Gearing up for a disaster-resilient communication network

Younten Tshedup

07:00 hours, Wednesday. An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude has hit central Bhutan.

Essential services including fix-line connection and mobile services are down in the central and western parts of the country. Roadblocks are reported in multiple locations.

The information management section (IMS) at the Bhutan Telecom (BT) headquarters in Thimphu is in chaos.

This was the pseudo situation created for a mock drill to check the disaster-resilience of the telecommunication services of BT.

This is the final stage of the business continuity plan (BCP) project undertaken by BT with technical support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since November last year.

BT’s general manager with the operation division, Jambay Sither, said that the BCP project is an undertaking to see how BT can continue providing its services uninterruptedly during and after a disaster.

He said that under the project, various programmes have been devised including a policy and code of conduct for staff to appropriately and effectively respond during the times of disasters.

The policy includes guidelines for emergency evacuation, gathering of information on damages and location of affected areas, analysis and identification of the damages, and preparing and prioritising restoration works.

“In a nutshell, the project helps equip the staff how to approach for restoration of the communication services after a major disaster,” Jambay Sither said.

Following a series of mock drills throughout the year, this was the final drill to assess the readiness of the company to take over the project on its own.

BT’s chief executive officer, Karma Jurme, said the project is being undertaken to prepare its staffs and make communication easier in times of disasters.

“Telecommunication is an important aspect especially during times of disaster,” he said. “Only with these services in place, other response works would be possible.”

He said that while the BCP functions as a software component for disaster-resilience telecommunication services, the infrastructural backup is already in place.

A second disaster-resilient mobile core network was set up in Jakar, Bumthang, earlier this year.

This is the exact replica of the mobile core in Thimphu, which provides a backup option should one of the networks get damaged during a disaster.

In the absence of a second core network, any disaster happening in and around the facility would disrupt communication services both within and outside the country.

In addition, Karma Jurme said that BT has a ring network for its communication services, which allows redundancy to the company.

This means that with a circular network in place, during times of disaster no particular location would be completely cut-off. A ring-network allows connectivity to be routed from other places.

Meanwhile, Karma Jurme added that even with all these measures put in place, during times of disaster, due to heavy traffic (voice) congestion in the network is expected.

He said that during such congestions, the public can use the over-the-top services such as social media platforms including SMS to connect to families and relatives.

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