Emergency telecoms preparedness and response guidelines

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8 July 2011


About the Emergency ICT Guidelines
This document is meant as an aid to UNICEF ICT staff, both for emergency preparedness and to assist when in emergency. It contains best practices and guidance in ensuring rapid implementation of IT and telecommunications services in support of UNICEF humanitarian interventions. This document should be used along with other emergency ICT related publications (see ITSS Emergency Portal), such as the UNICEF Wireless & Emergency Telecoms Standards and the Emergency ICT Checklist. For further guidance, field ICT are encouraged to contact the Regional Chief of ICT and NYHQ ITSS Emergency Telecoms Unit (via Global Help Desk).
IT and telecommunications solutions and services are essential components of any humanitarian operation; facilitating operational efficiency, program implementation and staff security (MOSS compliance). This puts a significant responsibility on UNICEF field ICT staff in ensuring such services are timely and adequately deployed. In addition to supporting UNICEF’s internal operations, UNICEF field ICT staff must also be prepared to serve as active members of the interagency/cluster community in any given emergency, and – in special cases and when UNICEF s best positioned to take on such task – to serve as cluster lead agency and service provider in the emergency.
An essential part of preparedness is access to trained staff. ITSS has developed a comprehensive emergency ICT training curriculum and field-office ICT are encouraged to seek to be included in ITSS’ global emergency ICT training workshops (more below).

  1. Preparedness phase

Good preparedness is essential for an efficient and timely response. When the emergency strikes it is often too late to acquire essential telecoms and ICT equipment, and much time can be saved and problems avoided by ensuring a good preparedness.

1.1 Core Commitments for Children
UNICEF offices should ensure they are in compliance with the ICT component of UNICEF’s Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies, CCCs. The CCCs ICT component covers both preparedness and response/early recovery, and is supported by an ICT CCC monitoring tool, facilitating tracking of an office’s compliance. It is highly recommended that field office ICT staff make themselves familiar with the ICT CCCs before the emergency strikes.
1.2 Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning and Activities
An important part of the field-office’s ICT preparedness is the development and maintenance of a solid Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPRP). A good guide on developing the EPRP is the ICT Emergency Checklist. (This is also a component of the field office’s Early Warning/Early Action checklist.) When developing the ICT component of the EPRP, field ICT should work closely with other operations and security staff to ensure a realistic EPRP. Some things to consider when developing the EPRP:

  • In most emergencies, the security situation will deteriorate quickly, requiring rapid access to additional security telecoms equipment - such as radios and personal satphones, as well as connectivity tools allowing staff to work from home if required, such as BGANs, ThurayaIP, iDirect terminals or other high-speed data-solutions (local and reliable ISPs can be a good solution). It is a good practice to ensure that the office has a stand-by stock of such equipment, or as a minimum that knowledge exists of where to quickly obtain such equipment and services.

  • Consider that in an emergency, most offices will experience a large influx of external responders. These will typically require connectivity (i.e. additional data-connectivity & bandwidth) and personal MOSS equipment (cellphones; VHF radios).

  • Preparedness plans need to be tested regularly:

    • Perform radio-checks and drills regularly. In most operations, a weekly radio-check is required.

    • Set-up your data back-up connectivity equipment and perform tests. Note: SIM cards for BGAN and other mobile satellite communications (MSS) equipment should be always activated and ready for use – do not wait until emergency strikes. For help in activating your SIM cards, contact the service provider or Global Help Desk (globalhelpdesk@unicef.org).

    • If a back-up/alternate location exists, make sure to run tests and simulations also from this location (such could be Rep house; other agency offices; etc.)

  • Consider all aspects of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. The Emergency ICT Checklist and the UNICEF Emergency Handbook offers important information and guidance on how to ensure good BC/DR preparedness.

  • Seek to involve other UN and NGO partners in preparedness activities: experience shows that when the emergency strikes, agencies will have to work together other and time can be saved if plans are made and tested during the preparedness phase. The local interagency ICT group, and/or local Emergency telecoms Cluster (ETC) group are the best forums for such activities. If such groups are not in operation in your duty station, take the initiative! (Link to suggested TOR for local ICT working group can be found below).

