Above: Setting up connectivity in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. Photo by Ivo Belohoubek.
Disasters, just by their very nature, often take place with little to no warning. While this may be true, not only individuals but organizations can properly prepare for “the worst.” For NetHope and its nonprofit members, tech partners, and funders, preparation means a variety of actions that depend on one another.
We recently returned to the Bahamas, four months after the events of September 1, 2019, to remove the nearly 50 sites installed in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Even for disasters such as Hurricane Dorian, which had unprecedented impacts on the people of the Bahamas, preparation was key to swiftly assessing what needed to be done, quickly deploying trained teams of people, and having ready access to the tools and technologies that would restore communication for aid agencies and residents and hasten recovery.
Our successful response to Hurricane Dorian demonstrated how foresight and support, both technically and financially, can really make a difference to provide “stop-gap” connectivity for responders and those directly impacted by these emergencies. They underscore that we can learn and improve over time.
First, technical and physical preparation in the form of our Disaster Response Trainings (DRT). To date, four trainings have occurred, spread throughout the world. They included the first training in August 2018, staged in Panama and designed to help prepare personnel from NetHope, Latin American member organizations, and tech partners for deployment in the region to set up communication networks in the field. The second took place in the Philippines in April 2019; the third in Central California; and the fourth in Uganda. While these DRTs help hone the technical skills and expertise to set up networks in austere field conditions, such as those that might follow an earthquake, tsunami, or hurricane, these trainings are primarily geared to prepare a ready roster of individuals who have been vetted and field tested, as well as prepare individuals directly in the regions they serve. The Patterson Foundation was an early supporter of our preparedness training, realizing that this would be a catalyst for other companies to support and participate.
Second, NetHope and our members are pre-positioning equipment, such as satellite dishes, Meraki routers, solar panels, batteries, and generators in prime locations around the world, especially in regions prone to disasters. Not only does this make the equipment more accessible, it also reduces costs of shipping in equipment, especially when transportation could be disrupted due to whatever emergency is occurring.
Third, we have partnered with tech companies, institutional funders, and governmental agencies to ensure that funding is secure and available when the inevitable happens. We have had several devoted funding entities over the years including Microsoft and Cisco among our tech partners. The Patterson Foundation has been particularly engaged with NetHope’s disaster deployments and increasingly investing in our preparation activities. TPF has a unique funding model, utilizing a catalytic approach to help “seed” and cap projects as strategies to encourage other funding organizations to invest. TPF has supported several NetHope emergency deployments over the last several years, including our latest to the Bahamas—post-Hurricane Dorian—over the last several months. And a generous $75,000 was contributed to support our work providing connectivity to Venezuelans who have been displaced due to the unrest and economic turmoil in their country. The contribution will help toward powering an additional 100 Wi-Fi hotspots along the primary travel routes for people fleeing of the country and connect more our nonprofit member organizations doing relief work AND the clinics, shelters, and community centers catering to the migrants.
None of what NetHope accomplishes could be done without the funding provided from our various partners. TPF has not only been generous in its support over the years but has helped spur additional funding due to its initial support of our projects. NetHope values TPF’s support and faith in our work and looks forward to continuing this active and involved partnership.