Recommendations To Enhance Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Aspects of U.S. International Disaster Response

February 2, 2016

United States Department of State
Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy (ACICIP)
International Disaster Response Subcommittee

Background and Introduction

During the July 9, 2010 "Telecommunications Industry Roundtable on Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Efforts" held by the U.S. Department of State, many private sector and NGO participants voiced a need for greater communication and coordination in international disaster response and recovery. Such communication and coordination, participants stated, should be improved among responders from private sector, NGOs and multinational organizations (such as UN agencies) and between these entities and the multiple agencies of the U.S. government (USG) who may have a role in international disaster response. Improved preparedness, communication and information flows, they reasoned, could greatly reduce duplication of effort and allow the private sector and USG to use ICTs to respond to future international disasters in a faster, more targeted and ultimately more effective, cost-efficient manner, to support saving lives, the alleviation of suffering, and the protection of critical infrastructures.

As a result of that Roundtable, the U.S. Department of State formed an International Disaster Response Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy (ACICIP). The Subcommittee is made up of representative Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies and NGOs focused on the ICT aspects of international disaster response.

This document represents the Subcommittee’s consensus policy recommendations on what USG actions or policies would enhance ICT related aspects of international disaster response, before (preparation), during (response), and after (recovery and development) a disaster.

The Subcommittee believes that the policy recommendations provided in this Report can help the U.S. government facilitate enhanced private and public sector ICT responses when disasters strike outside the U.S. The Subcommittee expects to maintain this Report as a “living” document, to be updated as necessary and will provide other recommendations as necessary. These recommendations are offered to the ACICIP for its review, revision, and submission to the U.S. Department of State to inform the planning of U.S. government agencies involved in the ICT aspects of international disaster preparedness and response activities.

Since the original recommendations were submitted in November 2011, the international community, including many members represented on the International Disaster Sub-Committee to the ACICIP, have responded to large-scale disasters, including the Great East Japan earthquake, Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan. The advisory sub-committee has updated the original recommendations document to reflect these experiences, to recognize changes in the response ecosystem & to highlight the challenges that remain.


OBJECTIVE 1: Foster Global Disaster Preparedness and help to reduce barriers often faced by private, public, and NGO ICT providers.

In the event of a disaster, the effective use of ICTs is often hampered by a lack of preparedness and planning both by countries experiencing a disaster and by those governments and organizations that are able to provide assistance. A lack of preparedness – including aspects of policy and regulatory frameworks, personnel, and ICT resources – can delay the effective deployment or restoration of ICTs, which as a consequence impacts coordination of overall relief efforts and the effective deployment of core services including food, water and medical supplies. International disaster response organizations depend on communications technologies to deliver aid to beneficiaries, including by using ICT to power logistics, security, assessment, and to permit electronic payments, These activities will further drive the need to enable and enhance the restoration of communications networks and deployment of ICT both for humanitarian responders, and for the general population to aid community recovery.

Recommendation 1.1: The U.S. government should work with other countries and multilateral organizations to improve the availability of communications technologies in emergencies through programs to implement best practices by first, providing country case studies and recent innovations to partner countries, and then by fostering development of improved internal disaster ICT preparedness capacities in these countries.

Appendix I provides a list of topics which the USG could encourage countries to consider when developing national or regional emergency communications preparedness and response plans.

Recommendation 1.2: USG should support (including providing financial or in-kind resources) and advocate for training and capacity-building initiatives – by government, NGO and private sector experts – in ICT-related disaster response and preparedness, particularly for developing countries.

Having trained personnel in country will help with effective deployment and use of a country’s pre- positioned ICT resources, support network recovery and restoration efforts, and reduce requirements for outside personnel traveling to the disaster site to provide on-site support. In cases where ICT expertise is not available, outside personnel & equipment are frequently needed to augment in country capacity, which requires increased funding, logistics, and customs/visa resources in time of disaster.

Due to its particular ICT technology expertise, the private sector and technology-focused NGOs can play an especially important role in providing training in use of ICT equipment and services. Training can also address the development and implementation of disaster communications management frameworks or plans and best practice guidelines on regulatory and policy issues associated with the use of ICTs during a disaster. This small up-front investment in human capacity building will lead to substantial cost savings for USG funding agencies and responders who may have less need to send outside personnel during a disaster event, and result in more effective operations.

Recommendation 1.3: USG should, particularly in light of lessons learned from recent disasters, ratify the UN Tampere Convention. In absence of ratification, the USG should recognize, support and promote the implementation of certain core principles behind the Tampere Convention as being important to facilitating more effective disaster response.

