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ITU-T News 2005

ITU-T's Zhao Attends Tsunami Early Warning Meeting

ITU recently lent its expertise in the field of disaster recovery and mitigation to a high-level global gathering looking to develop an early warning system for tsunamis.

A delegation headed by Houlin Zhao, director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) attended The Ministerial Meeting on Regional Cooperation on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements, Phuket, Thailand, 28-29 January. Representatives of the radiocommunication and development bureaux also attended.

Envoys from 43 countries and 13 international organizations attended the event hosted by the Thai foreign ministry, to discuss arrangements for an early warning system that could help to reduce the scale of devastation following any future tsunami. 

Ahead of the event Zhao said: “I believe that ITU has much to offer in the development of an early warning system for tsunamis. This tragedy has, once again, underscored the fact that information and communication technologies are a vital component in disaster relief and prevention. We have a proven track record in the field of disaster management, and I hope that we can offer some valuable advice here. The dissemination of information using these technologies is a crucial part of all disaster relief strategies. It is impossible to imagine disaster relief today without radios, fixed-line telephony and mobile phones. Even the Internet has an important role to play, supporting the more traditional media of radio and television.

“It is very unfortunate that it took a disaster on this scale to wake us up to the need for an early warning system. But, this meeting should serve to spearhead and coordinate in the most efficient manner the very necessary work towards a system that will reduce the devastating effects of such an event in the future.”

ITU is responding on multiple fronts to the recent events. As well as the loan of portable, Inmarsat GAN terminals to tsunami-affected countries, a Tsunami Emergency Team has been formed to follow up on the medium- and long-term assistance to affected countries. This team has prepared an umbrella project that will assist and support affected countries in the rehabilitation and rebuilding of ICT infrastructure.

ITU played a key role in the ratification 8 January 2005 of the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations. Thanks to this development, victims of disasters will now be able to benefit from faster and more effective rescue operations. Until now, the trans-border use of telecommunication equipment by humanitarian organizations was often impeded by regulatory barriers that made it extremely difficult to import and rapidly deploy telecommunications equipment for emergencies. 

Examples of ITU’s previous work in the area includes work in the field of standardization. Standards have an important role to play in disaster relief, in particular standards that allow the prioritization of calls in a disaster situation. In such an emergency, telecoms networks can be effectively cleared of non-urgent calls if the relevant standards are implemented. Prioritization of emergency calls can only be managed effectively by having agreements in place before disaster strikes. And so, internationally agreed standards are critical to facilitate the interconnection of national and international relief schemes to enable swift reaction to global or regional disasters. 

The use of proprietary systems by public protection agencies and disaster relief organizations creates the risk of preventing communication between the different groups involved in handling a disaster, risk which is aggravated by the fact that any number of agencies may be involved in disaster response. At a recent ITU workshop on telecommunication for disaster relief, attendees identified as a key issue, engagement between NGOs and standards development bodies to ensure interoperability.

Work by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) includes a report emphasising the establishment of decentralised communications employing mobile services, portable satellite terminals and fixed-wireless access technologies. Additionally ITU-R has published Recommendations that address global and cross-border circulation of equipment in line with the Tampere Agreement. ITU-R has also identified and recommended frequency bands for use by PPDR agencies.


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Updated : 2005-02-08