Digital Regulation Platform
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Developing a telecommunications/ ICT contingency plan for a pandemic response

09.11.2020

(Adapted from the ITU Guide to develop a telecommunications/ ICT contingency plan for a pandemic response)

Summary

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the essential role of connectivity worldwide and the importance of having telecommunications and ICT in place for coordination mechanisms to respond to it. The response has demonstrated the strategic importance of a robust, resilient, and secure telecommunications/ICT infrastructure to social welfare and the global economy. This pandemic is the biggest global health crisis in decades. All government agencies and stakeholders involved in disaster risk management, including government decision-makers and the community in general should deploy coordination mechanisms and protocols to help aid the response in the form of a contingency plan.

A contingency plan implies establishing operational procedures in relation to the use of telecommunications/ICT resources and capacity in response to a particular hazard affecting a vulnerable area, as well as making decisions in advance about the management of roles and responsibilities of each of the organizations involved in the process and for the expected use of the entire range of available technical and logistical telecommunications/ICT responses.

Unlike other disasters that may cause severe devastation to telecommunications/ICT infrastructure, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused an increase in data traffic on both wired and wireless networks due to higher online communications demand during the confinement, for example, students taking classes online, employees working remotely from home, and people undertaking daily activities via the Internet.

The emergency management process normally takes place under the leadership or at the request of central government, which defines the goals, roles, authorities, responsibilities, and procedures for all relevant stakeholders. Under such national legislation and/or national disaster risk management plans, all sectoral authorities are responsible for the development of a specific set of telecommunications/ICT policies to support and complement the implementation of a comprehensive national approach[1].

Policy decisions, decrees, and regulations for the use of telecommunications/ICT for emergency response are issued at the highest level, typically by the national government, including declarations of a national state of emergency providing extraordinary powers to issue specific emergency provisions on telecommunications/ICT, and decrees and/or resolutions with specific provisions on telecommunications/ICT and contingency plans. Under these conditions, specific rules should be designed to establish, develop, or improve national telecommunications/ICT interoperability, guarantee the availability of networks, and maintain the quality of service offered to all users. For example, service providers offering wired and wireless services may need to be provided with the means to increase capacity and expand their networks, e.g., temporary spectrum licences or agile expedition of permits to respond to the increase in traffic, including from users working from home or students attending school remotely. Telecommunications/ICT capabilities should also be boosted or expanded to include suburban, rural and remote areas with poor or no service coverage and to support increased demand for online activities such as teleworking and online education that have seen large spikes in use during the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

All those involved in disaster management, including telecommunications/ICT stakeholders, should establish a clear strategy and a robust process for the use of telecommunication services during an emergency, based on the legal, policy, and regulatory framework in place. For example, priority should be placed on communications for first responders, hospitals and incident response during the emergency, as well as on the communication of critical information to the public.

Effective legislation and regulation implemented in response to emergencies, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, will address multisectoral coordination. This includes coordination between the different ministries and telecommunication entities.

Finally, multi-technology solutions should be considered within relevant legislative and regulatory frameworks for the preparedness and response phases. While keeping in mind the various types of communications actors in a given country, the emergency response should include the broadest range of technology possible.

Telecommunications/ICT tools are key to critical information exchange among those involved in preparedness and response activities. It is relevant to consider the operational continuity of telecommunications/ICT, as well as to understand the communication channels and the types of information that should be shared.

In the case of this emergency, where infrastructure has not been damaged, but many people are confined to their place of residence while working/studying/etc., it is important to:

• evaluate the capacity of the different telecommunications/ICT networks and service providers;

• evaluate the demand increase in traffic and analyse if the network can handle such increase;

• ensure backup or diverse/redundant means of telecommunication in place in case of outages;

• map those areas where connectivity is poor or lacking.

The answers to these questions will help to guide decision makers as they undertake specific actions to respond to the emergency.

Provisions to be considered by regulators and governments for preparedness and response for future crises as listed are available from the ITU Guide to develop a telecommunications/ ICT contingency plan for a pandemic response.


See the full list of provisions by clicking on the image.

References

  1. https:// www.itu .int/ en/ ITU -D/ Emergency -Telecommunications/ Documents/ 2020/ NETP -guidelines .pdf

    International Telecommunication Union (May 2020), First Overview of Key Initiatives in Response to Covid-19

Last updated on: 26.11.2020