By Isaac Molho
It is essential that important decision makers can communicate effectively during the next major crisis.
By installing relatively inexpensive software on communication networks, key private and public sector individuals like critical infrastructure operators and local emergency response officials will enjoy priority over the rest; this will allow their calls to complete on congested networks. The underlying principle is that, in times of crisis, “some information is more important than other information.”
in a recent interview, Harry D. Raduege, Jr., chairman of the Deloitte Center for Cyber Innovation and EWI president’s advisory group member, said:
“International network standards need to be implemented so that a priority call, in a time of emergency when communications are limited in certain areas, would be transparently transferred across a border into another country and would enjoy that same level of priority service in each country involved.”
During major calamities of the last decade, including the attacks of September 11, 2001, the July 7, 2005 London bombings and Japan’s nuclear meltdown of 2011, important decision makers failed to communicate successfully, being hampered by congested communications networks.
In October 2012, EWI published the cutting-edge report Priority International Communications Report (PIC) which tackles this problem. Typically, communication networks become clogged with unusually high levels of traffic when disasters occur; most people’s first reaction is to pick up the phone and contact their loved ones. Consequently, communication networks become congested and unreliable.
The report encourages governments to champion the implementation of PIC, emphasizing the need for cooperation among important actors like network operators and network equipment suppliers.
Raduege explains that stakeholders have “established, over a decade or so, the critical agreements, standards, policies and regulations that would allow us to implement priority international communications, not only with hardware but also with software,”
While an international PIC standard would be relatively easy to implement, a major challenge remains convincing governments to collaborate. “Surprisingly, only a few countries have national priority-communications capability in place,” says EWI Chief Technology Officer Karl Rauscher, a co-author of the report. “There is no international system for giving important calls priority. This is a missed opportunity, particularly as standards-based technical solutions have existed for the past decade.”
Most networks are only designed to carry a certain amount of traffic at any one time. It’s simply not economically viable to run a network that can carry the traffic of all of its subscribers at once. Therefore, only a fraction of the network’s subscribers can be online at any one point, and, excepting major emergencies, that’s usually the case.
Implementing PIC standards helps to make these networks more robust. “Infrastructure,” the report elaborates, “must perform its most important functions with a minimum of variation, in the presence of stresses that are beyond its expected operating conditions.”
EWI’s work on Priority International Communications proposes relatively simple steps that could make a huge difference during the next crisis. Harry Raduege adds:
“The problem has been that forward movement in agreement or even recognition of these elements has stalled, and I think the major reason is that there is a low probability that we will experience a major catastrophe involving international proportions. But history has shown that when a major catastrophe does occur, everyone usually wishes they had implemented a solution earlier.”
The full PIC report is available for download here.
Isaac Molho is an intern in the EastWest Institute’s Public Policy and Communications Department.