Damage around Palu, Indonesia. Photo courtesy DoGoodFilms.

By Brent Carbno, Managing Director, Global Programs for NetHope

When the news broke on September 28 that a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and subsequent tsunami had leveled villages on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, I immediately contacted our field connectivity team and others to learn about the impacts of this double disaster scenario.

This would be my first “test” with NetHope.

Brent Carbno has more than 17 years of experience in the telecommunications technology field, and over 14 years of experience working in humanitarian emergencies. As NetHope’s Managing Director of Global Programs, Brent is responsible for all aspects of NetHope programs, including conceptualization, personnel and program contractors, member engagement, execution, budget, and measurement and evaluation, as well as development and execution of the NetHope strategic plan and the integration of field programs with the work of NetHope’s Center for the Digital Nonprofit. In his previous role as Program Director for Ericsson Response, Brent was globally responsible for all the operational aspects of the program, including managing the staff and volunteers, along with managing and developing humanitarian partnerships. Brent started with Ericsson in 2001 as a telecommunications engineer, and eventually moved into leadership and project management positions within Ericsson. In 2004, Brent joined the Ericsson Response program as a volunteer and went on his first mission to Pakistan that same year.In 2011, Brent joined Ericsson Response full-time as a Program Manager, and became Program Director later the next year. At Ericsson, he was responsible for leading the Ericsson Response program and supporting the emergency response efforts of humanitarian partners. He also held key roles within the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster and was involved in multiple ICT-based development projects where Ericsson was engaged.

It had only been six weeks since I joined NetHope as Managing Director of Global Programs. Formerly with Ericsson Response for 18 years, my new role had me learning the “lay of the land,” taking over for long-time NetHope staffer Frank Schott as he transitioned into new duties.

The Indonesia earthquake was a sobering first task, not only in terms of the devastation it wrought, but also in introducing me to the extraordinary chain of reactivity that NetHope brings to first response connectivity.

NetHope has conveyed a lot of information in the last several months concerning disaster preparedness; this summer we held a large-scale disaster simulation exercise in Panama, enabling NetHope to train individuals from our nonprofit members and tech partners in the steps to be taken in the field following a disaster. But more than that, it readied NetHope to be on the forefront of disaster deployment and response, taking the lessons learned not only from this training, but from previous real-world experiences to responses in past disasters. The lessons learned, the training, and the preparation that came out of Panama can be applied in other contexts and other parts of the world.

Less than a week after the initial quake and tsunami knocked out Sulawesi’s communication systems, washed out its main transportation routes, and literally liquified the very ground villages stood on, NetHope had deployed a team to assess the steps to bring communications back online. Using the extensive support system of our members and the financial and technical backing of tech partners and funders, our team was able to coordinate and cooperate with the Indonesian government, our on-the-scene members, and NetHope Crisis Informatics to determine the extent of what was needed for recovery efforts.

Upon arrival in Indonesia, it became clear that the emergency response efforts are being handled by local Indonesian responders and established in-country NGO staff. Ultimately, this is the long-term goal for most developing countries as a result of increased resilience and the internal capacity to respond. Further, the local mobile operators are well on their way to recovering their networks and are providing services in the affected region.

But this isn’t always the case. Situations such the 2017 hurricanes in the Caribbean were stark reminders that the aftermath of disasters can sometimes be much more profound and reveal cracks far deeper than initially seen. It is in cases such as these that the NetHope model of nonprofit and tech sector collaboration is vital. The power of these sectors joining forces to help those most vulnerable is what drives our shared missions for a better, more responsive, more connected world.

I continue to be amazed by the intricate relationships woven into the web of NetHope’s collective partnerships. I know that, unfortunately, there are many new disasters we will have to face. But the confidence I have in the power of NetHope and the vast network of its members and partners means that we face those crises together.

Read the first post about NetHope’s Indonesia deployment.

We wish to thank Facebook, Cisco, Microsoft, and The Patterson Foundation for their generous support in helping to respond to Indonesia. Their help is invaluable to ensure NetHope is on the scene, whenever and wherever needed.


Filed Under: Connectivity, Emergency Response, Faces of NetHope, Utilization of Technology