Telecom San Frontières
By stephendavis on Sep 28, 2006
Telephony is the only truly borderless, global utility. Not withstanding government interference in certain regions of the world, it is possible to make a 'direct dial' call from virtually any part of the populated world to someone located on another continent or just a few miles away. Most people don't tolerate not being able to get through first time.
In some countries, the former state owned telephone operators have a statutory duty to provide sufficient network capacity to handle emergency calls. Most mobile operators build into their SIM cards a tiered network access priority that enables certain groups to have preference during peak traffic periods, e.g. business contract users ahead of pay-as-you-go customers.
Historically, the switching of voice traffic between national operators has required agreed common technical protocols and financial mechanisms to reconcile payments between operators. Many of the commercial agreements probably emerged from systems set-up to handle post and parcels. In zones of conflict or areas affected by natural disasters around the world, a breakdown in telecoms resulting from ground stations or exchanges being out of action, as recently happened in southern Lebanon, can impair relief efforts just as much as bombed bridges, railway lines or airport runways.
A French based charity Télécoms San Frontières (TSF) has recently set-up a rapid response team modelled on the better known Médecins Sans Frontières, to provide immediate emergency on-the-ground relief. Télécoms San Frontières operates using lightweight satellite phones connected to the Inmarsat network.
At first as a charitable concept, in comparison to Médecins Sans Frontières, a dedicated telecoms emergency service might seem to be rather indulgent or superfluous. Medical supplies and care administered by trained practitioners must surely be more important in an emergency situation.
But telecoms support can greatly increase the efficiency of directing aid and emergency supplies to where it is needed most. For the relief organisations, getting the message with video pictures can help raise awareness of the severity of the need and contribute to fundraising efforts in donor countries.