1.3 Important preparedness tasks
These are some important actions you should perform on a regular basis whether an emergency is expected or not:

  • Regularly train users in operation of emergency telecoms related equipment such as two-way radios and mobile satcoms equipment. All new staff should be instructed, in addition it is recommended to run regular refresh training. This can be done through including such training in the office’s regular (program, operational, security) simulation exercises. In some cases, simple training sessions can be carried out during lunch-breaks, etc. Be innovative! Also seek to share and collaborate with other agencies in joint user training exercises.

  • Perform regular checks of office’s radio and satphone equipment.

  • Maintain the ICT component of the office EPRP, consolidated through the Early Warning/Early Action Intranet pages, including filling-out the Emergency ICT Checklist.

  • Ensure your satellite terminals are tested and ready to be used. This includes ensuring SIM-cards are active and that you know how to quickly set-up the equipment

  • iDirect VSAT terminals are part of many offices’ back-up connectivity. These require trained and certified staff for proper installation and use. If you do not have access to certified iDirect installers within UNICEF, seek to identify local companies or other agencies that have iDirect certified installers.

  • Regularly update the ICT Office Profile. This is an important tool especially in the early phase of the emergency, allowing RO and HQ to quickly determine what equipment and staff is available in the country office.

  • Regularly test back-up/disaster recovery processes and solutions.

1.4 Training in Emergency Telecoms
The CCCs state that every country office should have at least one emergency-trained ICT specialist. Only with such capacity at the local level can adequate ICT emergency preparedness and response, and business continuity plans be developed and implemented. ITSS has developed a comprehensive training curriculum covering all aspect of emergency preparedness and response in the area of ICT, including but not limited to: Security communications (VHF, UHF and HF radio); mobile satcoms (Iridium, Thuraya, BGAN); VSAT (certification in iDirect and EMC/corporate VSAT systems); alternative power systems; wireless networking; and coordination and emergency project management.

ITSS jointly with regional ICT chiefs regularly organize such emergency telecoms training workshops at the global level. It is highly recommended that country office ICT seek to attend such workshops.

  1. Response phase

As the emergency strikes, the country office ICT responsible should immediately take action to ensure the ICT component of the emergency response are handled in a quick and effective manner while ensuring compliance with the CCCs ICT component. It is the responsibility of the country office ICT, in collaboration with Regional Chief of ICT and ITSS NYHQ to ensure that the office at all stages in the emergency response is CCCs compliant.

2.1 Immediate actions:
When the emergency strikes there are certain actions you should seek to carry out immediately:

  • Immediately perform back-up of essential data.

  • Work with SMT to ensure security telecommunications are adequate and as per security level requirements.

  • Test your back-up and security communications equipment and networks.

  • If local Internet and/or VSAT is unavailable, immediately seek to establish an alternate data-connectivity solution, such as BGAN, iDirect or other locally available data-connectivity.

  • Perform an initial gap assessment of your ICT needs and resources

  • Put together a sitrep for Regional ICT and HQ ITSS, describing your capacity and known gaps and needs.

  • Update your Office Profile with current equipment, services and staffing (incl contact information).

  • Take steps to support interagency coordination through existing ICT coordination forums if such exist, or take steps to initiate such group.