The basic provisions of Tampere address (1) cooperation and sharing of information among States, non- state entities and inter-governmental organizations to facilitate use of telecommunication resources for disaster mitigation and relief, (2) mechanisms for training in use of equipment; (3) reduction of regulatory barriers to the use of equipment and services – such as waiving import restrictions or duties, expediting or exempting licensing or other regulatory procedures; pre-clearing telecommunication resources for use in a disaster; and (4) development of an inventory of information about telecommunications resources available in-country for disaster mitigation and relief.

The core principles behind each of these provisions are reflected in some way these Recommendations. By ratifying Tampere, or at a minimum, encouraging foreign governments and other relevant organizations to consider implementing the core principles listed above, the USG could greatly aid its own ability to provide assistance to other countries following a disaster and benefit NGO and private sector entities involved in international disaster response.

OBJECTIVE 2: Increase recognition of ICTs as a critical infrastructure in the context of international disaster preparedness.

While ICTs are an essential component in ensuring information flows during a disaster, it is still the case that ICTs are not considered by some countries and organizations to be a ‘critical infrastructure’ in the context of international disaster preparedness plans and frameworks. Because of this, adequate priority is not often given by countries to the development and pre-planning of ICT resources in advance of a disaster, nor the restoration of ICT systems and networks following a disaster. This need to restore critical infrastructure in disasters will only grow each year as responders and citizens’ dependence on ICTs grows. The importance of ICT has also been recognized by the UN as a basic need in the Humanitarianism in the Network Age (HINA) report. In that report, access to ICT is noted to be as important as access to food, water, shelter and sanitation. No matter what a country’s leading goals are in a response effort, ICTs are now critical to success.

Recommendation 2.1: USG agencies responsible for international disaster and humanitarian response should formally recognize telecommunications / ICTs as a critical infrastructure for international disaster preparedness, response and recovery planning, and should encourage such recognition by other governments, NGOs and international organizations involved in disaster relief and recovery. This recognition is an important part of ensuring that diverse USG agencies and other governments assign the resources and attention to telecommunications/ICT operations in emergencies that are needed to produce effective preparation, response, and recovery. Unfortunately, to this day, U.S. government-lead international agencies do not recognize the importance of ICTs – they treat ICTs only as a goal to pursue after addressing security, food, shelter, and medical needs rather than a critical element of delivering each of these needs in disaster response.

In international disaster response today, many sectors, including U.S. agencies and the UN Clusters, are focused on restoring affected infrastructure that is deemed critical for the affected population, such as water, food and shelter. However, ICT-related international response often is inward-focused purely on providing for the internal communications needs of individual response agencies and perhaps their partners but not the population. While the private sector (both locally and externally) plays an essential role in ICT network restorations, the affected population's telecommunications infrastructure owners are not typically taken into account by any agency's response plans.

Nearly all recent major global disasters have shown the importance of first responders being able to communicate among each other and provide information to affected populations. Moreover, access to communications systems by citizens is essential. It enables citizens to search for and confirm the status of their loved ones, and to offer up both resources and information about survivors and damage using channels such as SMS and social media, and broadcast technology. Consideration of ICT as a critical infrastructure could help to grant needed priority in preparedness and response phases to pre-positioning of disaster resilient ICT resources and restoration of affected ICT infrastructure, therefore helping to ensure seamless communications following a disaster.

Increased usage of critical ICT infrastructure as the backbone for providing relief, including in form of electronic payments, will put higher importance on the restoration of critical ICT infrastructure, not only for the responders, but also for the affected communities.

Recommendation 2.2: USG should work with host governments to accomplish ICT resource planning in advance of emergencies, including pre-positioning of ICT equipment and information/collaboration services and training of personnel, by countries and organizations.

Part of recognizing ICTs as a critical infrastructure is to ensure their advance incorporation into a country’s disaster management framework or plan, including pre-positioning of ICT resources and identification of personnel that may be required to use or restore those resources. Pre-planned ICT resources would include ICT services and pre-positioned equipment (such as equipment/services specifically tailored for public safety or disaster response requirements or identification of operational equipment/services that are in-country and could be re-purposed for disaster relief efforts), and personnel trained to use or restore those ICT resources, and protocols or relationships established between local and international responders.. Such pre-planning can help minimize the need to bring in outside resources, mitigate any interruption to communications following a disaster, and help save lives and reduce costs.

In order to ensure that local ICT service provider resources are leveraged wherever possible, the USG should use or develop ICT public-private partnerships to help facilitate greater understanding of existing or pre-positioned or pre-planned resources. Local governments can utilize established public-private sector partnership successful practices (see Appendix I) to establish relationships as part of preparation, response and recovery. As U.S.-based service providers/network operators/equipment providers often work with host nation carriers to restore or replace damaged infrastructure, USG should take account of these existing partner arrangements when considering what support it can provide (to the host country or to the private sector) related to ICT network restorations and equipment provision. (Refer to Recommendation 3.3 for additional information regarding private sector-NGO partnering.)

