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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder21. Communications
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentCommunications Management
View the documentTelecommunications
View the documentUNHCR Telecommunications Network Field Preparations
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes


9. Effective telecommunications requires staff and equipment dedicated to that task. When planning telecommunications requirements, the Regional Telecommunications Officer and the Telecommunications Unit at Headquarters should be involved as early as possible. These can help to identify experienced UNHCR telecommunications staff who could be deployed to the operation. Emergency staff can include telecoms officers from UNHCR's standby arrangements. If necessary these officers can be used to supplement UNHCR Telecom staff.

Telecommunications Infrastructure

10. The existing telecommunications infrastructure of the country may not support UNHCR's requirements, because the infrastructure may be either inadequate or damaged. Certain security situations can also result in the telecommunications facilities being closed down or drastically reduced (in which case cellular telephone networks would also be unavailable).

11. UNHCR maintains a stockpile of telecommunications equipment for rapid deployment to emergencies (see Appendix 1, Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources). This equipment provides emergency response staff with immediate communication links from even the most remote locations.

Types of Telecommunications

12. The following are the principle means of telecommunication currently available for use by UNHCR:

i. Telephone. Telephones can be connected through standard landlines or cellular networks for communications within the country, and through international or satellite connections (VSAT, INMARSAT - see Annex 1) for communications with other countries;

ii. Fax. Facsimile (fax) operates over standard telephone lines, or satellite (VSAT, INMARSAT) connections. Fax facilities are available to and from most countries, however it is more expensive and less easily relayed than e-mail;

iii. E-mail. E-mail also operates over standard telephone lines or satellite connections. In the initial phase of an operation, e-mail can be obtained through portable satellite terminals, or using local phone lines if available, and later the SITA network or DAMA satellite system (see Annex 1) can be used if there is a suitable connection point;

iv. Radio. Radio can be used for voice and written communication (including e-mail and electronic data). Installation by qualified technicians is required. In an emergency it is almost always necessary to set up radio networks to ensure communications between UNHCR offices and between UNHCR and other agencies. The radio network will also provide an emergency backup for communications with Headquarters in the event of landline communications being cut. Mobile radios (handheld or installed in vehicles) enable staff in the immediate region to maintain contact with one another and with the office;

v. VSAT (or Very Small Aperture Terminal - a slight misnomer as the smallest dish size is 1.8-2.4 metres in diameter). VSAT is used for telephone, fax, electronic data and e-mail communication. Installing VSAT is a substantial undertaking and must be carried out by qualified technicians; vi. Telex. Although telex is used less and less, it still remains an option where it is available.