be infringed if those responsible for coordination mechanisms begin to view their role as directive or supervisory. These sovereignty concerns may well determine the type of coordination activity in which organizations choose to participate. This may vary from the simplest form of coordination - information sharing - to the most difficult form (albeit with the most effective results10) - joint strategic planning and programming.

10. Coordination Among International Organizations in complex Emergencies”, A Training Module prepared for the Complex Emergency Training Initiative and the UN Disaster Management Training Programme.

Emergency managers should insist that representatives of their organizations attend coordination meetings and be prepared to share information or ideas they might have on the crisis.

Emergency managers should be dear that no matter how positive or negative the organization’s perspective on coordination may be, a concerted effort to engage in information sharing should always be designed into the information management system. That is, even if the organization finds it counterproductive to engage in joint strategic planning or programming, it should always take part in coordination activities if only to be able to compare its own perspectives on the disaster with those disseminated by other respondents. This information dissemination (and gathering) can assist the organization to achieve its own objectives and often, as a secondary and even unintended result, move the response community farther along in an attempt to achieve the five primary coordination objectives listed above.

Emergency managers should insist that representatives of their organizations attend coordination meetings and be prepared to share information or ideas they might have on the crisis. Representatives should be pro-active in requesting information from colleagues as well as in disseminating information to those with an interest. There is simply no good argument against being better informed. The type of information which many organizations disseminate at such coordination meetings includes:

· the general roles and responsibilities of each organization and the specific resources they bring to the current emergency

· the size and capabilities of their staff

· type and quantity of assistance

· geographical areas of operation, equipment and facilities available

· description of the organizations’ projects

· priority needs and gaps in assistance

· issues relating to situation or context, i.e., security, government policies, local conditions, etc.

· other information that defines the parameters of the contributions of each organization.11

11. Coordination Among International Organizations in complex Emergencies”, A Training Module prepared for the Complex Emergency Training Initiative and the UN Disaster Management Training Programme.

Other coordination/dissemination concerns include:

· Pledge management: Pledge processing is a critical task spanning both national and international levels. Where national administrations are intact, there is normally a need for a national central requesting and coordinating office with the authority to collate requests from multiple departments, agencies and other organizations. This system must screen out inappropriate requests; identify duplicates; and maintain listings of providers, a record of the status of each request, and the status of program implementation.

Attempts have been made to mirror elements of this type of processing system at the international level. As telecommunications technology improves, there are new opportunities for the design of virtual pledge management systems which can be accessible to all parties. Initiatives by the UN-Department of Humanitarian Affairs in the introduction of the ReliefWeb system may lead to further developments in this over the longer term.

· International standards: There is among emergency managers a keen awareness of the need for common standards for information collection, analysis and dissemination. Recent initiatives in the design of field level telecommunications and in the use of global networks for relief information sharing are indicators of what may well become better integrated information management and coordination structures at the international levels.

Q. Consider the various coordination groups or meetings in which your organization has taken part. Which of these has been the most useful? Why?

A. ____________________________________________________________


Use of the media in information dissemination

The print and electronic media play a key role in informing the public about disasters: issuing warnings of coming hazards, collecting and transmitting information about affected areas, and alerting disaster response organizations to the particular needs of affected populations. Indeed, the quickest means of getting the international community to recognize the outbreak of sudden disaster or emergency conditions is clearly via the media.

Attempts to disseminate “information” through the media can, however, backfire on field staff. Instead of reporting what the field worker knows is critical information, a journalist can use an interview to tell the story that he or she wishes to tell - a story that may have little or nothing to do with the information the field worker wants to disseminate. Indeed, the images presented by the media are often of the horrors of the disaster with little focus on the achievements of the response. The consequence of such a media show is generally momentary interest on the part of the public, followed by a longer period of “compassion-fatigue” as response efforts viewed through the prism of negative images are deemed futile.

Emergency managers in their attempts to pre-empt such coverage should establish in advance - and then maintain - relationships with those journalists likely to take a professional interest in the organization’s disaster management programs. Of particular importance to headquarters units is the opportunity to develop relationships with the news wire editors - those who determine much of what actually gets disseminated in the media.

Equally important is training of field staff in “Media Management” skills. Field staff who can act as effective spokespersons, trained to get their point of view across, are an increasingly essential asset of any disaster management organization dependent upon the good will of the public for its operating funds and material resources.

There are several means of disseminating information through the media. The UN World Food Program notes the following:12

· Press conference: A press conference is held only when the organization has something of critical importance to announce and somebody important available to make the announcement. The press conference should not last more than 30 minutes and consists of a brief (five minute) introduction and prepared statement followed by questions and answers. Preparation for a press conference should include a practice session at which likely sensitive questions are posed to the speaker who should try to formulate dear, succinct answers. A press release distributed at the start of the press conference helps to underscore the speaker’s message.

· The media briefing: A media briefing usually involves a small group of journalists selected by the organization who are known for their particular interest in a topic of concern to both sides. The briefing, held in the offices of the organization and generally more intimate than the press conference setting, is intended to familiarize the media with the work of the organization and to exchange ideas with the media. Regular briefings, often held by a designated spokesperson for the organization, permit the organization to cultivate close relations with particular members of the media, thereby enhancing the likelihood that the organization’s message will be disseminated in times of need.

· Press release: A press release should be considered only when the organization has a newsworthy announcement to make. Timing of the release is crucial: dissemination by early afternoon, Monday through Thursday to the media is optimal. The release should be tightly written with the first paragraph containing the major point in not more than 50 words. Additional background detail may then follow. Ideally, the press release should be limited to no more than 450 words. One piece of paper, copied on both sides if needed, should be used (stapled sheets tend to separate and may be lost.) The names and contact numbers (telephone and fax) should always be included. As mentioned above, a press release should always be distributed at a press conference.

· One-on-one interviews: Private interviews are generally sought by journalists, although organizations seeking to disseminate information to a particular audience concerning an issue of special concern may request an exclusive interview. Whenever possible, the interviewee should be well-prepared with facts well-checked beforehand. It is considered acceptable to ask the reporter in advance about the general theme of questions. It is rare that a journalist will actually submit the specific questions in advance.

12 Dealing with the Media, WFP, unpublished training document, no date.

The Internet and the World Wide Web

The technical capacity to receive and disseminate inexpensively nearly limitless volumes of information greatly increases the risk of decision makers drowning in a sea of detail.

Emergency managers familiar with the ease of disseminating email messages over the Internet and of documents over the Web already understand the information management revolution that is occurring. The ability to disseminate information instantaneously and inexpensively to interested parties around the globe has major implications for emergency managers. On the positive side, headquarters and field workers with access to the Internet can receive daily or even hourly updates of disaster conditions, detailed accounts of human and material resources available for the response, and state-of-the-art technical advice. They can disseminate their particular messages - needs, findings, conclusions - to a pre-selected pool of recipients who have an interest in their work.

