ITU seeks to maintain vital communications during COVID-19

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Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

To help curb the global coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has launched new guidelines for the development and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans.

The ITU says a national emergency telecommunication plan sets out a strategy to enable and ensure communication availability during the phases of disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

This, it says, is achieved by promoting co-ordination and engagement across all levels of government, humanitarian agencies, service providers and communities at risk.

The guidelines, the ITU says, highlight major areas of risk during a disaster and provide justification for the funding of vital equipment and personnel in an emergency.

Additionally, the guidelines advocate the need for day-to-day resources and procedures that keep national authorities prepared, especially in relation to maintaining vital communications.

"When disaster strikes, there is no time to think about what to do and how to organise response. It is crucial that all stakeholders are prepared beforehand and ready to take action,” says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

“Mock exercises, including tabletop, talk-through and walk-through exercises to full-scale drills, help to ensure smooth emergency response among those involved in disaster management and communications.”

Some of the key issues to be included in a national emergency telecommunication plan are prioritisation of critical telecommunication/ICT networks, disaster reporting procedures for carriers that are standardised and exercised considering each of these hazards.

Moreover, the ITU also says countries must have telecommunication/ICT networks for monitoring, early warning and alert systems.

According to the ITU, the new guidelines will help countries better manage disaster response activities at a time when the frequency, intensity, and human and economic impact of disasters is on the rise.

“These guidelines will assist national authorities and policymakers in developing policies and regulations that can ensure the continued use of telecommunication networks and services before, during and after a disaster,” says the ITU.

ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao adds: "The exceptional COVID-19 crisis we are going through right now shows how vital information and communication technology networks and services are, both to respond to the current pandemic and to address disaster management.

“Now, more than ever, the implementation of comprehensive national emergency telecommunication plans can ensure there is effective and timely sharing of information across all levels of government, within affected communities and among humanitarian agencies to prioritise response efforts and save lives."

Over and above this, the ITU says with emergency readiness in mind, the global telecommunications body and the Global Emergency Telecommunications Cluster have partnered to develop a tabletop emergency simulation guide which offers tools to test and refine the national emergency telecommunication plans using simulated scenarios.

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