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Innovating for Emergency Telecommunications: The “emergency.lu” Platform

Summary

By: Mariko Hall, WFP IT Emergency Preparedness and Response branch

Humanitarian emergencies are extremely complex, with often hundreds of thousands of people requiring urgent assistance, spread over large physical areas, in increasingly insecure operating environments. In these desperate situations, efficient and effective communications is paramount.

This trend was illustrated by the 2010 Haiti earthquake which consequently became a catalyst for change in information technology and telecommunications systems for humanitarian emergency response. The operation in Haiti demanded faster deployment of more advanced IT solutions that could cover a wider physical area.

With the aim of filling the communications gap at the onset of large-scale disasters, the web-based platform emergency.lu was developed by the Government of Luxembourg together with Luxembourg-based companies SES TechCom, HITEC Luxembourg and Luxembourg Air Ambulance. The platform consists of a number of tools and services, including satellite infrastructure and capacity; communication and coordination services; satellite ground terminals for short and long-term deployment; communication terminals to extend satellite connection to the ground, as well as transportation of equipment to the disaster area.

Since its initial development, the platform has expanded to incorporate additional partners, including the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the global lead of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC). Under the coordination and management of WFP, and with equipment and technicians provided by the Government of Luxembourg, the partnership is working to develop an ETC response solution encompassing emergency.lu. Intended to be the cluster’s default quick deployment kit, the ETC response solution enables a faster, more robust and more effective information and communications technology response during the first phase of humanitarian emergencies.

Innovative, dynamic and results-focused, WFP and the Government of Luxembourg share decision-making roles in this partnership. It is appreciated that WFP has the practical experience in humanitarian emergencies, while the private sector partners – under the framework built by the Government of Luxembourg – have the technical expertise in developing unique satellite infrastructure. The result is a collaborative relationship with each partner learning from one another to develop comprehensive solutions for the entire humanitarian community.

In January 2012, the ETC response solution was pioneered in South Sudan through successful technical deployments of equipment, services and staff in Bentiu, Maban, Renk and Pibor. Now, as the humanitarian situation across the country worsens, relief workers in these four remote locations have access to reliable voice and data communications to expand and better manage their operations.

A further element of this partnership is the incorporation of emergency.lu with the Emergency Preparedness Integration Centre (EPIC). Initiated by WFP, EPIC provides infrastructure, hardware and software solutions to meet demands for efficiency in communications and coordination in humanitarian work. EPIC includes a web-portal which provides real-time access to all information related to emergencies from meeting minutes and situation reports, to photos and maps from the field. The Portal also employs advanced Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for staff and asset tracking.

The Government of Luxembourg is also providing funding and solution development expertise to develop EPIC. A pilot of the integrated solution was carried out in WFP Islamabad in December 2011 and the first implementation of the combined project will be deployed across Pakistan in the second quarter of 2012.

With the explicit aim of developing solutions that can be used by all humanitarian organizations, the partnership between the Government of Luxembourg and WFP encourages involvement and engagement of external partners. IT tools developed by partners – including Ericsson Response and World Vision International – are being integrated with emergency.lu and EPIC to ensure true inter-agency solutions.

For more information, please contact Joseph Choi, WFP External Relations Officer, IT Emergency Preparedness and Response branch or visit the emergency.lu website.