Portable Satellite Phones to Assist in Disaster Mitigation and Relief

The UN International Telecommunication Union and United Arab Emirates-based satellite company Thuraya announced an agreement to step up efforts for disaster mitigation and relief. The company will provide portable satellite terminals and solar chargers for rescue operations, while ITU will pay for airtime at discounted rates. In the light of a spate of recent natural disasters, the World Telecommunication Development Conference in March had called on ITU to develop solutions in emergency telecommunications directed at improving early-warning communication, disaster preparedness and mitigation. Access to information is of paramount importance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster for relief agencies to coordinate search-and-rescue, medical intervention and rehabilitation efforts. Fast communications also form an essential element in the tsunami early warning systems the UN is coordinating, based on quake and tidal sensors, alarm networks ranging from radio to cell phones and text-messaging, and disaster preparedness training to ensure timely evacuation of vulnerable coastal areas. Such a system could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives lost after the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.