Lack of Connectivity and Disaster Management

A woman walks past a Chinese construction site in Lubango, Angola, March 5, 2014. When a halving of oil prices left a gaping hole in Angola's finances this year, it became clear sub-Saharan Africa's third largest economy needed help fast - and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos knew exactly where to turn. But the multi-billion dollar loans he signed with China last month have angered Angolans who say they have been left behind as politicians and China share the spoils and Africa's second-largest oil producer becomes ever more reliant on Beijing. Picture taken March 5, 2014. To match Insight ANGOLA-CHINA/ REUTERS/Herculano Coroado - RTX1JPQO

Usually when disaster strikes, the immediate after effect is total chaos. Some of the after effects of a calamity could be a total breakdown of communication systems, roadblocks, power breakdowns, and need for emergency medical assistance amongst others.

History shows that people have often been stranded for days or longer and perished in the aftermath of a disaster. This is mainly due to relief efforts reaching them late or not at all. Today, in the 21st century, we are lucky to have the mobile phone connectivity that throws open a huge window of possibilities.

Just imagine an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hits an area, triggers landslides, cuts the power and destroys buildings, thereby causing havoc. Now, consider that in the 60 sec after the first tremor, people warn each other through social media or chat systems. This could allow them to seek shelter in safe areas. In 2014, a megathrust earthquake struck approximately 59 miles off the northern coast of Chile and triggered a tsunami of almost 9 feet. Citizens faced with this disaster reaped the benefits of enhanced mass communications and early warning systems — a clear example of the power of the quick mobile phone connection being used for social good.

When disaster strikes, the key to successful rescue and relief efforts is getting the right information, in the right format, to the right people, at the right time, on the right device. Portable, satellite-enabled communication kits enable this among disaster response teams and tracking systems, which enables real-time mapping of the locations of different relief service groups. And, citizens already turn to social media for disaster updates to supplement traditional governmental and agency sources. Taken a step further, imagine an app that enables disaster victims and relief workers to view a shared map and see where all the rescue and aid efforts are situated in real time.

Now imagine that the good mobile phone connection is only accessible to the masses through a licensed spectrum, at high costs. The whole scenario would then change to only a privileged few being able to reap the benefits of efficient disaster recovery. This would lead to loss of human lives and property, slowing down relief efforts considerably.

The governing bodies across the world should begin to recognize this and they should move towards something known as the unlicensed spectrum. The unlicensed spectrum does not require operators to obtain a costly license and special permission for its use. Therefore, it is an inexpensive and barrier-free option for meeting communication requirements. In other words spectrum should always be license free so that a good communication system can be accessed by all. Irrespective of the economic condition and geographic location, people should be able to connect with each other through mobile phone. It has become the basic need now. Unlicensed spectrum is a valuable public and social good precisely as it serves as an inexpensive and accessible source of connectivity for remote and marginalized communities not just in times of disaster but at other times as well.

Now the question is why the governments across the world are not moving for unlicensed spectrum? Is there any vested interest of some powerful groups? Please share your opinion below.


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