2.2 Emergency coordination, information sharing and interagency collaboration
Coordination, collaboration and information sharing are important components of the emergency response. Such activities take place both within UNICEF and with other UN-agencies.
UNICEF coordination: typically the field office ICT staff will be supported by the regional Chief of ICT (RCICT) and by ITSS/Operations, where RCICT handles day-to-day coordination and support while NYHQ/ITSS handles the global interagency/ETC (Emergency Telecoms Cluster) related coordination – in addition to facilitating access to ITSS’ in-house stock of emergency telecoms equipment and roster of emergency ICT response staff.
Information-sharing: in order to ensure best possible coordination and collaboration both within UNICEF (CO-RO-HQ) and with other agencies, regular sharing of information is essential. This is especially important in the early stages of an emergency, where daily emailed situation reports (sitrep) should be prepared by the CO ICT responsible and shared with RO and HQ ICT (for eventual further distribution). Similarly, findings of rapid assessments should be shared with RO/HQ, to ensure these are fully aware what is going on and thereby better prepared to support the CO. Typically the CO ICT is also requested to participate in local ICT/ETC meetings, and global ICT/ETC teleconferences, further strengthening information-sharing and thereby identify opportunities for collaboration.
Interagency coordination and collaboration: Since 2006, the Emergency Telecoms Cluster (ETC) has been the dedicated forum for common emergency preparedness and response in the area of emergency telecoms. At the global level, WFP is the ETC lead-agency and as such ultimately responsible for ensuring global common telecoms preparedness and response, including serving as Provider of Last Resort (PoLR) for security and data-communications.
When the emergency strikes, the Humanitarian Coordinator or Resident Coordinator may declare a “cluster” emergency, with activation of some or all clusters. When the ETC is activated, this facilitates for access to additional funding for common emergency telecoms. In most emergencies, WFP – as PoLR – will be tasked with taking the lead; however, if another agency has a strong presence in the country/operational area, the RC/HC may request that agency to take the lead in that specific emergency. Example: If UNICEF has a well-developed ICT infrastructure in a given country, UNICEF may be chosen as cluster lead agency in that specific emergency.
The local ICT/ETC lead organization will be responsible for: local interagency coordination; carrying out an interagency/cluster telecommunications gap-assessment (see below); and provision of common security and data-communications. (For more about the ETC, see www.oneresponse.info). The local ICT/ETC lead is typically the agency with the best local ICT resources (often this is UNICEF, and UNICEF should be ready to take on such a task if required).
2.3 ICT assessments: UNICEF and interagency/ETC
In order to ensure a timely addressing of ICT needs, the UNICEF ICT responsible must rapidly carry-out an initial ICT assessment, mapping UNICEF’s ICT needs. This assessment is especially important when there is a need to implement a new/emergency office/location. The initial ICT assessment should address all ICT needs related to improving the country office ICT and implementing new zone/emergency offices, including: security and data communications equipment and service; MOSS compliance; staffing; funding requirements; etc. Outputs of a typical ICT gap assessment would cover equipment and service needs; staffing needs; and funding needs (for more on these areas see below). Templates for ICT assessment is available on the ITSS Emergency Portal (click on Emergency Toolbox)
As the emergency develops, for instance if more field offices are required, more vehicles (with radios), etc., further and more in-depth assessments may be required.
Interagency/ETC assessment: In cluster-activated emergencies, the ICT/ETC lead agency is responsible for carrying out an ETC gap-assessment. Such assessment may indicate that there are gaps (i.e. needs) in the areas of security (radio) communications and/or in the area of common data-communications. Examples of such gaps:

  • Lack of repeater coverage in a specific location, requiring installation of additional repeater(s)

  • Lack of radio-rooms for interagency security coordination, requiring establishment of a common radio-room

  • Lack of capacity among agency staff in radio programming, requiring the mission of a radio-trainer

  • Lack of Internet access, requiring installation of a VSAT with Wi-Fi connectivity.

The responsibility for covering these gaps rests with the selected ETC lead agency in the specific emergency. Typically the ETC lead agency will seek to obtain emergency funds to cover the necessary equipment, services and staffing gaps. In this process, the ETC lead agency will seek to involve UNICEF and other major UN agencies and NGOs operating in the country, to jointly develop an ETC project and funding requirement. The ETC lead agency will seek to include this as part of a consolidated emergency funding request, typically included in an emergency Flash-Appeal. The Flash-Appeal will – in addition to ETC needs – include funding needs for all areas of program and operational activities in the specific emergency.

Note that in some emergencies UNICEF may be requested to serve as local ETC cluster lead and take responsibility for the ETC gap assessment and subsequent project plan and funding request.

