The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has launched guidelines to develop and implement national emergency telecoms plans amid the global crisis.
The guidelines aim to assist national authorities in developing policies and regulations that can ensure the continued use of telecommunication networks and services before, during and after a disaster such as this.
Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, said, "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.”
He added, “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."
Prepare, respond, recover
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 by promoting coordination and engagement across all levels of government, humanitarian agencies, service providers and at-risk communities.
The guidelines also highlight major areas of risk during a disaster, provide justification for the funding of vital equipment and personnel in an emergency, and advocate the need for day-to-day resources and procedures that keep national authorities prepared, especially in relation to maintaining vital communications.
ITU has assisted several countries in developing national emergency telecommunication plans, setting up of early warning and monitoring systems and the provision of emergency telecommunications equipment.
Along with the Global Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies, the ITU has also developed a Tabletop Emergency Simulation Guide which offers tools to test and refine the national emergency telecommunication plans using simulated scenarios.
"When disaster strikes there is no time to think about what to do and how to organise a 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."