A discussion of the ease of dissemination via the Internet must also consider the negative side of the equation. The technical capacity to receive and disseminate inexpensively nearly limitless volumes of information greatly increases the risk of decision makers drowning in a sea of detail. To minimize this possibility, managers at all levels of the organization must define what is needed under particular conditions, and what has only superficial value. Without a concerted attempt to set information priorities and exercise self-discipline, emergency managers will increasingly confront a working environment in which time is wasted wading through oceans of information.

Having thus given warning, users of this module may find Annex A (a listing of Disaster and Emergency Information Management Sites on the World Wide Web) of some use.


Information Sharing in Zenon: The EPC director closes his folder and throws up his hands. “Meeting adjourned,” he sighs. The UNHCR administrative assistant and a low level representative from the Ministry of Interior both stand and then leave the room without a word.

“Maybe we should talk for a bit,” the EPC director says to his assistant and the Red Cross director who are the only ones remaining. “This was supposed to be a coordination meeting,” the director says. “A coordination meeting requires people with ideas to coordinate. No people, no ideas, no coordination. Could someone please tell me what’s wrong with this picture?”

The Red Cross director nods. “If I may? During the last hurricane emergency, representatives from practically every agency in town came here to share information. Daily. For the first week anyway. Then they stopped. Mostly because they didn’t leave these meetings with anything of value. Everyone felt EPC was taking their information and giving nothing back. They came to share but it was a one-way flow. So they stopped coming.”

The EPC director nods and then looks at his assistant director. “I think it’s time you and I had a talk about information-sharing.”

Q. You are the EPC director. What problems with regard to information dissemination do you confront? What steps will you take to deal with these problems?

A. ____________________________________________________________


Building institutional memory

Building a real capacity for institutional memory requires a firm commitment by top management, a detailed plan, and a funded, operating budget,

At the heart of effective information management is a capacity to use “institutional memory” - i.e., the recording and feedback into program design of the organization’s emergency response experience. Despite ready acknowledgment by all managers of the need to develop such a capacity, maintenance and use of institutional memory continue to be among the most neglected areas of emergency information management. Ideally, organizations should be able to draw on their colleagues’ prior experience with information easily accessed from their banks of “institutional memory” whenever requested. Nonetheless, this goal remains elusive for almost all organizations: reinvented wheels are the rule rather than the exception.

Emergency response organizations serious about building this capacity should designate one or more core staff to record useful experience and develop systems for storage and easy retrieval of this information. Interviews or correspondence with experienced emergency managers, past and present, and document reviews are often the simplest ways to begin building this bank of memory. Ideally, this “bank” would maintain details on all responses, successful or otherwise. In addition to compiling information on what actually was done in response to a particular emergency, the bank would provide information as to why particular decisions or actions were not taken. Indeed, the reasons why certain actions were not taken are often as useful as an understanding of the actions that were carried out.

Building a real capacity for institutional memory requires a firm commitment by top management, a detailed plan, and a funded, operating budget. Steps in managing the process of building institutional memory generally include the following:



1. Budgeting resources for institutional memory development and maintenance.

Items to be budgeted include:
· office space
· staff salaries and fringes
· storage devices (imaging systems, computer drives, file cabinets)
· transport for needed interviews
· telecommunications
· report production and dissemination

2. Designating current, or hiring new, staff responsible for gleaning, recording, storing, retrieving, and disseminating organizational experience; and maintaining regular contact with field workers to stay abreast of particular programs and needs.

· Responsibilities are written into job descriptions and staff performance plans.
· Staff performance is assessed on speed and quality of response to field requests for information.

3. Setting priorities, schedules for information gathering.

· Past disaster programs whose lessons are most likely to be of wider use to the organization and, where appropriate, replicable are given top priority.

4. Designing - and training all staff in - information retrieval procedures.

· Procedures are communicated to all staff.
· Staff are trained in how, where, and to whom requests for information are submitted.

Q. Identify two or three off your organization’s past emergency response programs which you believe hold valuable lessons for the future. Identify the specific sources where your organization should turn to obtain the essential details of these lessons.


Emergency Response ___________________________________________

Sources _______________________________________________________

Emergency Response ___________________________________________

Sources ______________________________________________________

Emergency Response ___________________________________________

Sources _______________________________________________________


13 This section deals primarily with emergencies caused by “sudden-onset” disasters and the special telecommunications considerations imposed by a need to respond with immediacy. As Zimmerman writes, “The telecommunications requirements during complex emergencies are in most cases either similar to those of developing countries in general, or they are primarily covered by peace-keeping forces.” (from: Zimmerman, Hans, “The Use of Satellite Telecommunications in Disaster Relief Operations”, Acta Astronautica, Vol. 37,1995.)


This part of the module is designed to enhance your understanding of:

· the political and organizational barriers which confront emergency telecommunications systems

· the equipment, infrastructure, and procedural concerns which emergency managers must consider in planning their telecommunications systems

· the advantages and disadvantages of the various emergency telecommunications systems presently available to emergency response organizations

A general understanding of emergency telecommunications systems, defined here as the equipment, networks, and policies and procedures used to transport emergency information from point to point, is a critical part of any emergency manager’s training. This part of the module is intended to provide emergency managers with this basic understanding of the various emergency telecommunications system options available to their organizations, and to ensure they are able to define their own particular telecommunications needs. The first section covers a number of issues and concepts of fundamental concern to managers responsible for emergency telecommunications systems. The second section highlights a number of emergency telecommunications systems and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each.



Emergency managers’ communications concerns can be divided into two general areas: (1) political/organizational concerns and (2) equipment/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.

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. ____________________________________________________________


Typology of telecommunications technologies

Emergency managers confront a wide range of telecommunications system options, generally categorized as either strategic or tactical systems. The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA)17 defines these terms as follows:


Strategic: telecommunications between the affected location, country or region and the “outside world”, including headquarters of institutions providing international assistance and donor governments (ie, worldwide or global systems); and


Tactical: telecommunications among the partners on location, such as rescue teams, and with the local and national institutions who have the primary responsibility for rendering assistance (ie, local or short-range systems.)

17 Zimmerman, Hans, “Emergency Telecommunications for Humanitarian Aid”, a paper presented to the World Telecommunications Forum, Strategies Summit, Telecom 95, Geneva, 1995.

