Humanitarian Health Action

Purpose statements for panels and sessions

WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

Panel 2.18: Logistics, information technology (IT) and telecommunications in crisis management


IT, telecommunications and logistics play a vital role in disaster relief by facilitating the rapid, timely and reliable flow of information as well as resources from the affected areas to responsible entities at the local, national, regional and international levels permitting a mediated and appropriate response. The quick deployment of IT, telecommunications and other resources is essential to save lives, reduce human suffering and minimize damage to property and environment. As the scope of the response increases, the size and complexity of responders grows and with it the demand for information, which poses challenges such as co-ordination, co-operation, and inter-operability.

The initial response to major disasters is highly dependent on logistics, IT and telecommunications. The vast amount of initial expenditure and focus in disasters is about getting the right items to the right place at the right time in the right quantities at the right price so that responders can act to save, to preserve and to protect lives. How to provide more effective logistics, IT and telecom support to health response teams remains a major challenge.

The experience of the recent Tsunami operations has demonstrated how IT and telecommunications can contribute to the improved effectiveness of operations by facilitating the flow of data and information required for rapid situational analysis, informed decision-making and coordination, permitting a quick and targeted response. WHO provided ICT support to Ministries of Health, WHO offices and other UN field offices by deploying IT staff, infrastructure, satellite communications, internet connectivity, web, e-mail services, collaborative workspace and information systems. IT and telecommunications were integral to: the monitoring of the health situation; the sharing of analysis such as health mapping; and tracking the flow of equipment and material for both support to teams and the affected population.

Existing regulations can delay access to critical technologies in a disaster area by imposing barriers that restrict the import and rapid deployment of telecommunications; the use of the radio-frequency spectrum by humanitarian teams; or by restraining the transit of necessary personnel and IT resources for disaster management and relief.

Health decision makers must avail opportunity offered by the recovery phase to plan utilization of IT for health information systems to ensure regular recording and reporting, adequate tracking of resources1 and improving disaster management tools2.

Key questions

Recognizing the issues and challenges stated above, the panel has the following objectives:

1. Develop a common vision of the strategic role that the three operational support functions, logistics, information technology and telecommunications, play in empowering individuals and teams by increasing their effectiveness and productivity in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and

2. Identify barriers and recommend solutions for effective use of IT/telecom and logistics to support disaster management at the national, regional and global level.

The following key questions need to be answered as outcomes of the discussion in the panel in order to translate the lessons learnt (what was done well and what could have been done better?) from the recent Tsunami for future disaster response:

  • What strategic components of IT and telecom should the health sector3 consider for disaster management (including response and recovery) and preparedness? Why?
  • How to further strengthen partnerships and build relations among various stakeholders4 for development and sharing of disaster-resilient information and communication system?
  • How can we incorporate co-operation frameworks into national policies to reduce barriers on the use of IT and telecom resources5 for disaster mitigation and relief6?
  • What were the major barriers in delivering timely and effective logistics support and how to overcome them for any future crisis?

1 material, equipment, financial, human required to undertake programme
2 for health professionals to be used before, during and after disasters
3 including local, national, regional and international levels
4 Governments, Researchers, International organizations, NGOs and Private sector
5 not just financial and human resources, but also political and management support recognizing strategic importance of IT
6 including disaster and humanitarian response policies, IT and Telecommunication regulatory policies