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Mitigation phase: infrastructure duplication, resource sharing, and regulatory forbearance

30.09.2020

Infrastructure duplication

Making networks resilient calls for the elimination of single points of failure, especially for backbone cables and critical equipment such as authentication servers (ITU 2014). Costs can be reduced by ensuring that competing operators have their own separately routed and equipped networks but agree that after a disaster they will make their networks available to each other. Such arrangements need care, both because they could weaken competition and because routes that are disjointed in one layer of a network could well be sharing a lower layer.

However, having separately routed networks is not enough: there should actually be two routes from any point to any other point (except in “last mile” wireline access to customers). For this purpose, every network that provides interconnection services should offer two points of interconnection to networks that have no points of interconnection of their own.

The need to avoid single points of failure extends to power sources and to buildings where relief equipment might be housed after a disaster. Equipment requires backup power generation and secure fuel storage sufficient to endure periods of disconnection, which must be negotiated with the electricity supplier.

In fact, telecommunications and electricity supply are interdependent. Maintaining a core electricity network requires “five nines” availability (99.999%) and less than 5 ms latency for telecommunications with the sensors and actuators. An important activity in preparing a National Emergency Telecommunication Plan is understanding these interdependencies and sequencing infrastructure restoration accordingly.

Similarly, spare equipment and fuel should be stockpiled in locations away from the places where they are likeliest to be hit by a disaster, diversifying risk by reducing chances the whole stockpile could itself be a victim of a disaster.

Resource sharing

The telecommunication/ICT regulator, in coordination with other authorities, might use powers to enforce temporary cooperation amongst operators after disasters. In particular, such measures could include:

Operators would share network performance information, accept calls made by customers of temporarily disabled networks, offer free network access to certain relief workers, and avoid pricing network access in ways likely to distort traffic. For instance, if one operator makes all calls free but another maintains normal prices then one network could be much more overloaded than the other.

Telecommunication/ICT providers would make available their networks and computing facilities to the emergency services. Such arrangements might extend ultimately to the use of these networks and computing facilities by the emergency services at all times, with suitable frequency allocations.

The emergency services would make their resources available to the operators. They might perform tasks on behalf of the operators in locations that only they could reach. In Australia, for example, the mobile operators have arrangements with some firefighting services for refuelling power generators at base stations (Communications Alliance 2020).

Despite cooperation, in many disasters, communications difficulties arise from congestion at least as much as from damage to infrastructure. The best methods for handling such congestion vary. For instance, calls might be limited to two minutes, or customers might be barred from making outward calls from disaster locations and encouraged to replace inward calls by posts to websites.

Regulatory forbearance

External experts and equipment (including replacement or specialized equipment) is often needed urgently after a disaster strikes. Therefore, before the occurrence of a disaster, it is important to have in place specific legislation that enables the arrival and timely installation of foreign communications equipment in the country, as well as the arrival of personnel who use emergency ICTs during catastrophes. This legislation should facilitate the following:

Some of these goals might be achieved by national adoption of the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations (ITU 1998). This international treaty aims to facilitate the use of telecommunication resources during the response and recovery phases of disaster management by establishing a framework for international cooperation between states, non-governmental entities, and intergovernmental organizations. The Tampere Convention acknowledges the importance of countries temporarily abstaining from the application of national legislation on imports, licensing and use of communications equipment during and after disasters, in order to facilitate the use of telecommunication/ICTs by emergency response teams. It also guarantees legal immunity to personnel who use emergency ICTs during catastrophes. In so doing, the Tampere Convention also ensures respect for the sovereignty of the country receiving assistance by giving the receiving state full control over the initiation and termination of the assistance, as well as the power to reject all or part of the assistance offered (ITU 2020).

References

Communications Alliance. 2020. Submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. Communications Alliance and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA). https://www.commsalliance.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/69687/200417_CA-AMTA-submission_Royal-Comm.-National-Natural-Disaster-Arrangements_SUBMITTED.pdf.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union).1998. Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Emergency-Telecommunications/Documents/Tampere_Convention/Tampere_convention.pdf.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union). 2014. Requirements for Network Resilience and Recovery. https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/opb/fg/T-FG-DRNRR-2014-6-PDF-E.pdf.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union). 2020. ITU Guidelines for National Emergency Telecommunication Plans. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Emergency-Telecommunications/Documents/2020/NETP-guidelines.pdf.

Last updated on: 09.10.2020