Adopting this system of categorization, the following sections cover the advantages and disadvantages of various strategic and tactical telecommunications systems.18

18 Much of the material on particular system advantages and disadvantages in this section is from Disaster Telecommunications, a book by Mark Wood of “The Disaster Relief Telecommunications Foundation” released in June 1996. Readers are encouraged to refer to this well-detailed background document for additional information on each system.

Strategic (worldwide or global) telecommunications systems

All emergency managers involved in international emergency response must weigh the costs and benefits of the various strategic telecommunications systems available to them. In this section we focus on the following types of strategic systems:19

Satellite telecommunications systems20, A number of satellite-based systems are used by disaster response organizations to communicate with their headquarters, donor organizations, and the media. The International Mobile Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) system, set up in 1976 for ship to shore telecommunications, is presently the primary satellite telecommunications system used by land-based disaster and emergency managers. The system uses 4 geo-stationary satellites and 80 land earth stations operated by telecommunications companies around the world; and

High frequency (HF) radio telecommunications systems: HF radio is used by many emergency response organizations to transmit voice, text, and data around the world. The present trend, in fact, is to use more HF short-wave telecommunications for strategic purposes. As relief agencies have begun to realize the high costs of satellite telecommunications calls, and as short-wave links have improved dramatically thanks to the use of FACTOR Level 2 equipment (see below) and Internet email use, short-wave radio is experiencing a “renaissance.”21

19 It is assumed here that in times of disaster, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN or conventional telephone network) (1) may sustain damage and interrupt service or (2) if undamaged, be subject to system overload as incoming calls flood the network. For these reasons, the conventional telephone networks are deemed unreliable as emergency services.

20 Satellite communications, while generally used in strategic systems, do have local or tactical applications as will be seen later in this section.

21 From September 1996 to March 1997, the international short-wave data network of DHA increased from 2 to 12 stations (mostly in central Africa.) This trend is seen at UNHCR, WFP, and WHO as well.

The following table lists a number of these systems and provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each:




Inmarsat Standard A Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Fastest way to establish reliable phone/fax links in an initial stage of emergency
· Full phone and fax capability, telex with laptop
· High speed data capability optional
· Connects directly to phone lines
· Connects to ordinary modems
· Can connect to switchboard and be available to many users via field telephones
· Supports full duplex (two-way) telex
· Reliable, easy to use
· Transportable
· Offers password security
· As manufacturers turn to Standard B technology, Standard A terminals may drop significantly in price

· High equipment costs at about US$40,000 for complete station (with high speed data option)
· Calls expensive at $6-10 per minute (UN humanitarian agencies note that usage rates for one Inmarsat Standard A terminal can easily run as high as $10,000 - $20,000 per month - about the cost of purchasing and installing one HF shortwave PACTOR Level 2 station.)
· Cannot be used when mobile
· Should only be used when a telecommunications officer is installing and controlling it (and high usage costs can be monitored)
· Terminal is transportable but still relatively heavy: terminal and parabolic antenna go in one suitcase; fax, power supply for use with car battery in separate box (older equipment is heavy at 30 kg; newer models weigh about 18 kg)
· Manufacturers phasing out production (although support will continue)

Inmarsat Standard B Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Similar to Standard A terminal but with digital technology (all manufacturers now developing B instead of A terminals)
· Handles phone, data, fax, telex at much cheaper rates than Standard A terminal
· Smaller, easier to install antenna
· Some makes provide options 64 Kbit/s duplex high speed data (DHSD) services to link networks and multiple phone and fax lines (eg, with private branch telephone exchange or “PBX”)
· Uses less power than Standard A terminal
· Transportable
· Excellent for video-conferencing in remote locations

· High cost of equipment
· Generally used for broadcasting or other industry video-conferencing
· Same weight and dimensions as Standard A terminal

Inmarsat Standard C Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Cheapest satellite system at about US$4,000 per terminal
· Telecommunications costs at about US$2-3 per text message
· Provides “store-and-forward” text messaging capability (message is sent at convenience of sender; receiver does not have to be available at time of transmittal)
· Text messages can be prepared off-line on personal computer
· Can send text-only messages from a mobile station to a fax machine or links to telex or data networks
· Can be as small in size (volume) as laptop computer
· Weighs only about 2-5 kgs
· Has omni-directional antenna
· Uses little power; runs off batteries for days
· Can be used when mobile if omni-directional antenna is attached
· Products continue to be developed, will be supported long-term
· New application now handles remote version of CC:mail enabling email communication
· Used by many emergency response agencies, particularly for locating convoys in remote areas (when used in conjunction with Global Positioning System or “GPS”)

· Does not provide real-time dialogue capability (store and forward only)
· Sends text only; cannot send voice or graphics images via fax
· Requires word-processing literacy on computer
· Use of “C” requires a functioning laptop with charged batteries
· In telex mode, does not support full duplex; can only send a message and wait for reply (this “store-and-forward” feature is not a problem as long as addressees read their messages and respond promptly)
· Can send to fax machines, but can receive only messages from other C terminals, telexes, and, in some cases, email

Inmarsat Standard-M Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Portability, ease of use
· Low cost of calls (about US$3-4 per minute) relative to Standard A terminals
· Provides direct dial, digital voice communication with narrow bandwidth over public telephone network
· Connects to standard RJ-11 telephone jacks
· Terminals are compact in attache case, weigh as little as 8 kg
· Can be powered by own internal batteries for 8 hrs on standby and for 1 hr of usage, by car battery, or by generator
· Antenna built into attache-case lid
· Portable telefax capability (in separate attache case)
· Quickly installed; easy to use; easy to train users
· Used by various emergency response organizations (eg, UNHCR, Red Cross)

· Relatively high cost of equipment at about US$12,000
· Unable to work when mobile
· Slow in fax mode relative to Standard A terminals; operates at only 2400 baud (fax machines connecting with Standard M terminals must be able to operate at 2400 baud as well and parameters must be set specifically for slow handshake)
· Faxes will cost twice as much as those sent by Standard A terminals.
· With advent of “Mini-M” terminal, (see next section) no reason to purchase a Standard M.

