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Telecoms to save lives when disaster strikes
20 February 2008, News

The Global Forum on 'Effective Use of Telecommunications/ICT for Disaster Management: Saving Lives' closed recently, having launched two important initiatives, the ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies and the ITU Network of Volunteers for Emergency Telecommunications.

Several partnerships forged with industry were also announced. These partnerships bring to ITU both equipment and funds to be used to finance telecommunications/ICT solutions in all phases of disaster management, including early-warning and response.

The Forum attracted representatives of 174 governments, some at ministerial level; 18 international organisations; 18 private sector entities including some CEOs; and 53 non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Participants gathered to map out concrete strategies and adopt practical measures aimed at giving telecommunications/ICT a central role in all phases of disaster management early warning, preparedness, relief and response, and rehabilitation of telecommunication networks.

"We have seen through first-hand experience the power and potential of telecommunications to save lives in times of disaster," noted Mr Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. "I was pleased to meet so many dedicated men and women during this Forum who are united in the common belief that much more can and must be done."

The Forum discussed policy, regulation, technology, finance and deployment of last-mile, multihazard communications systems. The Forum comprised plenary sessions, panel discussions, a ministerial round table, a private sector CEO round table, a workshop on remote sensing, thematic sessions, and an exhibition of telecommunication/ICT state-of-the-art solutions.

The ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies (IFCE), formally launched at the Forum, is designed to make telecommunications/ICT resources available for use by government agencies responsible for disaster relief, humanitarian personnel as well as victims of disasters through its technology, finance, and logistics clusters seeking to ensure that reliable, easily transportable and technology-neutral systems are deployed in a timely manner whenever and wherever disasters may occur. The IFCE is an integral part of ITU's other activities undertaken at all phases of disaster management, such as disaster preparedness, early warning, and rehabilitation of telecommunications networks.

The ITU Network of Volunteers for Emergency Telecommunications (VET) is intended to mobilise volunteers with technical expertise who will participate in the deployment of telecommunication/ICT resources and services in the immediate aftermath of disasters. ITU will create a database of such experts as part of disaster preparedness. These volunteers could be drawn from but not limited to retired specialists from ITU Member States, ITU Sector Members, and retired staff of the ITU Secretariat.

A number of partnerships were also formalised between ITU and its partners, including several agreements with different global satellite service providers, including Iridium, VIZADA and ICO Global, to donate equipment and satellite airtime to support first responders in the case of disasters. Additional agreements were signed with other partners, covering areas such as training and capacity-building. Financial contributions were also announced to support activities launched at the Global Forum, including support from TerreStar and ICO Global.

Announcing a $25 000 contribution to the IFCE finance cluster, ICO Global CEO Tim Bryan said we have to do our bit to save lives. "In a very real sense, none of us is doing enough, and each of us needs to do more," he said. ICO also committed to provide two million minutes of free airtime in support of emergency telecommunications.

TerreStar Global's next-generation mobile satellite with its complementary ground component (CGC) network is designed to meet the needs of emergency services when responding to natural or man-made disasters. "Emerging new technologies such as next-generation networks make an invaluable contribution to emergency telecommunications," said ITU secretary-general Dr Hamadoun Touré.

Iridium Satellite announced its contribution of equipment and airtime services to ITU for its global disaster management programme. "ITU will provide first responders with reliable Iridium voice and data services so that they can more effectively help a greater number of people in the early days of an emergency," said Matt Desch, chairman and CEO, Iridium Satellite. The Iridium network operates independently of terrestrial infrastructure.

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and ITU signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at strengthening cooperation on remote sensing of the Earth, particularly in the field of disaster preparedness and response. This will include protection for the dedicated radio frequencies that remote-sensing satellites and Earth-based monitors use for gathering high-quality data on the global environment, the improved application of Earth observations to disaster management, and increased capacity building in developing countries for the effective use of Earth observations in decision-making.


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