LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

#APrIGF2017 – Reconnecting the Disconnected in Disasters

Naveed Haq, with ISOC Development

“Panic and chaos are inherent in crises. During the critical golden 72 hours the public need ICTs to mitigate the panic but we are still ten years behind and have forgotten history” – says Mr. Naveed Haq. Progress towards resilient ICTs for emergency communication and crisis response remains poor in Asia and the Pacific.

The APrIGFCry for Help” – “Rapid Restoration of Access to Telecommunication” (RREACT) was designed to engage the audience and a set of experts in discussing issues and strategies for empowering communities with ICT resilience in support of emergencies and crises.

Asia Pacific is highly susceptible to disasters. Telecommunications critical infrastructure is vital for crisis management. Disasters are known to bring down telecoms and disconnect the public from being able to “cry for help”, a deprived human right.


DISCUSSION

Panelists (L to R): Naveed Haq (ISOC), Kanchana Kanchanasut (AIT), Jeffrey Llanto (CViSNet), Atsuko Okuda (UNESCAP), Nuwan Waidyanatha (LIRNEasia), and Izumi Aizu (Tama University)

The #APrIGF2017 Participants expressed that there was poor emergency communications planning and awareness in their countries. It was always a mystery who to contact and who to reach out to whenever they wanted to give a helping hand with restoring ICTs.

Generally, the UN-OCHA was responsible for coordinating the UN efforts. The WFP Emergency Telecommunication Cluster might be a facilitator to leverage. Otherwise, it might be the National Telecommunications Regulator or an ICT Ministry that would be serving as a the line-agency coordinating for the NDMO. There is a need for clear instructions on the frequency bands that can be used and relaxed procedure for coordinating the import of equipment and customs clearance; especially, for small response groups.

Two strategies Prof. Kanchana and the intERLab team had exercised in their International ICT restoration efforts are: 1) bringing Myanmarese to AIT to give them the Dumbo equipment to take back (because the Myanmar Government denied international assistance) and 2) send Napali Students studying at AIT with Dumbo equipment and know how to Nepal. If there is a will there are ways to overcome the various difficulties.

Problem tree exercise, defining issues and strategies

There is no National initiatives for encouraging community driven networks; especially, for remote low income families. Simple technologies, such as what intERLab’s DUMBO has to offer can be operated by community technology stewards (or social entrepreneurship). We demonstrated how easy it was to setup a call center and a 802.11 mesh network. It is all license free that were built on free and open source projects. Mobile phone friendly software applications such as the Sahana Disaster Management System, Line messaging, and CSIP VoIP calls are a few that were made use during the demo. It was clear to all that the best tools are those that are integrated into the daily lives.

CViSNet’s MDRU is a solution that was used in the Philippines during Typhon Haiyan. In addition to the grab-n-go packs, the MDRU mobile communication truck allows for restoring interconnection in telecom disrupted areas. “While such community centered solutions are readily available the challenges are in the adoption and generating utility” – says Mr. Jeffry Llanto. A strategy might be to allow for such networks be part of a Government Emergency Communications (GECo) network. Such a network is more likely to sustain and be utilized. Thereby, the software and networks are alway operational and ready to use in a crisis.

Ms. Atusko Okuda introduced the UNESCAP advocated Information Super Highway project that is paving ways for economies in the region to be interconnected and be ICT resilient. It would improve sharing disaster information across boarders improving response and cooperation. With strong connections and safe network, disaster management could make use of cloud hosting and SaaS for reducing costs but most importantly access to reliable uninterrupted data services.

Although there was interest in community networks and rapidly restoring connectivity, the Participants expressed fear of the networks generating a large flux of social media. Such data carries a lot of noise. Humanityroad discovering that over 70% of the post 2015 Nepal earthquake tweet were sending out prayers and well wishes to the Nepalese. Social media was the only source for the victims of Vanuatu to report their distress after the 2017  Cyclone Dona. There was also fear of seeing more disturbing images of victims. The APrIGF participants encouraged everyone to use #hashtags. HDX hashtags is setting the standard and ontology which would allow for message parsers, such as the Sahana disaster management software, to analyze and visually represent the data for decision support.


CONCLUSION

It is important that we harmonize with the Sustainable Development Goals, especially for establishing emergency communications resilience. For such RREACT programs are an important element. In spite of various programs that are in place, there are always operational, policy and regulatory barriers, more so than technical, that prevents RREACT programs from coming to life during crises. APrIGF might consider an emergency communications track or sub working group to promote good governance for ICT Resilience and in support of crisis management.

 

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