Inmarsat “Mini-M” Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: At half the size of a Standard M terminal (ie similar to a laptop computer), even more portable
· Low cost at about $4,000
· Small battery

HF (High Frequency) Radio (shortwave voice) regional to worldwide applications

· Chief advantage: Low cost strategic telecommunications (at about US$2,000 per unit)
· No telecommunications (per call) fees (unless used to communicate through commercial land stations)
· Flexibility: can handle strategic (global) and tactical (local) telecommunications (although commonly used for regional telecommunications: 50-1000 km)
· Transceivers (ie, transmitter and receiver) are compact; weigh only about 2-10 kg (plus antenna and power supply)
· Portable & mobile stations available (car radio size)

· Less reliable; dependent upon satisfactory ionospheric conditions (HF radio is likely to function daily at some point, although this point changes)
· Tight control of frequency allocation
· Channels/frequencies must be coordinated
· Antenna systems: must be resonant with frequency being used (frequency changes during day require changes in antenna size or automatic tuners); are often unwieldy
· HF radios require some operator training (situation is better with new technologies)

HF Data regional to worldwide applications

· Chief advantage: Free data transmission

All Units:
· Relatively low cost at US$5,000 per unit (base stations plus modem, laptop computer, power supply, antenna)
· No telecommunications fees unless through commercial land station

All Units:
· Reliable data links with similar stations worldwide need locally trained operator
· Slow data transmission

TOR (teleprinter over radio), SITOR, AMTOR Units
· Transmits text messages over HF Radio
· Provides checking feature to ensure correct message
· Can work while equipment is unattended

· Transmits only letters, numbers
· Cannot send email
· Cannot provide Internet access

PACTOR “Level 2” Units
· Can transmit email, binary files, images, TCP/IP
· Can work with an email gateway to provide direct Internet Access
· Transmits data in “packets” which increases transmission speed and reduces errors
· Gives (limited) privacy by use of proprietary mode
· Favorite system of aid organizations (eg, DHA, ICRC, IFRC, UNHCR, WFP, WHO)

PACTOR “Level 2” Units
· Speed depends upon quality of radio; under poor conditions, speed is slower

Note: PACTOR “Level 1” is not suitable for professional use.

Marine and Aeronautical Radio (HF field radio used to contact coast stations which link (patch) sender into public telephone network)

· Chief advantage: As coast stations use high gain receivers, they can boost signals from low power HF radios
· Equipment needed to radio coast stations is compact and cheap at about US$1500-4500.
· Costs per radio/telephone link: about US$4/minute on “pay per use” basis (ie, no monthly charges)
· Can connect international telex on real-time basis
· Often in emergency, need to open account with coast station is waived
· Coast stations operate on 24 hour basis and maintain professional equipment and staff22

· Telephone user tends to talk too long (thinking it is normal phone call); requires training at both ends of line
· Transceivers used by the coast station (Marine service) must be capable of split frequency (duplex or semi-duplex) operations

SatelLife (LEO Satellite/Packet Radio Communications)

· Chief advantage: As non-profit, SatelLife is willing to provide free email service to emergency respondents
· Established to inform health officials in developing countries
· Provides data transmitting capabilities by radio via low earth orbit (LEO) satellite; store and forward messages are relayed from point to point along electronic pathway by satellite or telephone
· System has Internet and Web access
· Satellite has downlink capacity (to ground stations) of 40K or about 20 pages

· Relatively high cost (ground station requires antenna, a personal computer, email software, and high frequency radio transceiver; portable HF transceiver and terminal node controller alone cost about $5,000 if ordered in bulk)
· System doesn’t operate in “real-time”; sends, receives 4 times a day (when LEO satellite is overhead); estimated turnaround time for message can be 24 hours
· Uplink capacity is only 10K (about 5 pages)

Amateur (Ham) Radio Service (refers to special HF radio rules and transmission bands, not particular types of HF equipment)

· Chief advantage: Wide network encouraged by most governments to operate in emergencies
· Relatively inexpensive equipment (HF radio transceivers); free to use (no per message costs)
· With invocation of ITU Resolution 640 (see above), provides least administrative or legal hurdles for HF radio use in emergency and can pass messages to third parties in emergencies (HF units must be reconfigured to non-amateur bands to pass messages to non-amateur operators)
· Provides common pool of agreed frequencies In HF bands (overcomes problems of organizations working with incompatible frequencies)
· General coverage transceivers can be purchased which can make local calls or long distance via coast stations (marine radio)
· Handles data telecommunications
· Does not depend upon any ground infrastructure; more likely to withstand impact of severe hazard
· Has low power requirements (eg, batteries and generators); able effectively to traffic others’ messages in the area

· Existence of network is subject to the availability of Amateur Radio licensing in the country
· Privacy is virtually non-existent

22 For coast station listing, consult national PTT. A full listing can be found in the book Admiralty List of Signals, published by HMSO (British Government Press). Very capable, efficient coast stations include Portishead Radio in Britain and Capetown Radio in South Africa.

Note: The Internet, while offering low cost, easy-to-use computer-based strategic telecommunications is not viewed as a reliable emergency telecommunications network to the extent that users are dependent upon the normal Public Switched Telephone Network or “PSTN” for transmission and reception of electronic mail. Should a hazard destroy components of the satellite or terrestrial ground switching stations and distribution networks or overload result from increased traffic during an emergency situation, then use of the Internet, like any telephone-based system, would be interrupted.

Where access to the Internet can be assured (eg, via HF radio or other direct satellite links such as that employed by the “SatelLife” telecommunications system listed in the table above, or via cc:mail over Inmarsat Standard “C”), then email via the Internet can serve as another strategic telecommunications link under emergency conditions. This link depends, of course, on the frequency with which the messages are read and the efficiency with which they are routed.

Q. Scenario: A major earthquake has just demolished much of the nation’s capital. The public telephone network has been completely destroyed. Your organization has been requested by the President to contact a number of disaster response organizations in Geneva. How might you conceivably do this?

A. ____________________________________________________________



Pass a message via an Amateur Radio Operator to a coast station in Portishead, England (or Berne, Switzerland) which could then patch the message to the Swiss public telephone network.

Tactical (short-range or local) telecommunications systems

The table below presents a number of “tactical” telecommunications options for emergency managers who must communicate over short distances (ie, up to 100 Kms.). These are, for the most part, the type of systems needed to communicate with, for example, assessment team members, truck convoy leaders, local counterpart organizations, or on-site field offices.

Note: While satellite communications terminals are typically used for strategic communications purposes, they are also used to great advantage in tactical communications, particularly when the teams communicating are on the move (ie, not communicating from fixed offices.) Managers should, however, be aware of the very high usage costs. For this reason, HF radio is typically preferred when teams are likely to be at a particular site for a while (ie, long enough to set up HF equipment, tune antennas, etc.)




