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International Telecommunication Union to help nations with emergency comms

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has stepped in to develop key guidelines for national emergency telecommunication plans in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the ITU, speed and efficiency is crucial in disaster response, and having clear guidelines to follow can help nations develop a successful plan to implement as needed.

The guidelines have been created for national authorities and policymakers and focus on the use of telecommunication networks and services before, during and after a disaster.

According to the ITU, an effective national emergency telecommunication plan highlights how to ensure communication availability during disasters, including all phases of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

It promotes coordination and collaboration between government agencies and bodies, humanitarian agencies, service providers and communities at risk, the ITU states.

Furthermore, the guidelines focus on major areas of risk during a disaster, promote funding of vital equipment and personnel in an emergency, and provide advice for daily resources and procedure for maintaining vital communications.

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

"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."

In addition, ITU and the Global Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies, have partnered to develop a Tabletop Emergency Simulation Guide which offers tools to test and refine the national emergency telecommunication plans using simulated scenarios.

ETC chair and UN World Food Programme chief information officer and director of the technology division, Enrica Porcari says, “With the growing frequency and complexity of disasters, it's vital to test, identify and close any gaps in national readiness. The scenarios in this simulation guide will make it easier for all stakeholders to do that ahead of time.”

ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao says, "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 prioritize response efforts and to save lives."

Prior to this, the ITU has assisted several countries in developing a national emergency telecommunication plans, setting up of early warning and monitoring systems and the provision of emergency telecommunications equipment.