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Russia is back in information square one

Russia is back in information square one

08.10.2012 — Analysis

After the flood in Krymsk, the issue of emergency population warning was thrust into the spotlight. By the command from Moscow, the Ekaterinburg authorities shot ahead to check serviceability of the siren alarms survived from the Soviet times. Experts say that their rehabilitation repair is nothing but waste of money: the intelligent network-based early warning system is the only solution. The Sverdlovsk Region is working on digital communication, but, as the RusBusinessNews columnist has found it out, there is no sense in investing money in informatization, at least, so far.

The Sverdlovsk Region has prepared the program for revamping of the emergency population warning system; the revamping cost is estimated at 170.5 million rubles. In the meantime, Albert Asubayev, head of the Communication and Warning Department at the Territorial Center of Monitoring and Response to Emergency Situations in the Sverdlovsk Region, a state public institution, thinks that the revamping may need more money: communication has been provided only to municipal centers, leaving smaller settlements and villages out in the cold. Besides, the renovation of the analog communication system inherited from the USSR is quite costly: after the revamping it must include digital and terrestrial television, radio, indicating panels in buildings of airports, railway stations and large shopping centers; in addition, it must be compatible with interregional and federal warning systems of the Emergency Ministry.

Vyacheslav Potapenko, the director of Delta-Service EK, LLC, who won the tender in Ekaterinburg, says that upgrading will cost hundreds times as much as rehabilitation of the former communication channels. The city with the population exceeding one million is not ready for such expenses and does not have any concept of development of an advanced warning system. Therefore, it will be left as it is for some time: relay lines and sirens. The system has not been maintained since 2008; some of the equipment broke down, some of the equipment was lost. At the moment, the network is being inspected and its serviceability is being assessed. The municipal authorities have allocated 2 million rubles for these purposes.

Fedor Kuramshin, head of the Civil Defense Department of the Ekaterinburg Administration, states that the system has been destroyed and its rehabilitation is not feasible, as it has become obsolete. Besides, the municipality is not able to support it: even such a large city as Ekaterinburg cannot afford the rent for the premises leased by Rostelecom OJSC, where the equipment is installed. F. Kuramshin thinks that there should be a totally new system that must be developed and supported by federal institutions. At present, the control is passed on to the regions, thus posing a serious problem: Russia does not have a centralized security system.

According to Sergey Kamenev, the director of Sensor CJSC, the experience of the Yaroslavl Region has demonstrated that there must be unified information and telecommunication infrastructure, without which operative dispatching services – including warning systems – cannot exist. This type of network can take advantage of the channels created under target programs, such as E-Government, in other words, taking global systems as a basis, as such systems use multimedia and services for transmission of information. The warning subsystem integrated into the multiservice network of governmental entities will result in an 8-15-fold decrease in costs.

However, the experts doubt that this sensible suggestion will be put into effect, as no one is interested in budget savings. That is why, in the opinion of Sergey Vakhonin, the director of the ACS Company, the E-Government Program is stalled. At first, the idea was truly fascinating: to build the system of interagency electronic interaction, which would be based on the one-stop-shop principle, providing people with an easy access to services rendered by different public organizations. As usual, the implementation did not meet expectations: the integrated network came out as a patchwork quilt. Regions and even individual departments flung themselves into development of their own segments of system of interagency electronic interaction: each of them takes on lease communication channels, installs equipment, orders their own programs, spending budgetary funds.

The point is that the services are not interconnected; that is why, employees of the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate of the Kurgan Region cannot enter the database of their colleagues from the Sverdlovsk Region. There is not any one-stop shop, and the blame for this should be partially pinned on the RF Ministry of Communications, which did not insist on the single service bus for all public organizations, and partially on Rostelecom OJSC, which does not want to miss its profit it can gain from providing the system of interagency electronic interaction individually to each region of the country.

The experts say that the implementation of the E-Government Program is very similar to disbursement of budgetary funds. It started when Leonid Reiman, the RF Minister of Communication, was in office; he managed to spend billions of rubles on Electronic Russia, without the expected outcome. The program was shut down during the office term of Minister Igor Shchegolev, who commenced his own "construction" in the form of the system of interagency electronic interaction. His endeavors were enthusiastically supported by regional authorities, who pulled up companies of interest to the budget pie and steamrolled their decisions. In the meantime, the money in the IT sector is as difficult to trace as in infrastructure and construction projects: it can be written that 25 thousand people worked on the solution, though the actual number was much lower.

However, it is not the main point. Most of the IT professionals note that informatization helps improve what can work without it. If the mess is automated, it will be nothing but automated mess. Informatization per se does not solve any problem. Therefore, in the countries that progressed significantly in digital technology investment in IT is directly linked with new additional services opening new opportunities for business, with simplification of export-import transactions, with an increased cash inflow, etc.

According to S. Vakhonin, this approach is alien to Russia. Therefore, there is no risk of being wrong in forecasting that after its financing dries out, the E-Government Program will push up daisies, and people, in the same way as before, will turn to services of public paper pushers and red tape routine. Consequently, there will be no unified information and telecommunication infrastructure, which is vitally essential for an advanced emergency warning system.

It is obvious that Russia will be back to square one: tons of money will be spent, there will be numerous stand-alone systems, and the outdated sirens will be turned on by hand in a critical situation. It means that the recurrence of the Crimean tragedy is unavoidable.

Vladimir Terletsky

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