Inmarsat Standard M or Mini-M satcom terminals

· Chief advantage: Same as above (see strategic communications)
· Useful for tactical telecommunications of emergency teams “on the move”

· Extremely high usage costs

Field Telephones often used in very limited urban area or district

· Chief advantage: Tough, reliable, designed for use under difficult outdoor conditions
· Easy to use network for relatively closely situated telecommunications sites (ie, where wiring will not be difficult)
· Assure privacy of telecommunications
· Readily purchased from army surplus/stores very inexpensively
· Independent of central power system; phone uses long-lasting battery
· Use almost any type of wire for connections
· Not subject to interference or channel overloading
· No licensing needed (don’t use radio channel)

· Wiring needed between telephones
· Unsuitable for mobile system (because of wiring)
· Wiring, as valuable commodity in poor counties, may be stolen

PAX (Private Automatic Telephone exchange) often used in limited urban area or district

· Chief advantage: Easy to use, no training of users
· Dials any telephone connected to exchange
· Semi-permanent installation means best suited for longer-term applications
· Assures privacy of telecommunications
· Fast, reliable communications; not subject to jamming

· Cabling needed; laborious installation
· Can’t access telephones outside of exchange
· Depends upon reliable power
· Not well-suited for fast moving disaster response

PBX/PABX (Private Automatic Branch Telephone exchange) often used in limited urban area or district

· Chief advantage: Same as PAX and connects to Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)
· Semi-permanent installation means best suited for longer-term applications
· Can extend reach of Inmarsat or HF radio to other users
· Some weigh only 5 kg; older systems are heavier
· Assures privacy of telecommunications (not subject to being overheard by scanning)

· Cabling needed; laborious installation
· Depends upon reliable power
· Not well-suited for fast moving disaster response

Cordless PBX (Private Cellular Phone System) often used within office compound

· Chief advantage: PAX with little wiring needed for users within coverage area (wiring needed only for base stations)
· Serves as replacement for PAX
· setup speed is faster
· Users have freedom of movement in coverage area

· Range is only about 100 meters from base station; longer range requires setup of additional base stations (one per building floor recommended)
· Permission for frequency allocation is needed
· More expensive than wired lines or walkie-talkies
· Privacy not always assured

Hand-held, two-way VHF radio (also known as “walkie-talkies”) often used over short-distances: several kms

· Chief advantage: Wireless, portable, gives ease of movement

Without Repeater:
· Inexpensive at US$400-700 per radio (complete DHA kit: US$5,000)
· No telecommunications fees
· Portable; hand-held or mobile units (functions well when mobile as larger antennas can be car-mounted and mobile telecommunications are often in open areas; mobile can have up to 25km range)
· Wireless systems; no cabling required (except for trunked or linked repeaters)
· VHF “wireless” LANs available

Without Repeater:
· Range is “line of sight”, ie, depends upon terrain (VHF/UHF waves don’t penetrate thick walls well; never through earth; handheld range may be limited to 2-3 km)
· Must be switched on continuously to hear messages
· Most are Simplex (one way) communications devices; use requires some training
· Regular reliable source of power to charge batteries is needed

With Repeater
· With linked repeaters range of handhelds can be increased greatly (20-50 km and more)

With Repeater
· Raises costs by US$4,000 per repeater station
· If set to work with repeaters, then cannot work without repeaters (batteries, fuel, security of repeaters must be closely monitored; repeaters for dispatch to an acute emergency must have autonomy for at least 48 hours with 50% transmit time)
· Repeater system must be set up by engineers; unsuitable for immediate communications needs

Citizen’s Band Radio (refers to radio frequency band, not equipment) often used over short distances: several kms

· Chief advantage: CB may be the one band common to all agencies working in some areas
· Very low cost ($50 - $100 per unit)
· Works well in gentle, smooth terrain
· Most countries supporting CB have disaster relief networks

· CB illegal in some countries
· CB frequency (27 MHZ) has problems passing through walls and built-up areas;
· Requires heavy antennas
· CB is crowded from overuse; lack of user discipline; jamming is likely
· Repeaters are forbidden as duplex is not allowed

Amateur (Ham) Radio Service used over both short & long distances

· Chief advantage: Local amateurs are generally well-disciplined in radio use, knowledgeable about local conditions, coverage of local repeater system and packet nodes.
· Other advantages: Same as above.
· Amateurs can give good advice about hardware deployment

· Same as in above section on Amateur Radio Service

Q. Consider the tactical telecommunications system employed by your organization. What measures can you recommend to strengthen this system and ensure that, in an emergency, the system will continue to function? What inputs will be needed?

A. __________________________________________________________

Measure _____________________________________________________

Needed inputs ________________________________________________

Measure _____________________________________________________

Needed inputs ________________________________________________

Measure _____________________________________________________

Needed inputs ________________________________________________


Telecommunications barriers in Zenon: The director of the Emergency Preparedness Committee in Zenon has yet to hear from the joint EPC/Red Cross monitoring mission that left three days ago for the refugee camp on the border with Nortenia. The PM has requested an update on the mission’s progress, but so far the EPC hasn’t received a word. He calls the Red Cross.

“Well, all the phones in Montano are down,” the Red Cross director tells him. “Something to do with the rainy season up there. Maybe one of the microwave relays has washed out.”

“But you have radio equipment in the camp, don’t you?” asks the EPC director. “I remember we sent it up from Port Sound. Why haven’t they just called in?”

“Sure, we have short-wave radio up there. Voice and text capabilities. Uses SITOR. Great little package, but I don’t think they know how to use it very well. They haven’t been answering for a couple of days. Or maybe the generator is down again. We had another coming in, but it arrived with our new radio equipment and the documentation for the lot was all wrong. So Customs has the whole shipment locked away at the airport. Power supply, radios, repeaters, the works. We’re waiting for Geneva to straighten out the papers at their end. But I don’t understand. They went in an EPC car. You have mobile radios in all your vehicles, don’t you?

The EPC director pauses. “Well, yes, but...the repeater in Montano is on the blink and there’s no technician available there for another month. So our car is out of range at the moment.”

The Red Cross director sighs. “Well, our shipment should be cleared by the end of the week, I hope.”

The EPC director shakes his head. “The end of the week might as well be a million years away. The PM wants an answer now.”

Q. You are the EPC director. What problems do you face here?

A. ____________________________________________________________

Q. What preparedness actions should have been taken to minimize these problems?

A. ____________________________________________________________

Q. What options are currently available to you?

A. ____________________________________________________________

Q. Where might you turn for assistance if similar problems arose in your own country?

A. ____________________________________________________________





This part of the module is designed to enhance your understanding of:

· the tasks which emergency managers must undertake in establishing an emergency information management system

· the tasks which emergency managers must undertake in establishing an emergency telecommunications capacity

· the hardware, software (system), and personnel issues which confront emergency managers in establishing emergency information management and telecommunications systems

With the apparent increase in the number and complexity of emergency situations worldwide, emergency response organizations must be able to show great flexibility in their capacity and willingness to set up functioning systems on what may often be a moment’s notice. Such a capacity requires a keen understanding of the organization’s internal systems as well as the tasks required to get those systems functioning quickly, and often under hostile conditions.