2.4 MOSS compliance
A revised, country-specific Security Risk Assessment (SRA) system is in effect, wherein each country’s security level is determined by the DO/SMT based on country-specific SRA. The country ICT team (UNICEF and partners) will need to support this process; assess need, evaluate gaps and provide DO/SMT with appropriate recommendations for the telecoms sector.
It is essential that an office in emergency maintains MOSS compliance. Much can and should be done in the preparedness phase – such as pre-stocking back-up equipment; however, most emergencies will require procurement/loan of additional equipment to ensure MOSS compliance. When considering the office’s MOSS compliance, the country specific Security Risk Assessment must be consulted; this requires collaboration with the office’s security officer/focal point. For more information about MOSS and telecoms, see below under “Equipment” and consult MOSS section on ITSS’s Emergency Portal.
2.5 Supply plan and ordering
Experience shows that lack of timely ordering of emergency ICT equipment can be a major obstacle to an efficient response. The supply plan is therefore a critical component of the initial assessment and much effort should be put into ensuring that orders for ICT equipment and service are properly anticipated and correctly initiated. The ICT responsible should ensure that the equipment needs are established as quickly as possible and work with the CO supply officer/focal point to have ICT equipment prioritized in the ordering and shipping process.
UNICEF Emergency ICT Stock: ITSS maintains a stock of crucial emergency ICT kits (ETR-1, 2 and 3 kits) in the Copenhagen Supply Division. This stockpile is available for any field office; however, in order to ensure stock maintenance, it is a requirement that field offices requiring equipment from the stockpile provide ITSS with the necessary budget to replenish the stockpile. For details on the stock and how to obtain material, please contact ITSS/Operations.
Some things to be aware of when ordering equipment:

  • Various emergency telecoms equipment is available through direct order (DO) LTAs - available on Supply Division’s DO web-site. Wherever possible order standard equipment – this reduces risk of errors in ordering process. For details on UNICEF’s standards, see UNICEF Wireless and Emergency Telecoms Standards.

  • Emergency telecoms related LTAs contain emergency clauses, ensuring rapid delivery (within days) of equipment after a purchase order has been submitted. (Example: ICE maintains stock of Thuraya terminals; Danimex maintains stock of VHF and UHF radios; Codan maintains stock of HF radios; etc.).

  • For equipment in LTAs without emergency clause, delivery lead time can be various weeks, it is therefore urgent to initiate procurement as early as possible.

  • When presenting the supply officer/focal point with the list of material you require, make sure to:

    • Take advantage of in-house stockpile of ETR1, 2 and 3 kits: Field offices requiring such kits can obtain these through ITSS’ Copenhagen Supply Division stockpile.

    • Use emergency PGM option when ordering rather than standard ordering processes - emergency PGMs speeds up delivery!

    • Order equipment from Supply Division’s Emergency Supply List (ESL). Avoid ordering non-standard material as this can delay shipment.

If non-standard equipment is required: as this material typically has longer delivery lead-times than standard/LTA items, make sure to order these separately from standard material. This will reduce risk of delays in delivery of the standard equipment.

    • Whenever possible, order complete kits to avoid risk of errors in ordering.

    • Separate orders by supplier – this facilitates for tracking of orders!

    • If there are emergency relief flights from Copenhagen/Denmark, seek to have the ICT equipment prioritized and delivered to Supply Division, for subsequent inclusion in relief flights.

    • Work closely with your supply focal point to ensure orders are correctly processed.

    • Keep RO ICT and ITSS informed about status of your orders – they can support and speed things up.

