So much of what the public hears about the big tech companies often focuses on the intense rivalries among them.
But during NetHope’s Disaster Preparedness Training, taking place now in Panama, collaboration rules. Working side-by-side, select employees from tech giants Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, together with staff from five NetHope member NGOs—25 individuals in all—banded as one unit July 18-21 to learn how to make connectivity a reality in disaster zones.
To get to that point, the participants needed to prepare themselves with classroom sessions followed by a realistic simulation exercise working in the field. The process would be difficult and guarantee to tax their mental and emotional stamina as much as their technical skills.
Much of the first day focused on in-class technical training, such as working with Cisco Meraki and Ubiquiti equipment, setting up VSATs, the basics of creating power systems, as well as helpful advice on self-care in the field.
But on Friday, the second full day of training, there was a decidedly more nervous energy in the air.
Throughout the day, several messages were relayed of an impending (though fictional) hurricane barreling down on the tiny Caribbean island of “Ramenica”, named for NetHope’s Global Programs Director, Field Operations, Rami Shakra. At 4:45 p.m., the decision was announced: a NetHope connectivity team would be deployed to the island. Class participants were instructed that they had 15 minutes to prepare, grab their “go-bags”, and fly to the devastated island.
Participants were then loaded into cars and “flown” to the island nation. Trainers and NetHope staff took the roles of soldiers and customs and immigration officials, acting out potential real-life scenarios that incident responders might experience traveling to a foreign country (“What? You have no visa?!”), complete with a few harrowing encounters thrown in.
Once everyone had cleared customs, the participants located their campsites—no hotels or running water—set up sleeping and equipment tents, and got to work on their first task: installing connectivity hubs at their basecamp. Many worked late into the night—all in 98 percent humidity with mosquitoes and the ever-looming threat of tropical downpours!
So, who are these 25 people generously offering their time, expertise, separated from loved ones, and voluntarily allowing us to “harass” them with challenging scenarios? They are individuals from the NetHope tech partners listed above, as well as members including Mercy Corps, SOS Children’s Villages International, Save the Children International, and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, selected and screened for their technical acumen and desire to help. All came from varied backgrounds and countries. Each has different skill sets. But all were united by the common thread of humanitarian concern and ability to provide connection and comfort for people at their most vulnerable.
This training, consisting of two sessions a week apart, is not only designed to offer real-life experience configuring wireless networks in the field, but also the just-as-important work of collaboration: team building, developing leadership abilities, agility, and working together toward a shared purpose.
The experience so far has been difficult: extreme heat, less than desirable meals, unplanned “interruptions” from a variety of sources, and an overabundance of priorities to manage made the beginning of the field simulation uncomfortable and caused some frayed nerves. But using their intellect—and guided by the expertise of the trainers from NetHope, CiscoTacOps, Cisco Meraki, ETC, Ericsson Response, Save the Children, and Red 52—the hardships are helping bind them together as a cohesive team to tackle whatever may lay ahead. And Day 3 promises to bring even more “unique” challenges for the 25 trainees!