This part of the module, organized into two sets of tasks, is intended to provide emergency managers with an overview of what is required to establish (1) emergency information management systems and (2) emergency telecommunications systems. Each set of tasks is further divided into those tasks which should, if possible, be considered prior to the onset of emergency conditions and those which must be considered with the actual onset. A table outlines the various “hardware”, “software”, and “personnel” issues which managers may find useful in planning and/or implementing each task:

· hardware - equipment, infrastructure, and other physical/material issues
· software - policies, procedures, regulations, and other systems design issues
· personnel - staff, training, and other human resource issues

Note: Learners are encouraged first to read down through the numbered list of tasks (ie, the left column of each table) to get an overview of the types of tasks that emergency managers must consider in establishing these systems. Further detail can then be obtained by studying the other three columns.

Emergency information management tasks and issues

Tasks -
* prior to onset of crisis

Hardware issues

Software issues

Personnel issues

1. Identify likely emergency information users; assess and prioritize information needs.

Review (1) in-house management needs, (2) external needs (donors, host government, all partner agencies). Determine necessary & sufficient info (ie, categories, levels of accuracy, timeliness, etc.)

2. Clarify and approve agency emergency information management policies and procedures; communicate them to all staff. (Modify information policies and procedures, to the extent technically and politically feasible, to ensure that end-user needs can be met.)

Networked vs. standalone systems (base decisions on budgetary realities and on agency policies regarding extent of access to sensitive emergency information).

Classify info: what is urgent vs. routine? Design formats for assessment, sitrep, monitoring, pipeline, distribution, financial, emergency reports; approve dissemination channels for info (ie, internal vs. external).

Ensure that personnel are trained in policies and procedures (formal or informal training?)

3. Prepare a list of likely hazards confronting the country and a history of actual disasters to inform contingency planning.

Document review.

Interview former key respondents about decisions/actions taken.

4. Select contingency scenarios (in accordance with agency mandate and likely resource levels).

In accordance with hazard history, agency mandate and resource potential.

Encourage staff to take time for contingency planning.

5. Prepare regional and specific population vulnerability analyses to inform contingency planning and future targeting. Communicate results to program officers.

Budget for transport, data recording devices (computers, peripherals).

Review of existing national census data; household questionnaire development, GIS software.

Ensure personnel are trained in household surveys, Rapid Rural Appraisal, GIS use.

6. Identify early warning indicators (in accordance with selected contingency scenarios) and continue to monitor. Communicate results to program officers.

Leasing of satellites and remote sensing equipment? Or review of available media?

Establish baseline data needs according to hazard history and probability; monitor changes in data.

Technicians or “aware”, experienced generalists?

7. Identify inputs essential to the capacity of the system that satisfy information needs and, pending resource availability, budget and procure.

Decide on essential and appropriate equipment: computers & peripherals? backup power sources? calculators? filing cabinets? other?

Design required report formats and ascertain data needed to produce these reports.

Personnel competent in basic systems analysis.

8. Identify sympathetic media, and inform them about agency mandate, plans, capacities.

Decisions are made concerning degree of openness with the media.

Hire public information officers, or train staff in media management?

Tasks -
* with onset of crisis

Hardware issues

Software issues

Personnel issues

9. Initiate emergency data-gathering functions (periodic disaster and needs assessment and ongoing monitoring) and focus on emergency-affected area and population. Feed results promptly to agency data analysts.

Satellite imaging? Recording equipment for interviews? Vehicles, fuel, and spares?

Decide data gathering techniques for disaster and needs assessment (convenience sampling and interviews?) as well as later monitoring and evaluation activities (survey research and statistical analyses?)

Ensure personnel are available and have the technical skills needed for damage and needs assessment, and for monitoring and evaluation activities. Understand background and biases of team members.

10. Focus emergency data-analysis systems on emergency-affected area and population. Review filtering/gatekeeper functions and modify as needed to ensure that information concerning immediate needs receives highest priority.

Equipment for analyses of technical GIS data? or for simple word-processing and report production?

Operate info filtering and prioritization procedures on ongoing basis to provide needed information and filter out unneeded excess.

Ensure personnel are available and have technical skills needed. Technicians or experienced generalists? Background and biases of analysts understood.

11. Review and clarify channels for disseminating priority information. Clarify information-sharing and other program coordination goals and objectives in-house and with agency partners. Where appropriate, establish coordination mechanisms for joint programming with new partners; identify and approve joint information needs.

Networked computer systems? Stand-alone systems to produce reports? Office space and other office supplies for coordination meetings budgeted and procured?

Modify internal vs. external types of information and modify decisions about transparency as needed (eg, available to all? on “need to know basis? top management only?)
Review sitrep, other report formats and modify as needed. Establish mechanisms for what purpose: info sharing? collaboration? joint programming?

Assign permanent agency liaison for coordination and info-sharing? or ad hoc, occasional representation at info-sharing meetings

12. Contact sympathetic media regularly and encourage them to visit emergency operations sites. Where appropriate, provide assistance to journalists in reaching emergency sites.

Ensure in-house capacity to generate response to media inquiries; review levels of transparency vis a vis the media.

Review with field staff what may and may not be disseminated to the media.

Emergency telecommunications tasks and issues

Tasks -
* prior to onset of crisis

Hardware issues

Software issues

Personnel issues

1. Clarify and approve agency emergency telecommunications policies and procedures and communicate to all staff.

Budget for approved equipment (eg, Inmarsat phones vs HF radios for strategic telecommunications preferences for voice vs text vs data capabilities, power supplies, etc.)

Policies, procedures for equipment use: all agency staff? Designated staff only? other agencies as well?

Identify approved telecommunications system operators; establish training program (in-house? or contracted trainers?)

2. Identify likely telecommunications links (HQ/field, local and national government agencies, UN agencies, NGOs, donors). Identify backup (redundant) systems for critical links.

Compatibility of equipment across key agencies and lifeline services.

Understanding of frequencies allocated to key agencies and lifeline services.

Determine extent of expertise available for use and repair of equipment and infrastructure.

3. Identify government telecommunications regulations and barriers; where feasible, negotiate waivers for them in event of emergency.

Frequency authorizations and limit s on radio types; import licensing and fee regulations; government policy on use of Amateur Radio Service in emergency.

Keep file of visa requirements for international personnel in times of emergency as well as names of government authorities capable of waiving requirements.

4. Prepare an emergency telecommunications inventory by region, country, and district and update it on a periodic basis. Map existing telecommunications links and identify vulnerabilities to specific hazard types.

