Saturday, 9 November 2013

Global Disaster Relief Communications Essential for United Nations OCHA Teams

Major disasters like the recent Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is another one of the many global disasters that sets the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) into action.

Reports like this one posted on OCHA's reliefweb site indicates 1200 people are feared dead as a result of Typhoon Haiyan.  Another reliefweb report indicates that cities like Tacloban have no food, water, or electricity.

Where there the is no electricity there is likely no communications.  Communications are an essential part of coordinating disaster relief efforts and providing situation and status updates to OCHA offices, team members, and affiliated organizations.

During disasters where local communications have been significantly disrupted or unavailable, the Information Communications Technology group (ICT) operating under UNOCHA deploys their Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC).  It is the mandate of ETC:  "to provide timely, predictable and effective Information Communications Technology services to support humanitarian community in carrying out their work efficiently, effectively and safely".

To facilitate UNOCHA's ability to route emergency and relief related telecommunications traffic via the global Internet, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has assigned OCHA the exclusive use of the E.164 geographic country code  +888.  OCHA and Voxbone have entered into an arrangement where Voxbone provides assistance to OCHA for the implementation and routing of the +888 numbering range allocated to OCHA.

What this all means is that OCHA can assign blocks of +888 international numbers to various cooperating groups and emergency responders globally.  Because +888 calls are essentially routed over the Internet and Voxbone's managed IP network, these global calls can be implemented for free or at very low cost.

  Voxbone's +888 call routing network essentially rides on the well known iNum +883 global IP network.  To encourage greater acceptance of the +883 global numbering system, Voxbone has provided free blocks of iNum +883 numbers to any VoIP service provider who is willing to peer and route iNum calls for free or at very low cost to their customers.

To assist UNOCHA with their mandate of providing global humanitarian relief communications, Voxbone has encouraged VoIP service providers world-wide to connect and peer with their global iNum IP network, for free, and do their part in helping OCHA provide free or low-cost +888 humanitarian relief call routing.

In January of 2013, I reported that CallCentric had agreed to do their part and now routes +888 calls over their network, for free.  It is hoped that many more telecommunications service providers will also do their part for global disaster relief communications and start routing OCHA +888 numbers for free, too.

UPDATE - January, 2013
CallCentric begins routing UNCOCHA +888 calls.

UPDATE - November 18, 2013
Today has announced that they are now routing UNOCHA +888 calls.

OCHA +888 numbers can also be reached via any of the global iNum PSTN gateways.