They disrupt national economies, severely weaken the poor and vulnerable and are recognized as major impediments to sustainable development and reduction of poverty especially in poor countries.
The impact is even worse for those living in remote and isolated areas with no access to basic information and communication facilities that are essential to providing vital alerting information.
At the World Conference on International Telecommunications (#WCIT12) currently taking place in Dubai, the updating of Article 5 of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR’s) seeks to mitigate the impact of disasters, provide timely dissemination of authoritative information before, during, and after disasters.
Article 5 of the ITR’s refers to the Safety of Life and Priority of Telecommunications. The existing ITR’s established in 1988, include three regulations. The proposed new ITR’s which are being discussed at WCIT-12 include an additional three new regulations. These include;
- 5.1 – safety of life telecommunications
- 5.2 – government telecommunications
- 5.3 – priority of other telecommunications
- New 5.4 – application of ITU-T Recommendations
- New 5.5 – single emergency number
- New 5.6 – informing subscribers of emergency number
These new Regulations recognize the absolute priority for safety of life telecommunications, including distress telecommunications, emergency telecommunications services and telecommunications for disaster relief as provided in Article 5 of the ITR’s.
A special category of telecommunications with absolute priority for the transmission and reception of information relating to safety of life at sea, on land, in the air or in space, and of information of exceptional urgency concerning an epidemiological or epizootic situation which could be issued by the World Health Organization has also been discussed at WCIT-12.
All 193 Member States who are in attendance at WCIT-12 have also agreed to adopt policies to ensure that safety of life telecommunications, such as distress telecommunications, shall be entitled to transmission as of right and shall – where technically practicable – have absolute priority over all other telecommunications, in accordance with the relevant Articles of the Constitution and Convention and taking due account of relevant ITU Recommendations.
Emergency telecommunications and priority calls play a strategic role in ensuring global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunications networks for monitoring and management at the onset and during emergency and disaster situations.
The introduction of a global emergency number – should it be agreed – would also bring enormous convenience for tourists and travelers in urgent need of help.
They also play a fundamental role in ensuring that relief workers and communities affected by disasters can get communication lines when they need to, whether using traditional or next generation communications networks.
The updating of Article 5 of the ITR’s which are currently being discussed at WCT-12 will play a tangible role in saving lives and assisting in the readiness and recovery process once disasters strike.
Chief of Department, Project Support and Knowledge Management, ITU
Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, Ph.D. works in the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU. He is a widely quoted and passionate author on emergency telecommunications and climate change. Since 2001, he has been leading ITU’s work in saving lives through the use of information and communication technologies. He designed and deployed ICT solutions for disaster risk reduction, early warning, disaster response, and sustainable development.