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Learning from disaster

The dry, rolling hills of summer-seared grass and clumps of low trees with spreading crowns could be any rural spot in the world.

August 21, 2019

Above: Disaster Response Training participants must experience real-world scenarios, such as austere living conditions, as they learn both the technical expertise and the team-building necessary to deploy to disasters around the world. (Photo courtesy Jade Auer)

Building capacity to enable preparedness

The dry, rolling hills of summer-seared grass and clumps of low trees with spreading crowns could be any rural spot in the world. Short of an occasional breeze rustling the leaves or a scurrying ground squirrel, it appears quiet and placid. But despite this apparent calm, there is a disaster occurring here. It has cut off all communications and those affected are needing food, shelter, water, and medicine. But to coordinate these activities, a solid communication network with internet access is necessary. To accomplish this, around 40 people have descended on this site to learn how to mitigate the impact of this disaster and others that will inevitably occur around the world.

Ingo Haraldsson teaching the power module of the DRT. Solar is an increasingly viable source for powering remote equipment.

This “disaster” is, however, only a drill. It is a Disaster Response Training (DRT) exercise with this “remote” scene actually in the heart of California wine country. The location was partly chosen due to its relative remoteness and ruggedness. But it was also because of its proximity to the giants of Silicon Valley—Facebook, Google, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), in addition to the nonprofit humanitarian response organization, Team Rubicon. Selected staff from these tech giants, all NetHope partners, and Team Rubicon, a NetHope member, have come together to build capacity as part of NetHope’s Emergency Preparedness and response strategy. NetHope developed this ICT connectivity DRT to increase its response capacity as well as that of its member and partner organizations. Being prepared is a fundamental requirement for an effective coordinated emergency response. Preparation increases the level of support and capability within the humanitarian aid community, allowing responding organizations to reach more of those affected by disasters.

The DRT event is conducted over a five-day period with trainers from CiscoTacOps,, Ericsson Response, Facebook, and Redline Communications. The first three days of each module focus on theory and practical hands-on training on NH deployed network, P2P, power, VSAT, mobile SatCom and TVWS solutions.

The participants from Google, Facebook, AWS, and Team Rubicon all go through the classroom training and are then deployed to operate in a 48-hour emergency Simulated Exercise (SIMEX).  Participants employ NetHope’s mobilization procedures as in a “real-life” emergency to determine how well they can apply the recently learned technical skills in the field while submerged in austere living conditions. 

“We know that these are highly experienced and talented ICT professionals,” says Dag Brynjarsson, DRT field coordinator. “But the DRT also tests the direct application of their skills in an environment that replicates, to some degree and intensity, what they may experience in a real disaster setting.” He stresses that the ability to lead—and follow—are put on display as they navigate the technology and challenges the situation throws at them.

NetHope will deliver the DRT in regions where we operate. The first, held in Panama in 2018, laid the foundation, the second delivered in the Philippines targeting the Asian region and third now underway in Templeton California for NH partners and members.  The next event will be delivered during Q4 for members operating within the African region.  The aim of the DRT is to develop a well-trained roster of responders that experience these disasters, ensuring that local nationals are prepared and have the capacity to act as first responders at an onset of an emergency.  Scaling up NetHope response across the regions and building resilience.

DRT field coordinator Dag Brynjarsson provides instruction to course participants.

Said one participant from the first week’s session: “I feel tension and emotion rise in me when I see reports like the fire in Bangladesh yesterday that displaced 10,000 people. I used to sit and just read the articles and feel sad it happened. But now I know that I have the ability to actually help.”

A special thanks to organizations assisting with this NetHope DRT event including:

Dancing Deer Retreat is owned and operated by The Center for ReUniting Families (CRF). a nonprofit educational organization, offering resources and support to inspire people to make positive choices with regards to their own health, their relationships, their skills as parents and partners and their overall practices for living and being in community. 

Fig at Courtney’s House, an organization dedicated to providing vocational and employment opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them find and celebrate their strengths.

Shiftpod, which utilizes space age composite super fabrics to create four-season shelters built to last, easy to move, and quick to set up.

Spatial Networks and its Fulcrum product, helping to tackle the nagging issues in workflow, providing productivity-boosting benefits.

Splunk and its philanthropic arm, Splunk4Good believe that data can make for better business and a better world. Through Splunk4Good, it works with community partners to use real data to power real social change.

X2nSat, providing satellite communications, equipment, connections, and data capacities in North America and beyond.


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