Addressing gaps in emergency telecommunications

Choki Wangmo

Overlapping roles and lack of coordination among stakeholders, shortage of equipment and national experts among others are barriers to timely response to disasters in the country.

These challenges were raised by more than 20 Information and Communications Technology (ICT) officers at the telecommunications workshop that ended in Thimphu yesterday.

The ICT officers working in different parts of the country identified crucial factors for emergency telecom preparedness—government, external coordination, capacity development, infrastructure, network connectivity, ICT assessment, and damage mitigation.

The challenges when it comes to implementation delayed crucial services during disasters. The gaps exist because there is no business continuity plans for the stakeholders. Even if there are, it is often not shared or exchanged among the stakeholders, an ICT officer said.

This, according to her, was caused by the lack of ICT preparedness response action plans and functional emergency telecommunication cluster group for planning and proper implementation.

Organisational friction among agencies resulted in lack of information sharing and coordination between the systems committee and dzongkhag disaster management committee. It has further created overlapping roles and functions.

The participants said that there should be a key focal agency so that there were regular coordination meetings and simulation of disaster preparedness drills. “A long-term emergency plan would bring the concerned stakeholders together.”

Further, the country does not have an updated ICT capacity and resource assessments. The assessments would help the country to be better prepared about the magnitude of disasters and types of ICT services and infrastructures required for that.

As of now, after installation, the equipment were not tested regularly.

Local technical experts play an important role in continuity of emergency telecommunications; however, they were found to be lacking expertise. They were not trained.

An ICT officer of Trashiyangtse said that there was no inclusive hands-on training for the officials working in the field and heads of the agencies made the decisions without consultation.

The participants drafted emergency telecommunications preparedness and response action plans, which would be submitted to the communications ministry for further action.

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