Disaster response Iran

Bam Earthquake

2003 - 2004
Published on Dec 27, 2003 01:00 AM  -  Updated on Jul 09, 2019 04:52 PM
With the support of the European Commission (ECHO), TSF mobilised to strengthen coordination and to intervene with the population following the violent earthquake that hit the city of Bam.

Context: Earthquake
Start date: 27/12/2003
End date: 15/01/2004
Areas of intervention: Bam

  • Telecom centres
  • Humanitarian calling operations

63 organisations and local authority beneficiaries
1,905 MB of data exchanged for coordination
200 emergency calls for coordination and population


On 26th December 2003 at 5:28 am local time, a violent earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit southeast Iran. The earthquake was extremely violent, causing enormous damage and destroying more than 80% of some 15,000 houses in the city of Bam.

The quake struck a city asleep, trapping tens of thousands of people under the rubble of their homes. The official toll reported 43,000 dead, more than 50,000 injured and tens of thousands of homeless, with winter temperatures often below zero degrees overnight. It was the most deadly earthquake in Iran since the June 1990 earthquake that killed 37,000 people.

The vast majority of the infrastructures having been destroyed, telephone and radio communications were cut off. The power grid was severely damaged, compromising the use of mobile phones, most of which were buried under rubble. Ericsson Iran confirmed that international calls were impossible.


Télécoms Sans Frontières offered the Tehran authorities its assistance and the provision of its equipment and technicians to rescue organisations. The team arrived in Bam on 28th December and immediately moved to the International Organisations Crisis Centre to intervene both with relief agencies and the Iranian population. TSF operations were co-financed by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

Telecoms centres

The Iranian Red Crescent immediately made available a tent allowing TSF to open a telecom centre for all the organisations present on-site - the only link with the outside world. First located in the International Relief Team camp, near the tent dedicated to the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC), the TSF telecom centre was then transferred to the Stadium with all other international organisations.

To establish Internet connections, TSF used Wi-Fi cards placed in each PC, which were connected by radio waves to the router distributing the Internet connection. TSF made available six computers to NGOs, but they could also use their own computer and connect it to the Internet via a network cable plugged to one of the router's ports.

Similarly, the Rapid Response Teams and the NGOs that had their own equipment came to the centre to benefit from the expertise and technical assistance of TSF technicians. Beyond the technical aspect, the centre was a meeting place for all organisations working on the Bam site, enabling the exchange of information on the evolution of the situation and projects. The OSOCC used TSF as a relay for all the information collected.

The TSF centre proved to be essential during the emergency phase, enabling rescue teams to send their reports to their headquarters as soon as they returned from the field. Once this phase ended, TSF announced its withdrawal. But at the request of many ECHO partner organisations such as Oxfam, Save the Children UK, World Vision, Mercy Corps, Merlin, and the Medical Aid Committee, TSF extended its mission to bring them support for the launching and implementation of their projects. TSF’s centre remained open the first days of the rehabilitation phase.

Humanitarian calling operations

The TSF team immediately contacted the Red Cross movement to obtain an assessment of the situation and establish collaboration for operations benefiting the affected population. In Bam, the Iranian Red Crescent hosted TSF in its headquarters as well as volunteers from other cities coming to help their compatriots.

In this premises, TSF installed a calling centre. Given the difficulties encountered, this operation could only be carried out for two days. At the initiative of a voluntary doctor who is sensitive to the action of TSF, an itinerant installation was set up in an ambulance of the Iranian Red Crescent responsible for the distribution of medicine to the population of Esfikan district.

80% of the calls were local calls from people searching for relatives who had been injured in the earthquake and thus hospitalised in nearby cities. Given the large number of casualties and injuries, it was very difficult for local authorities to effectively organise in order to establish a clear list of the wounded and where they were located. As this information was not available, it was impossible for the TSF technicians to put them in touch with their relatives. Given the lack of census of the population, disseminating reliable and relevant information was problematic. For these reasons, the humanitarian calling operations were very limited.

The fixed network was gradually restored and a hundred public booths with free access to the national network were installed by the Iranian operator.

The involvement of Télécoms Sans Frontières in response to the Bam earthquake then triggered an official collaboration with the United Nations through the OCHA and UNICEF agencies - which were then responsible for the coordination of the emergency telecommunications sector.

With the support of