ITU draws up emergency plans to tackle COVID-19

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN Agency, has released new guidelines for developing and implementing existing National Emergency Telecommunications Plans.

The main message from the ITU is that it's best to carry out emergency telecommunication exercises and drills sooner rather than later, so reducing the chances of national authorities and policymakers being caught flat-footed. It's vital, stressed the agency, to test the effectiveness of disaster response plans.

"When disaster strikes there is no time to think about what to do and how to organize response," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. "It is crucial that all stakeholders are prepared beforehand and ready to take action."

Bogdan-Martin recommended a variety of measures, ranging from mock exercises on the laptop and tabletop through to "full-scale drills." Preparation of this sort, she said, will "help to ensure smooth emergency response among those involved in disaster management and communications."

With "emergency readiness" in mind, the ITU and the Global Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, a global network of organizations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies, have joined forces to develop a Tabletop Emergency Simulation Guide. The guide offers tools to "test and refine" national emergency telecommunication plans using simulated scenarios.

The ITU said it had already helped "several countries" in developing their national emergency telecommunication plans. Assistance from the UN Agency has typically focused on the setting up of early warning and monitoring systems, as well as the provision of emergency telecommunications equipment.

"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," said ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao. This was the best way, he added, to "prioritize response efforts and to save lives."

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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