Role of information and communication technologies in disaster mitigation was one of the themes that dominated the recently held ‘World Conference on Disaster Reduction’ at Kobe, Japan. Specialists from government and private bodies attended the five-day conference that started on 18th January 2005. The findings of the deliberations can be classified as under:
Importance of ICTs
Recent experience shows that when disasters strike, telecommunication can save lives. ICT applications to disaster reduction can play key roles in early warning of environmental hazards, promoting economic continuity, infrastructure preservation and fostering local social and cultural dynamics. Recent tragedies, such the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, have drawn popular attention to the life-saving role of now common technologies such as mobile telephony-based text messaging (SMS).
The international community, inter-governmental agencies and NGOs and other representatives of civil society need to show more leadership on realising the global potential for ICT in disaster reduction. International community should encourage countries to join the 30 who have ratified The Tempere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations, which removes barriers to cross-border deployment of ICT equipment, systems and expertise.
Smart partnerships are needed amongst international and national agencies, the private sector, academic institutions, NGOs and other stakeholders from civil society.
The International Telecommunication Union, in working with ICT sectoral partners and national regulatory agencies, have crucial roles to play in fostering both preparedness for disaster and response to them. Preparedness for disasters is enhanced by the ITU’s prioritisation of emergency response capabilities in its spectrum management role and promotion of international technical standards. Disaster response capacities and support for sustainable recovery is provided by the ITU by coordinating satellite communications capacity between nations as an immediate response to crisis and by mobilizing resources, including expertise, for systems stabilization and rehabilitation. Closer partnerships with researchers and private sector ICT stakeholders is needed for development of disaster-resilient information and communications systems
The ITU and other international agencies, governments and the private sector all have important and complementary roles to play in capacity building. The particular needs of least and less developing economies, particularly vulnerable to natural and other disasters need to be addressed by the international community at large.
Information systems for disaster reduction need to be open and locally responsive while allowing effective information aggregation for coordinated responses to threats.
University linkages present enhanced human resource development opportunities as well as research capacities that complement and transcend the particular mission of agencies and other stakeholders.
ICT applications for disaster reduction must be tailored to local economic, geographical and social-cultural contexts. Localized e-governance initiatives are central to, and must engage with, policy responses to the social and economic imperatives for disaster reduction. As disasters are ultimately local, strategies to build resilience to disasters must be founded on local knowledge, communities and institutions. At that same time they must be informed by, and coordinated with, international disaster preparedness systems.
Recognising the need for resilience
Greater recognition is required of the need for planned resilience for communications infrastructures and the information systems that they support. For business everywhere, disaster preparedness should be seen as an integral component of effective corporate governance.
Suggested indicators to measure accomplishments
Ongoing measurement of enhanced capacities in utilising ICTs for disaster preparedness, management and sustained recovery requires use of both existing and new indicators, including:
ITU’s key indicator, the Digital Access Index, measuring societies’ performance in terms of infrastructure, literacy, quality and affordability.
Complemented by measures of the resilience of ICT systems to various disasters and recovery capacities
Continued ratification by member states of the Tampere Convention
Measures of the dissemination of threat assessment methodologies, business continuity planning, and the designation of chief information officers (CIO) in critical organization