Location, types, range of private networks (police, fire, ambulance, Amateur Radio, etc.) including HF/VHF radio and repeater types, other private phone exchanges and wiring (field telephones, etc.); available backup power supplies and fuel (generators, inverters, batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, electrical adapters); basic repair toolkits.

Local, regional differences if any in telecommunications - regulations (special requirements for security zones).
Country frequency list.
Understanding of emergency use of ITU radio regulations, especially Resolution 640.
Forms for telephone, radio, message logs.

Compile names, locations, skill levels of radio operators (particularly of Amateur Radio Service operators).

5. Develop equipment maintenance plan and implement it

Check radio equipment on monthly basis; charge batteries as needed (eg, charge nickad batteries every 3 months).

Chart plan on manager’s wall.

Assign task of charging batteries to specific staff; make managers responsible for conducting monthly physical checks of equipment.

Tasks -
* with onset of crisis

Hardware issues

Software issues

Personnel issues

6. Obtain maps of areas affected by the emergency and note functioning/non-functioning telecommunications links.

Locations of, distances to affected zones; lifeline facilities; existing sites/facilities.

7. Assess the current status of public networks. Prepare an estimate of time required to restore normalcy.

Extent of damage to satellite, terrestrial phone networks, distribution systems (eg. relays).

Set up procedures to limit incoming calls to affected areas; favor outgoing calls.

Skills level available for repair, operation of public networks.

8. Assess the current status of private networks; note functioning/non-functioning alternatives to public systems. Make inquiries to authorities/owners of private networks to ascertain potential for use by agency.

Extent of damage to: fire, police, ambulance, Amateur Radio services.

Review capacity to work via existing private networks.

Level of skill in capacity to use, work with private networks (Amateur Radio Operators, police, fire, etc.).

9. Determine and communicate local availability of emergency telecommunications equipment to logistics managers. Invoke previously-arranged waivers on import and licensing where politically feasible.

HF and/or VHF radios, repeaters, antennae, field telephones and wiring, power supplies, etc.

Government willingness to permit setup, allocate radio frequencies.

Level of skill in radio use, frequency tuning/programming.

10. Assess the local availability of power supplies and fuel, and communicate to logistics managers.

Status of electrical grid; availability of generators, diesel, UPS, battery packs, voltage regulators.

Put redundancy strategies in place.

Skill level to use, connect, maintain various power supply options.

11. Develop emergency telecommunications plan. Identify all gaps in the system - in particular non-functioning links with on-site staff; communicate immediately to logistics managers.

Inventory of equipment needs at each site (clarify type and range of on-site equipment).

Clarify strategic and tactical needs.

Identify needed skills.

12. Select essential emergency telecommunications sites (according to emergency needs as well as sites identified as “still-functioning”.)

Availability of functioning infrastructure.

According to intended areas of response and lifeline services.

Ascertain availability of trained operators at sites.

13. Prepare security arrangements for approved emergency telecommunications against potential threats.

Fenced, locked buildings for equipment.

Develop and communicate procedures for limiting access to telecommunications sites.

Hire guards; post as needed; screen operators (security checks); give security training.

14. Fill gaps in emergency telecommunications system. Procure needed telecommunications inputs (locally, if possible, to speed procurement, delivery, and setup).

HF radios, repeaters, VHF handheld radios, antennas; power supplies and backups (generators, battery packs, chargers, UPS); wiring; ensure hardware input compatibility.

Ensure equipment can handle frequencies authorized by local authorities.

Hire staff or identify and contract outside expertise as needed.

15. Issue an appeal for international assistance where appropriate - ie, if domestic telecommunications system cannot ensure functioning within 24 hours of outbreak of crisis.

eg, DHA On-Site Operations Coordination Centers (OSOCCs).23

Ensure advance government approval, customs clearance for equipment to be imported.

Call rostered technicians, eg, UNDAC teams (sent by DHA) to establish telecommunications system.

16. Establish tactical emergency telecommunications network; improve links between field workers (emergency sites, field offices, airstrips, ports, convoys, barges, etc.).

Handheld/mobile VHF/HF equipment (with repeaters if required); antennas, power supplies. Lay wiring if private phone exchange is desired.

Implement usage procedures, ie, call signs, “chat times” (“skeds”), frequency tuning, etc. Establish links with other emergency services (eg, police, ambulance).

Fully train operators in policies/procedures for using tactical system to minimize jamming, system overloading.

17. Establish strategic emergency telecommunications network, ie, set up and strengthen links (between field workers and HQs/other international sites).

Inmarsat phones, HF shortwave, Marine radio; voice, text, or data capabilities are established as needed.

Implement policies/procedures for usage, eg, message reception/logging by base stations and HQs, “chat times”, equipment use by emergency agencies - and for billing them. Choose voice, text, or data messages based on needs and budget.

Train operators and HQ staff in policies and use of strategic equipment to minimize per call costs.

18. Continue monitoring progress made in restoration of public networks.

Demobilize emergency equipment where restoration ensures redundant systems; maintain and repair as needed.

Check critical telephone/fax numbers and compare with directories to ensure accuracy.

With restoration, hold staff review of emergency telecommunications experience.

23 DHA provides (pending availability) “On-site Operational Co-ordination Centres (OSOCCs) to enhance tactical telecommunications capabilities in emergencies. Emergency response teams - ie, “UNDAC” teams - are sent (also pending availability) upon request with complete sets of portable, mobile and base VHF transceivers, repeaters, and power supplies. Equipment is distributed to rescue teams and to local authorities and services to establish needed telecommunications links. On a national level, OSOCC equipment is provided to tie together the various national headquarters in the capital of the affected country. HF radio links with SITOR or similar modes are provided.

Q. Review the above matrices. Which three tasks would be the most difficult for your organization to carry out? Why? What measures could be taken to facilitate the implementation of each of these tasks


Task 1: ________________________________________________________

Task 2: ________________________________________________________

Task 3:________________________________________________________


Rapid Response in Zenon: You are the head of an emergency “Rapid Response Team” about to be deployed to the country of Zenon by Global Relief, a Geneva-based international NGO whose mission is to relieve suffering in complex emergencies throughout the world. Global Relief has never had a presence in Zenon, but with the increasing numbers of refugees flowing into northern Zenon to escape the conflict in Nortenia, your organization has decided it is time to respond.

The plan is to establish a medical relief program in Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Camps, all of which lie within 50 kms of the Nortenian border. Eight international staff will live in and work out of a compound just outside Camp Alpha, the largest camp, as soon as facilities can be arranged. Global Relief will also establish a small, two-person government liaison office in Capital City.

