PALIKIR, Pohnpei—From February 19th, 2020 to February 20th, 2020 the FSM Department of Transportation, Communications, & Infrastructure (DTC&I) hosted an Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) workshop with the United Nations World Food Program. Inclusive of attendees such as FSM Telecommunications Corporation (FSMTC), the FSM Telecommunications Regulation Authority (TRA), Micronesia Red Cross, the Weather Service Office, Pohnpei Port Authority, the Department of Environment, Climate Change, & Emergency Management (DECCEM), and the FSM State Disaster Coordination Offices, the purpose of the workshop was to explore how the FSM presently communicates to citizens during national emergencies and crises and to determine means of improvement. The primary outcomes of the workshop included the development of the FSM’s ETC Cluster Terms of Reference as well as an Action Plan for the remainder of 2020.
The workshop began with opening remarks from the Honorable Carlson D. Apis, Secretary of DTC&I. “The FSM Telecom Act of 2014 points to the provision of disaster relief services under the universal access policy while the National [Information & Communications Technology/ICT] Policy of 2012 outlines the use of improved public safety through ICT, specifically disaster communications, as one of the FSM’s strategies,” Secretary Apis said. “Our aim today is to strengthen national and state coordination in the area of emergency telecommunications.”
Following the Secretary’s remarks, Dr. Hlekiwe Kachali, ETC Coordinator for the United Nations World Food Program’s Pacific Office, presented the agenda—including topics such as: what is ETC?, how is ETC implemented in the Pacific?, and what is the FSM’s ETC policy? Antholino Neth, Assistant Secretary at FSM DECCEM, presented on FSM and FSM State coordination—particularly with respect to natural disasters. This was followed by the FSM State Disaster Coordination Officers sharing best practices and experiences, and then a series of emergency simulation exercises.
At the conclusion of the workshop, the attendees developed an ETC Terms of Reference and an FSM ETC Action Plan for 2020.
The purpose of ETC is to strengthen overall response capacity and effectiveness. An ETC is a network of humanitarian organizations (e.g. Red Cross), Government organizations (e.g. DECCEM), and private sector organizations working together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies, such as natural disasters (e.g. typhoons, tsunamis), and public health emergencies (e.g. COVID-19, Measles), etc.
“Communications are difficult because they require explanation,” Dr. Kachali said. “You don’t need to explain why logistics are important to someone, or what they are. If you leave your house to go to the office, that’s logistics. You don’t need to tell people why a hospital is necessary. But communications…can be invisible, and if they’re invisible they don’t get resources.”
Dr. Kachali gave multiple examples of how common alerting protocols (i.e. the same messages being disseminated across television, radio, text messages, and the internet) have magnified and assisted emergency services in the past, both in the Pacific and elsewhere in the World, and how communications blackouts similarly devastate emergency response capacity to implement necessary services.
“You can have the best technology—but if the procedures don’t work, it won’t matter,” Dr. Kachali said. “If you try to call a remote island, and the satellite phone isn’t charged, or the radio is off, or the radio is broken—that’s why you need a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, all the way to Plan Z, and Standard Operating Procedures.”
His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the FSM, noted his enthusiastic support for the FSM to develop its own ETC Cluster, including its Terms of Reference and Action Plan, and for engaging the Pacific region through best ETC practices.
“Lack of information, misinformation, and conflicting information harm individuals and societies, in times of peace and most assuredly in times of emergency,” President Panuelo said. “I am confident that if the FSM has superior ETC practices that some of our communications issues during this Public Health Emergency for coronavirus wouldn’t have occurred, and I am equally confident that superior ETC practices will save lives and livelihoods during the next natural disaster.”
“I give the FSM’s ETC Cluster my explicit blessing of support and encourage all partners and stakeholders to work together for the common good of our Micronesian Nation.”