Improving Disaster Response Outcomes
Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is only the most recent event highlighting the satellite community’s vital contribution to mitigating the effects of natural disasters. Experience has shown satellite services to be irreplaceable for early warning and alerting, and for facilitating response efforts following an event. The destruction of ground-based infrastructure by earthquakes or typhoons means that satellites services are especially crucial in enabling communications in the immediate aftermath — making deployment for response, relief and reconstruction, time-sensitive. Satellite installations and devices take time to approve under normal conditions. Because of governments’ limited capacities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, time that is critical in establishing effective response can be lost seeking to identify spectrum use rules or expedite customs paperwork.
Over the past 10 years or so, a concerted effort by governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, global satellite operators, and service integrators has developed targeted recommendations based on lessons learned to improve preparedness and coordination among donors, users, and service providers. Despite development of regulatory best practices addressing this, there remains significant work to remove barriers preventing rapid deployment in many countries.
Advocating for an Enabling Environment
The disaster response community has devoted significant efforts to evaluating past response efforts, developing guidelines and recommendations, conducting training, and developing management plans — ideally in place well before disasters strike.
The ITU has identified emergency communications among its priorities, with several working groups developing technical recommendations and implementation guidelines to help countries with disaster response planning. There is a particular focus on providing developing countries with planning support through the work of the ITU-Development Sector (ITU-D), including through publication of a Study Group report “Guidelines for Implementation of Satellite Telecommunications for Disaster Management in Developing Countries.”
The U.S. and other governments that lead disaster relief operations have also assessed operational improvements to delivering government assistance to disaster-hit countries. The U.S. State Department’s International Disaster Response Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy (ACICIP) identified ways the U.S. can improve disaster response outcomes, through classing ICTs as a critical infrastructure, building capacity, planning local resources ahead of time, pre-positioning equipment and services, and understanding the regulatory and local operator environment.
What More Needs to be Done
Advance planning may be as important as the relief operations themselves in delivering communications quickly. Countries, particularly those considered most at risk of natural disasters and including many whose telecom and regulatory environments are opaque (Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh to name a few) should be encouraged to consider the following recommendations
- Pre-position emergency equipment and solutions
- Obtain training in communications for disaster operations
- Maintain and test communications equipment regularly
- Decrease import/export compliance requirements for equipment designated for disaster response
- Create regulation that reduces licensing requirements for satellite use during response
- Create expedited customs procedures and remove duties on equipment
- Reduce credentialing and visa requirements for response personnel
Working together to address these recommendations, the disaster response community and the countries affected can improve response outcomes.
Nina Beebe is director for emerging markets at Access Partnership in London. She assists satellite service integrators, operators and others in securing market access and licenses on a global basis.