OBJECTIVE 3: Improve interagency coordination and expedite engagement between host country response leads and public, private and NGO ICT service/solution providers.

While the USG has plans and frameworks in place related to domestic disasters, it does not have a similar plan or framework to address ICT aspects of international disasters. While the U.S. response will differ depending on the country experiencing the disaster and the support requested by that host country, by developing an international plan or framework, the USG could help minimize delays in offering its own response or assisting private/NGO providers with engagement when a disaster strikes. It is strongly recommended that such a framework/plan be put in place.

Recommendation 3.1: In anticipation of emergencies, USG should identify agency point(s) of contact responsible for ICT aspects of international disaster response, including specific liaison(s) with the host country on ICT aspects of disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and share these contacts with ICT responders. (Refer to Section 4 for additional recommendations related to information flows.)

This is more important than it might appear. Knowing the responsible empowered U.S. and host-country officials before an emergency can make the difference between and effective and ineffective response. Where relevant, these same USG points of contact should participate directly, or through a delegate, in international conferences and working groups aimed at improving aspects of international ICT response and preparedness such as UN WGET, ITU, CITEL, etc.

It is strongly recommended that each USG response agency initiate or continue its participation engagement in these fora.

Recommendation 3.2: In anticipation of emergencies, USG should analyze its own ability to offer direct ICT assistance to foreign governments following a disaster.

The USG should establish a baseline of possible areas of direct assistance by each agency (including independent agencies such as the FCC), and relevant private-sector and NGO partners. Once accomplished, each affected resource (such as a USG agency, or stand-by USG private sector or NGO entity) should establish internal procedures to be implemented if activated, and to take any necessary preparatory actions in anticipation of a potential activation. Such preparatory actions may include training with other emergency responders, vaccinations for staff designated as deployable, establishment of procedures for deployment timelines, and preparation of equipment or resource caches. The time needed by each organization to deploy personnel abroad should be integrated into the relevant USG disaster assistance planning.

Recommendation 3.3: USG should partner more effectively with private, public sector or NGO personnel that could be used to support USG efforts in disaster response and recovery.

In many cases, the knowledge, skill set(s), or budget vital to ICT recovery efforts lies outside of the USG. However, it is often the case that private sector and NGO teams that are willing to travel to a disaster site to deploy this expertise to benefit in-country network restorations are unable or otherwise prohibited from doing so due to barriers related to credentialing, security, and logistics, e.g. food and shelter. Advance partnering, including development of mechanisms to ‘pre-credential’ interested parties, could better enable qualified personnel from public, private sector companies or NGOs to make themselves available as a resource for USG disaster response efforts, and mitigate delays caused during the identification and deployment of qualified personnel.

OBJECTIVE 4: Improve communication and information flows regarding use of ICTs during an international disaster.

ICTs are a tool to facilitate the collection and dissemination of critical information during a disaster. ICTs in themselves are critical; however, issues related to personnel and process can be significant barriers to the effective and efficient flow of information between parties during a disaster. By working in advance to identify key points of contact and establish relationships, the USG can help alleviate barriers related to a lack of information about network status, ICT and personnel requirements, or licensing or import rules that are often most needed following a disaster.

Recommendation 4.1: In anticipation of emergencies, the USG should develop relationships with, and maintain up-to-date Points of Contact lists of, foreign officials, particularly those responsible for ICTs, disaster preparedness and response, and the operation of ICT-related critical infrastructure and key resources. These relationships and contact lists could be maintained with support of U.S. Embassy officials who likely would have more frequent interaction with relevant host nation officials.

The USG should provide preparedness support via information resources and training as described in Recommendations 1.1 and 1.2, and provide private sector and NGO responders with critical information during a disaster such as the ICT capabilities of the affected country; available logistics resources; and immigration, customs, and security contacts, rules, and special emergency procedures. Ideally this would be completed as part of Preparedness so that outreach can be conducted quickly during the Response phase. If such relationships or contact lists have not been established in advance, the USG should work through appropriate channels quickly to establish host government contacts at the time of a disaster.

Recommendation 4.2: USG should maintain a common interface point(s) that can field questions from private, public and, NGO ICT providers, and collect information from the host nation for dissemination to private, public and NGO ICT providers. This interface point, such as a particular USG agency, should publicly identify particular individuals tasked with this role on the first day following an emergency.

Having an identified liaison can address a common challenge that private, public and NGO ICT providers encounter in identifying and navigating multiple agency contacts within USG. This USG interface point would triage requests from private, public and NGO representatives and ensure that they are delivered to the appropriate point of contact within the USG, host nation or even the UN-developed Cluster. In some cases, the USG could also simply act as an information bridge between requesting organizations that may be in a position to assist each other.

Recommendation 4.3: The USG should provide support and share guidance on its international best practices for host country ICT impact, needs, and capability assessments.

