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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

UNHCR Telecommunications Network Field Preparations

13. The need for a UNHCR telecommunications network should be discussed at the highest appropriate level in the concerned ministry dealing with UNHCR matters (for example, the Ministry of Home Affairs). The advice of the technically competent authorities should be sought (for example the Ministry of Communications or post and telecommunications service). Note that Section IX of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations provides that "the UN should enjoy for its official communications, treatment not less favourable than that accorded to diplomatic missions in the country".

14. Contact the Telecommunications Unit at Headquarters or the Regional Telecommunications Officer as soon as the need for a telecommunications network is known. Give the proposed number and location of offices, and distances between them, so they can advise on the type of equipment needed.

15. Permission to operate a radio station and frequency clearance must be obtained - in most countries there is a standard government application form. In the case of HF and VHF, check with UNDP and other UN organizations in case they have already received clearance for any frequencies. The Telecommunications Unit or the Regional Telecommunications Officer can give advice on completing the government application form.

16. It is also necessary to obtain permission to operate satellite communications installations. The competent authority will need to know specific information about operating frequencies and characteristics of the equipment. This information can again be obtained through the Regional Telecommunications Officer or the Telecommunications Unit at Headquarters.

Office Accommodation

17. The physical requirements for telecommunications equipment should be kept in mind when choosing office accommodation (see chapter 20 on administration). For example, a radio antenna will require space either on the roof of the building or in an open area at ground level, and a room for the operating equipment very close to the antenna. Note that for optimum results, the cable connecting the radio equipment with its antenna should be as short as possible, and not more than 50 meters if possible.

18. VSAT installations in particular require an uninterrupted view towards the horizon in the direction of the equator (i.e. towards the southern horizon in the northern hemisphere, and towards the northern horizon in the southern hemisphere). The angle of elevation of the VSAT dish above the horizon will depend on the latitude of the office, the highest angle would be on the equator. If the VSAT is installed on a building (on a flat roof for example), the building must be strong enough to bear the weight. If it is installed at ground floor level, there should be enough space around it for a safety margin (4 m radius) to avoid the possibility of anyone coming too close to the transmitting antenna.

Radio Equipment

19. There are two types of radio equipment generally used by UNHCR in field operations for voice and data transmission: HF and VHF Radio.

20. Generally, HF communications are used for longer distances than VHF. The distance over which VHF is effective can be greatly extended by the installation of repeaters. VHF and HF radio would therefore be installed in the offices and in vehicles as appropriate; depending on the distance from base the vehicle is expected to travel.

Radio Call-signs

21. Each radio installation will have its own unique call-sign. The office installation is known as the "Base" station, the vehicle installations are "Mobiles". It is useful to have a formal naming convention for the call-signs, in order to provide a logical reference. For example, one letter can be used to signify the country of operation, one letter to signify the location, followed by one letter for the agency concerned. Remaining letters and figures may be added to provide additional clarity, if the number of users on the network is particularly high. (The country letter is normally omitted, unless cross-border operations are taking place.)

22. For example, a UNHCR office installation in Ruritania, Townville would be (R) T H Base, shortened to T H Base. A vehicle installation for the same office would be (R) T H Mobile 1 (TH Mobile 2, etc.)

23. The phonetic alphabet (see in the Toolbox, Appendix 2) is used so that the callsigns can be more readily understood over the radio, thus the above example becomes Romeo Tango Hotel Base (shortened to Tango Hotel Base), or Romeo Tango Hotel Mobile One.

24. Call-signs for individuals using hand-held radios will normally follow the structure, for example (for UNHCR Townville, Ruritania):

T H 1

("Tango Hotel One")


T H 1 1

Deputy Representative

T H 1 2

Other staff member in

Representative's office

T H 2

Senior Administrative Officer

T H 2 1

Administrative Assistant

T H 2 2

Other administrative staff member

T H 3

Senior Logistics Officer

T H 3 1

Logistics Assistant

T H 3 2

Other Logistics Staff member

25. The phonetic alphabet is set out in Appendix 2, Toolbox. Further information and other procedures may be found in "UNHCR Procedure for Radio Communication" (pocket sized reference booklet).

Field - Headquarters Telecommunications

26. E-mail allows the field to communicate directly with individuals at Headquarters and at field offices where a Local Area Network (LAN) E-mail Post Office is installed. However, e-mail messages sent directly to individual staff e-mail addresses may not be read and acted upon immediately if the staff member is unexpectedly absent. It is better, therefore, to address messages that require immediate attention to a generic e-mail address, these are addresses with the form HQxxnn, where xx are letters indicating the organizational unit and nn are digits denoting a sub unit, e.g HQAF04 is the generic e-mail address of Desk 4 of the Africa Bureau. Urgent messages may be copied to the Telecommunications Service Desk at Headquaters, who will alert the relevant Desk Officer, or Duty Officer, as appropriate.

Telecommunications Unit-Operating Hours

27. The Telecommunications Unit at Headquarters is staffed between the following local Geneva times:


Monday to Friday


Weekends and Public



41 22 739 8777



Swiss time is one hour ahead of GMT in winter and two hours ahead in summer. Arrangements can be made to extend these working hours, as necessary, in emergencies.