According to information received from the local Red Cross in Capital City, mudslides have destroyed all public telecommunications networks in the northern region of Zenon. It may be several months before lines are functioning again. There is no public power supply in the northern region outside of Montano. There are roads into the three camp areas, although mudslides can hamper access from time to time. UNHCR currently has an Inmarsat Standard-C terminal in Alpha Camp. The local Red Cross has an HF radio transceiver in Alpha Camp which permits telecommunications with its office in Montano. A message received three days ago at Federation offices in Geneva reported several cases of cholera in Charlie Camp.

Security problems have not yet been a major concern in the camps, although the Government of Nortenia insists that the camps have become bases for armed rebels belonging to the South Nortenian Liberation Army which is fighting for an independent homeland in southern Nortenia.

Your Rapid Response Team has been charged with setting up functioning emergency information management and telecommunications systems for Global Relief medical staff who are expected to arrive and start relief operations within the next week to ten days.

You will be leaving this evening at 17h30 for Zenon. Arrival in Capital City is anticipated at 08h00 tomorrow morning. To prepare for your mission, your team should now answer the questions below.

Q. You are the head of the Global Relief Rapid Response Team en route to Zenon. What issues, concerns, or problems in setting up these systems will confront your team over the next week? What possible measures or solutions can you propose?

A. __________________________________________________________

Q. List the various tasks that your team will have to undertake. Consider the various hardware, software (system), and personnel issues that will confront your team. You may refer to the matrices presented above, but you should try to go beyond them in terms of specifying details pertinent to the Zenon emergency. Make any reasonable assumption you believe necessary to complete the exercise.

A. __________________________________________________________


ANNEX A. Disaster and Emergency Information Management Sites on the World Wide Web


Uniform Resource Locator

A Guide to Emergency Services World Wide

ADPC - Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, Bangkok


Alliance for Fire and Emergency Management, The

American Red Cross

Australian Disaster Management Information Network

Australian Emergency Management Institute

Australian Institute of Emergency Services

Business Recovery Managers Association (U.S.)

Canadian National Seismograph Network

Canadian Red Cross

Canadian Traumatic Stress Network

Canadian Wildland Fire Information System

CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC - International Emergency and Refugee Health Program

DHA - U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs - ReliefWeb

DHA-Online (Gopher)


Disaster Connection, The

Disaster Recovery Information Exchange

DRCF - The Disaster Relief Communications Foundation

DMC - The Disaster Management Center, University of Wisconsin/Madison

Earthquake Research Institute (Japan)”>

ECHO - European Community Humanitarian Office

Emergency Information Infrastructure Partnership, The

Emergency Management Australia

Emergency Preparedness Canada

Emergency Preparedness Information Center (Epicenter)

Emergency Preparedness Information Exchange

Emotional Trauma Info Pages

FEMA - U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency

Food and Agriculture Organization

Global Emergency Management Disaster Counselling Support Network

Global Health Disaster Network, The

Global View Information Bank, The

Greater Horn Information Exchange


Hazardous Materials Information Exchange BBS (Telnet connection)


ICRC - International Committee of the Red Cross’’>ICRC

IDNDR - International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction

IFRC - International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

IMC - International Medical Corps”>


International Atomic Energy Agency” >IAEA

International Center for Disaster-Mitigation Engineering

Internet Disaster Information Center

IOM - International Organization for Migration

ITU - International Telecommunication Union

NASA - Global Emergency Observation Warning and Relief Network

NASA - Natural Disaster Reference Database

National Search and Rescue Secretariat

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Natural Hazard Mitigation Post-Graduate Studies, The

Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado

Natural Hazards Mitigation Group - Univ. of Geneva

Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center

North American Center For Emergency Telecommunications

OFDA - U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance

Pacific Emergency Management Center

PAHO - Pan American Health Organization

PAHO Gopher Service



Relief Web


SDRU - The Swiss Disaster Relief Unit

State Department - U.S. Department of State - South Sudan On Line

State Department - U.S. Department of State - South Sudan OnLine

UNDP - United Nations and Other Internationally-based Organizations

UNHCR - UN High Commissioner for Refugees


United Nations Home Page

University if Indiana, School of Law

UNV - UN Volunteers in Humanitarian Relief and Rehabilitation



VITA - Volunteers in Technical Assistance

Volcanoes Mitigation Team, The

WFP - World Food Programme

WGET - Working Group on Emerg. Telecomm’s

WHO - World Health Organization

Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network


World Meteorological Organization


To evaluate the effectiveness of this module we would appreciate it if you would remove this survey form, complete it, and send it to the address noted at the end. The information you provide will help us to improve a future edition as well as other publications produced for DMTP.

Title of module__________________________________________________








1. For what organization do you work? ___________________________________

2. What is your job title? __________________________________________

3. In what country do you work? _____________________________________

4. For what purpose did you use the module?

__Training workshop. Was the workshop U.N. sponsored?



What was your role in the workshop?



Other (specify) _________


__As a reference document

__Other (please specify) _______________________________________

5. Is the subject matter of the module relevant to your work?



Please comment:_________________________________________

6. Do you feel that the training material was useful to your disaster management responsibilities?


No Please comment: _____________________________

7. Did you find the writing style:

overly simplistic or

too technical?

Please comment:________________________________________

8. Does the module adequately cover the subject?



What could be added, deleted or changed to increase the effectiveness of the module?

9. What would you identify as the strengths or limitations of the module? _____________

10. Please answer the following questions about the module.

Did the questions help you better understand the module’s content?



Did the case studies adequately illustrate and clarify the module’s content?



Were technical terms clearly defined?



Do the text fulfill the learning objectives stated at the beginning of each chapter?



Was the graphic presentation effective (page layout, use of figures and illustrations)?



Would you recommend this module to your colleagues?



11. Is there any information in the module that you think is factually incorrect, incomplete or outdated?


No If Yes please specify, citing page numbers where possible.

12. Do you know of any case studies that you think would better explain the concepts contained in the module? Please give us a reference or as full a description as possible. _______

If you are a trainer and have used the Trainer’s Guide, please answer the following questions in addition to those on the preceding page.

1. How much did you use the Trainer’s Guide for this module in designing your training session?




Not at all

How much do you expect to use it in the future?




Not at all

2. Did you use the “overhead transparencies” provided with the module?



Would you expect to use them in the future?



How could the “overhead transparencies” be improved? ___________________

3. Did you use the “learning experiences” in the Trainer’s Guide for this module?



Would you expect to use them in the future?



How could the learning experiences be improved?__________________________

4. Did you design additional “learning experiences”?



If Yes please provide a brief description of the activities. _____________________

5. Did you use the case studies in the module?



How could the case studies be improved? _________________________________

Thank you for taking time to fill out and return this survey. Please send to:
DMTP, DHA-Geneva, Palais de Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax 41-22-788 8221