The role of Information and Communication Technologies in a crisis

We understand crisis as the changes that threaten to transform how a society works. This is an extremely broad definition that fits such a broad concept. We enter a crisis when normal conditions have been clearly disturbed, and specialized responses no longer fit the current dynamic.

The management of these crises is a complicated affair, mostly because it requires the participation of many actors like public authorities, emergency services, non-governmental organizations, and the general community. All of them with specific responsibilities regarding analysis, decision-making and ultimately the crisis management.

The ability that each actor possesses when it comes to planning, coordinating and communicating efforts will always impact the management of the crisis. It is understandable that communication and coordination falter when faced with all kinds of threats, but this is where the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have come in in the last decades. ICT’s have offered new infrastructures and technical applications which have proved to be vital answers to the existing challenges, but have also helped set new and better solutions for future problems.

Today we wanted to talk a little bit about the role ICT has played in different crisis situations, by delving into how some important actors benefit by effectively using ICT in their management efforts.

Helping the emergency services. This is a great place to start explaining how these technologies are of critical use. Take the emergency telephone numbers, for example. Vital not only in crises situations, but in normal circumstances too.

As of 2021, about 66% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone, and smartphones account for “more than three-quarters of all the mobile handsets in use today” Personal phones have largely replaced household telephones, and this evolution has been accompanied by great preventive emergency measures, like child abduction alerts (for example the Amber Alert in the United States) and text messages of imminent threat alerts (for example hurricane and earthquakes). On the topic of threat alerts we are reminded of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, where despite the large number of casualties, it is agreed that the Japanese Earthquake Early Warning System saved thousands.

Voicing the community. The use of ICT in addressing societal challenges is an incredibly important topic, but right now we want to hone on the use of ICT by the community during crisis management. The big players here are the social media networks, and the platform they offer the community as a mean of empowering individual voices as one.

We have already witnessed how people affected by natural disasters have used social media as a way of seeking and sharing information. This real-time information has been picked up by governments and response agencies, contributing in coordinating relief efforts, as shown in 2010 during the Haiti earthquake or in 2013, during the Haiyan Tropical Cyclone in Philippines. More often than not social networks have also aided in the emergence of “self-help” communities, who coordinate and answer the calls for help they come across online.

Sustainable development. It is established that the ICTs provide huge opportunities, but most importantly they set the stage for economic, political and social development. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by all the United Nations Member States in 2015, define priorities and objectives for 2030 and aim to mobilize global efforts around a common set of goals, from ending poverty to ensuring universal access to basic services. What´s so exciting about this journey is that every single goal can be positively impacted by ICT, despite not a single one being specifically about these technologies.

According to António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, the “impact and implications of the digital revolution are becoming more evident with each passing hour” and are critical to the achievement of the SDGs. Having this in mind it is important to note that half the world’s population remains offline, and ICT access and use is still unequally distributed. Innovations that target the poverty crisis, like the use by farmers of “satellite imagery to monitor land use, water scarcity and shifting climate patterns” will only prove fruitful when the digital divide has been successfully bridged.

This is management in the long term, but is also as important as the preventive measures also presented.

Adapting to challenges. The current global pandemic highlighted how important the world’s telecommunication networks and digital infrastructure were. As a backbone of communication, they allowed health workers and other essential services to stay connected, but as of now they are vital in setting the scene for the return to a “new normal”.

Despite being one of the least affected worldwide, the ICT sector has registered quite a few significant losses. Despite this, recent predictions report steady growth in 2021, in what could be described as a turning point, as technology companies respond to the challenges of the pandemic and answer the calls of the organizations seeking to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world.

It is interesting to think of what lies in store for ICT, as we are in the middle of such a crucial time for the sector. Will the current challenges bolster the power of these technologies? What crisis management innovations will we witness?

Here at Armilar we have made a point to shed a light on the advantages of using the right technology, and how companies can make the most of these advantages. We have made this our mission has we firmly believe in the power of technology and innovation. By understanding what these technologies mean for us and the world, we can better use them to our advantage.

Covid, Crisis, ICT

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