USG should utilize the contacts identified as part of Recommendation 4.1 and the ICT Needs Assessment Checklist Model (see Appendix II) to provide guidance, if requested, based on international best practice for the types of information that are needed by ICT providers in order to determine how best to provide assistance or to guide host nation representatives in defining and vetting requests for external ICT assistance.

Areas of information often needed by ICT service/solution providers to be able to provide support to a host country include: current, in-country ICT capabilities, operational strategy, and potential needs related to: networking/connectivity, communications infrastructure restoration, network engineering information including documentation, power, collaboration technologies, operational location information/accessibility, radio standards, regulations and allocations, logistical support and situational awareness information sources.

Recommendation 4.4: The USG should work with the relevant host government points of contact to facilitate entry of needed external technology and expertise resources.

The USG should serve as a bridge, as needed, between U.S./multi-national private, public and NGO ICT service/solution providers and the host country (government, operators of ICT-related critical infrastructure and response organizations) if those relationships do not already exist.

The USG c/should, in preparation for future emergencies, communicate with relevant host government authorities to identify, and share information on licensing, immigration and import procedures for emergency equipment and personnel, and then if appropriate or necessary, help to address any barriers that may exist – such as by encouraging the development of an emergency waiver process for restrictive licensing or import requirements. (Refer to Appendix I for additional information on ‘successful practices in the regulation of international disaster relief, including sample emergency waiver process or emergency communications plans.)

Recommendation 4.5: The USG should promote the sharing of information across the ICT response sector and host nation to foster a common understanding of needs, resources, priorities and status of response and recovery efforts during a disaster.

During a disaster response, there are often many parallel activities underway simultaneously, including the deployment of ICT solutions and services. More effective flows of information (from USG to the private sector/NGO community, from host nation to USG and private sector/NGO community, or across the private sector/NGO community) can help improve engagement across the ICT response sector when organizations have been mobilized, and will enable more effective partnerships, identification of efficiencies, coordination and prioritization of resources, and increase the ability for ICT providers to support response efforts. The USG should collect and disseminate (and validate, when appropriate or possible) information about host nation requirements, logistics and status of response efforts among interested parties. The NGO/private sector community could also seek ways to improve cross- collaboration during a disaster situation.

Appendix I: Topics for Successful Practices

The following is a list of topics which it is recommended that the USG encourage countries to consider when developing national or regional emergency communications preparedness and response plans.

  • Telecommunications and ICT systems and services and usage scenarios (such as use of messaging and notification, collaboration, crowd sourcing, social media, mapping, data collection/assessment, broadcast technologies, supply chain management)
  • Connectivity, including mobile networks, landline, radio, satellite, fiber
  • Logistics; transportation - including import/export compliance requirements
  • Regulation and Licensing
  • Customs duties
  • Credentialing, visa requirements
  • Funding sources for preparedness assistance and training
  • Public private partnerships
  • Restoration of critical ICT infrastructure

Appendix II – ICT Disaster Assessment Checklist Model

The checklist below is intended to be a guide for evaluating the ICT infrastructure immediately following an emergency event. The status of the items listed below can provide the affected country, international disaster response agencies and public/private responders a better awareness of the capabilities and needs from an ICT perspective. This knowledge is critical when coordinating a response as many agencies use ICT as an “enabler” for their work.

Communications Status:

In-country satellite provider availability (VSATs, BGAN’s, etc)

  • Any Satellite band or vendor restrictions (C, Ku, Ka, etc.)
    • Pre-positioned MSS equipment licensing requirements
    • Additional fees
    • Import restrictions
    • Usage restrictions
  • Data localization requirements, including cloud
  • Privacy rules, including compliance

Local agency Land Mobile Radio systems

  • Frequencies (UHF, VHF, 800MHz, 700MHz, etc.)
  • Technologies (P.25, Tetra, etc.)

Status of terrestrial systems

  • Microwave
  • Internet Backbone
  • Undersea fiber optic communications cables
  • Commercial Mobile Radio Services (CMRS) Network (Mobile telephony providers)
  • GSM, LTE
  • Backhaul (including mobile, fiber, microwave, satellite, etc.)
  • Broadcast radio/TV stations
  • Pre-positioned emergency MSS equipment
  • Satellite handsets
  • Power sources (e.g. solar chargers)
  • ISPs
  • Residential broadband providers
  • Business broadband providers
  • Wireless or WiMax providers

Client Access Devices - Understanding the device landscape, the percentages of individuals using the following devices, can help enable appropriate network responses/communications transport modes

  • Mobile Phones
    • Smart and Feature phones
    • 2G
  • Tablets
  • Computers (mobile, fixed, etc.)
  • Power Sources (Alternative Power uses or systems that can be brought in or modified in disaster)
  • Availability of In-country Expertise