Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti, The First Week

I stopped by my alma mater, Save the Children, yesterday. A banner was hanging from the front of the building announcing Haiti relief efforts and a web address; on the door was a sign saying walk-in donations were welcome[1].

A week after a 7.3 earthquake struck Haiti, we are seeing a massive response from governments, nonprofits and others. All the major relief agencies, including the UN, have near-daily briefings and situation reports. The cry for information is as strong as the cry for help. The two are inseparably linked. Donors want to know how they can help, what’s being done, and where there is hope. Headquarter workers needs to know from those on the ground how many are hurt, missing, displaced and dead.

In the early stages of disaster response, there is a bit of chaos. First, is assuring that workers in-country and their families are safe and counted. Next are the rapid needs assessments for food, water, shelter and medical supplies. Sat-phones are most often the earliest form of communications, if they are charged and accessible. Resources are readily shared; we’ve worked together before.

This time I’m working with NetHope, an organization I helped found. NetHope is a collective made up of IT leaders from 28 international nonprofits who understand the need to collaborate to bring information and communications technologies out the last 100 kilometers to the most challenged areas in which we work. We’re focused on collaborating among our members to provide essential connections that enable information to flow, which in turn supports the critical mission of ensuring supplies and people go to where they’re needed most.

Many of the non-government organizations (NGOs) in Haiti are smaller than the UN with far fewer IT resources. To be effective in IT in troubled areas of the world, we’ve found again and again that we need to collaborate and share so that every NGO has access to core data and voice communications. Consistent, reliable communication is one of the cornerstones of relief efforts, ensuring that aid reaches the people who need it most.

Today one of our NetHope engineers is working with a member, CHF International, who occupies high ground ideal for a satellite link. Here’s a bit from his first report:

We arrived at CHF compound today just before dark. Kah located a clear line of site to AMC4 and IS14 [Satellites] on a “safe” part of the roof (both come back to ITC’s Miami teleport.)

The panels of the dish have to be pulled up on rope lines from outside; too big to go up the stairs. CHF has that covered and will help us tomorrow. Power and cabling does not look to be a problem.

Information about what members offices need to be connected would be good to gather soon so we may have sites to survey when Inveneo gets here. The CHF office is on high ground which is promising for that part of what we are trying to do.

We should also add up the incremental power requirements for everything we plan to locate at CHF.

BTW we just now got informed that the US military is imposing a 9 pm curfew

These high-bandwidth satellites will provide the second wave of information connections. Sharing technology among member NGOs is core to what NetHope provides – acting as the data and communications trunk that feeds the major branches of the NGO community. This is all about working together to make the connections—in every sense of the word—that allow the aid to flow.


  1. Hi Ed,

    Its great to see NetHope's expertise contributing to the efforts, this is exactly the type of event where a coordinated effort between all the NGOs is going to be far more effective.

    Good luck to all the teams out there

    David Gildeh

  2. Ed,

    Thanks for the mention. You can follow the growth of Inveneo's communciations network in Haiti here: