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ITU Strengthening Emergency Telecommunications in the Americas


In the aftermath of disasters, alternative telecommunication systems are often needed to fill in for systems that have been damaged or destroyed. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) says its members consider emergency communication as a priority in the Americas and are working to upgrade capabilities in the region.

Last year, the ITU teamed up with the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) and with regional telecommunications entities in the Americas to establish Winlink as an alternative emergency telecommunication system that relies on Amateur Radio. Operated and administered entirely by volunteer licensees, the worldwide email service — already popular with mariners — works over radio pathways and can operate completely without the internet.

Winlink already is well-known for its role in emergency and disaster relief communication, providing email with attachments, position reporting, weather reports, and information bulletins. The system was extensively used in the aftermath of the high-impact 2017 hurricane season in the Caribbean.

In early 2018, ITU started implementing the project using Winlink, with the cooperation of the IARU and the Federación Mexicana de Radio Experimentadores (FMRE), the IARU member-society in Mexico. ITU and FMRE worked in collaboration with COMTELCA , the regional telecommunications technical commission for parts of Latin America, to define equipment specifications.

Governments have played an important role in project implementation. This was necessary for effective coordination among telecommunications authorities, organizations responsible to respond to emergencies and radio-amateur associations.

In Costa Rica, the minister of Science, Technology, and Telecommunications, the Benemérito Firefighters Corps, and the Radio Club of Costa Rica established a project known as the Regional Emergency Alternate Telecommunications Network for the Americas to permit communication in the event of emergencies when traditional telecommunications fail.

It is very important for the country to maintain systems and operational protocols 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since you never know when an emergency is going to occur or when we are going to need this type of communication,” said Radio Club of Costa Rica President Hugo Soto, TI2HAS. “This equipment to be installed under Winlink allows permanent and unattended operation.”

Governments have also provided some equipment and carried out preliminary work to start operations. National partnerships were built among relevant entities, to procure the needed equipment, deliver training, and increase awareness of Winlink.

“The project has built and strengthened synergies among different entities at the national, regional, and international levels and helped highlight the role of Amateur Radio systems in disaster management,” the ITU said. — Miguel Alcaine, Representative of the ITU Area Office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; COMTELCA




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