ITU Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications

ITU Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications

Over 500 participants from 70 countries attended ITU’s 2nd Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications: Saving Lives (GET 2016, Kuwait City, 26-28 January). The meeting underscored the importance of ICTs in disaster early warning and response through the launch of two important new global initiatives, the ITU Network of Volunteers for Emergency Telecommunications and the Global Emergency Fund for Rapid Response.

The DRM Consortium participated for the first time at such an event attended by the ITU Secretary General, ministers, representatives of organisation like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and companies like Google. Ruxandra Obreja, DRM Chair and Alexander Zink, DRM Vice-Chair gave full presentations on the value of the Emergency Warning Functionality as part of DRM, hence the role of digital radio in the effort of saving lives. It was the first time that digital radio was discussed at such a high level and the interest was palpable.

The forum discussed trends and emerging technological innovations, financing mechanisms, country case studies, challenges in deploying ICTs in disaster zones, climate change issues and the role of the private sector and other non-state stakeholders. It also featured a series of exhibits featuring solutions for the most effective use of ICT in emergencies.

The session on trends and emerging innovations in disaster risk reduction opened by the Chairman Eng Hameed H . Al Qattan of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Communications and moderated by Ruxandra Obreja, DRM Chairman. It looked at a variety of communications and solutions applied in disaster risk reduction and management. The speakers from Japan, Kuwait, Italy, England, China and US delivered a very practical session, richly illustrated with images and videos. We were shown how Ebola victims could be tracked through mobile data and people generally through three word addresses. The audience found out how drones can be used in accidents, how cloud technology can be used for bundling vital information, how effective e-government works, what technologies are available to create smart safe cities and how to deal practically with communities facing the risk factor of digital divide. From the broad picture to the individual potential victim this was a session linking the dots and making the point that averting disasters, coping with them, requires connections (technical and human), collaboration (no more silos) and effective communication. The session was a true example of how this can be practically achieved.

The round table on financing mechanisms was again opened by the Chairman Eng Hameed H. Al Qattan of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Communications and moderated by Ruxandra Obreja, DRM Chairman. It looked at financial models, options to prepare, respond and rebuild in case of disasters. In some ways this was also a tour of some of the world regions most affected by frequent disasters. The Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga mentioned the efforts of his country and of the Pacific islands with an insurance against disasters. Jamaica, Honduras and the Central American countries seem to work in the same way at national and regional level, with a lot of support from international organisations. Ingenious types of insurance, disaster bonds, and robust information networks (like KIN in Kuwait) were examples of preparedness. And then we also got the story of the donors (Japan) but especially in this session the work of the Kuwaiti Disaster Fund active in the last 50 years all over the world. We heard how the Fund invested or lent billions of dollars to infrastructure large initiatives, to technical assistance, project administrations etc.  The session demonstrated that so much is being done but so many more ideas and sources are out there, from the grand plans to what individuals themselves can do. An emergency fund, a disaster strategy seem to be not just the job of governments, of “others” but also of each individual in a world where disasters are linked to everyday life, to fighting poverty and ensuring prosperity, itself synonymous with security.

Ruxandra Obreja
DRM Chairman