2.6 Staffing plan
Experience shows that CO ICT staff in emergencies quickly become overwhelmed and exhausted. Additional ICT resources is therefore often required and it is highly recommended that field office ICT responsible quickly start working with Operations/HR focal point and Regional ICT Chief to ensure needs for additional staffing is planned for early on in the emergency. This is especially important in emergencies where a major influx of external program and operational responder staff is experienced – requiring increased need for ICT support and services.
Typically a field office in emergency will require support of specialized emergency telecoms responders, such as radio technicians, VSAT installers, etc., and oftentimes a higher level ICT coordinator may also be required, to take over running of the ICT operation for the duration of the emergency.
Specific areas where additional staffing may be required:

  • Staff for radio network planning and -programming

  • VSAT certified staff

  • Help-desk/support staff to handle support to additional responder staff

  • Higher-level staff to coordinate and lead the operation, create project plans and funding requests

Various mechanisms are in place to quickly acquire additional response staff:

  • Recruitment of local staff and/or companies to handle day-to-day ICT tasks (such as customer support).

  • Internal secondment of ICT staff from other offices/regions: Regional ICT chief can often support this

  • External secondment of stand-by partner responders: UNICEF Geneva EMOPS is focal point. Details here. Note: many standby partner responders have been trained in UNICEF emergency telecoms training curriculum and been deployed worldwide with UNICEF and other agencies

  • Short-term missions by UNICEF service providers for specific tasks (EMC, and others)

2.7 Funding
Often an emergency ICT operation will require additional funding to ensure adequate access to equipment, staff and services. The ICT responsible should seek (as part of the initial assessment) to estimate how much additional funding is required and present this to the supervisor to ensure it is included in the office’s overall request for emergency funding. It is highly recommended that such budget is shared with the Regional Office and HQ to make sure nothing is missing. Various funding mechanisms exist – both internal to UNICEF and external - and many of these require quick action!
2.8 Equipment
As mentioned above, UNICEF has corporate standards for most telecommunications material used in emergencies, including radio (VHF, UHF and HF); mobile satcoms (BGAN, Thuraya, Iridium); Solar-power equipment; etc. Most of this equipment is available in kit-form from selected suppliers, through dedicated supply contracts (LTAs). Most of these suppliers maintain guaranteed stock for emergency delivery – this includes BGAN (Thales), Thuraya (IEC), Motorola V/UHF (Danimex), Codan HF (Codan Australia), iDirect VSAT (GSI Inc) and complete response kits (ETR-1, ETR-2 and ETR-3 – more on these below). Here is some additional information that will help in determining what you need (exact quantities and types will be reflected in your (above) assessment and supply plan):

  • MOSS compliance requires that staff, vehicles and offices are equipped with adequate communications means to call for help when required. In most emergencies this means VHF or UHF (for personal and office use) and HF radio for mobile and inter-office use). If your office doesn’t have a preparedness stock to rely on, it is urgent to order additional VHF (or UHF) radios. Rule of thumb: all staff members carry a personal communications device, typically a VHF (or UHF) handheld radio although in some emergencies a cellphone may suffice; most vehicles will require mobile V/UHF radios and field vehicles may require HF radios; offices and key installations (such as warehouses) often will require fixed/base station V/UHF radios and HF base stations; and most VHF networks require a repeater station (one for each channel). Please refer to Assessment template (see link below) for further details.

  • Data-communications for emergency offices and responders is typically obtained using BGAN (or ThurayaIP) mobile satcoms in the early stages of the emergency. Experience shows that if mobile satellite communications services (MSS) airtime consumption is not closely monitored it can lead to substantial usage costs. Country Offices are recommended to closely monitor their airtime consumption (service providers such as Thales, Vizada, etc. can provide such information) and to modify the subscription plans accordingly (see cost study in the Wireless & Emergency Telecoms Standards document). Note: The Emergency Telecoms Response 1 (ETR-1) kit contains all necessary equipment to quickly establish connectivity for a small office. This kit is part of ITSS’ Copenhagen stockpile.

  • As BGAN and ThurayaIP can be costly in use, it is recommended to quickly migrate to iDirect or other Internet VSAT service, offering good data-rates at fixed and lower cost than BGAN. The ETR-2 kit contains an iDirect and network components for establishing Internet-based small/medium office connectivity.

  • Later, if the duration and size of the emergency justifies, a full-fledged UNICEF connectivity solution may be required, using a corporate (EMC) VSAT system. The ETR-3 kit contains an EMC compatible VSAT and necessary network and wireless components to establish one or various access points (main office, warehouse, hotel, Representative residence…) with connectivity for UNICEF applications.

  • More about ETR-1, 2 and 3 kits: In order to facilitate for quick implementation of data-communications services, UNICEF has created three standards for data-communications kits, Emergency Telecoms Response kits 1, 2 and 3 (for full technical details and cost, see UNICEF Wireless and Emergency Telecoms Standards):

    • ETR-1: BGAN (or ThurayaIP) based kit offering full connectivity for a team/small office, designed for immediate and short-term operation. The kit is housed in a suitcase-sized case suitable for air-travel. UNICEF has LTA in place with CVG Inc for rapid delivery of ETR-1 kits.

    • ETR-2: Data-connectivity kit for small/medium office. Based around iDirect VSAT equipment the kit is suitable to be brought in to the emergency as soon as logistical and technical capacity exists. The kit is housed in heavy-duty transport cases. Installation of iDirect requires specially trained and certified staff. The kit offers Internet access at speeds from 64kbps up to 1Mbps or more (depending on location/antenna size).

    • ETR-3: Data-connectivity kit for medium/large office. Based around corporate EMC VSAT, suitable to be brought to the emergency as soon as logistical and technical capacity exists, and corporate applications are required.

Annex 1: Abbreviations


MSS terminal offering voice and high-speed Internet access, up to 492kbps. Usage cost can be up to $5 per MB of data


UNICEF core commitments for children in emergencies. CCCs contains minimum requirements also for the ICT preparedness and response


UNICEF Country Office


Manufacturer of UN standard HF radio equipment


Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan


Emergency Telecoms Cluster. At the global level, ETC is led by WFP, who also serves as security and datacoms service provider of last resort, and typically will lead the coordination of ICT in major emergencies. At the local level, the ETC lead agency can be WFP or another agency found to be well suited to take lead. As an ETC member, UNICEF ICT should be ready to support ETC at the local level, and serve as ETC service provider when natural and required


Emergency Telecoms Response kit number 1: Contains MSS and all necessary equipment to rapidly implement a small office/team communications needs


Emergency Telecoms Response kit number 2: Contains iDirect VSAT + Network components for medium sized/short-term office and all necessary equipment to rapidly implement a small office/team communications needs


Emergency Telecoms Response kit number 3: Contains EMC VSAT for corporate connectivity + network components for full office


Long Term Agreement. Agreement between UNICEF and a supplier or service provider to provide goods or services as required, over a specific period of time, at determined price.


High Frequency, shortwave radio: Operating from 2-30MHz, useful for long-range communications (100-2,000km or more)


Internet Service Provider


Information Technology Solutions and Services


VSAT standard offering Internet access globally at fixed cost.


Manufacturer of UN standard VHF and UHF radio equipment


Minimum Operating Security Standards


Mobile Satellite Services (BGAN, Thuraya, Iridium, etc.)


UNICEF Regional Office


MSS terminal offering high-speed Internet access, up to 384kbps


Ultra High Frequency radio: Operating around 450MHz, useful for short-range communication (5-50km, dep on network infrastructure)


Very High Frequency radio: Operating around 150MHz area, useful for short-range communications (5-50km, dep on network infrastructure)


Very Small Aperture Terminal: Satellite system using antennas of ~1-3.8 meter, for international Internet/email/corporate applications, at fixed cost

Annex 2: Links to important documents.
ITSS Emergency Portal:


ICT Emergency Checklist:


UNICEF Wireless & Emergency Telecoms Standards:


ICT Emergency Toolbox (contains assessment templates, etc.)


Supply Division Direct Order Price List:




CCC ICT monitoring tool:


Requesting stand-by partner support:


Typical TOR for Telecom Officer: http://intranet.unicef.org/dhr/dhrsite.nsf/Main%20Form/0369C5F0E3781EA3852571A80060AEDF?OpenDocument
ToR for interagency ICT working group:


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