Photo: Despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic and visa processing delays, NetHope successfully deployed its Emergency Response Coordinator, Jason McDonald, to the Philippines. Jason is coordinating with NetHope Members, local NGOs, local government, government ministries, and other humanitarian response agencies to identify how NetHope can support power and connectivity needs in the affected areas. (Pictured from left to right: an unnamed Red Cross volunteer, Jason McDonald, NetHope, and Ma Mare Angelie Rublica, Assistant OIC of Lapu Lapu Chapter, Red Cross.)
By Jason McDonald, Emergency Response Coordinator-Philippines, Emergency Preparedness and Response, NetHope
Despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic and visa processing delays, I arrived the week after Super Typhoon Rai (local name, Odette) devastated northeast Mindanao, southern Leyte, and central and west Visayas in The Philippines. Working with regional government ministries, NetHope Members, local NGOs and other humanitarian response agencies we identified how NetHope could support power and connectivity needs in the affected areas with a rapid response approach.
In response to urgent requests, we installed five, 4G LTE networks at SOS Children's Villages in Cebu that provide internet connectivity to children currently attending classes remotely due to pandemic restrictions on in-person schooling. We then moved quickly to aid the Red Cross logistics hub and molecular laboratory in Cebu. They are once again able to transmit lifesaving data in real time over secure Wi-Fi instead of USB sticks delivered on foot. This location also serves as a Hotspot so people going for lab tests can access the Internet. And we further supported Red Cross rescue and response operations with installed Wi-Fi at the Lapu-Lapu/Cordova chapter of the Philippine Red Cross, which serves the community in multiple ways including a blood bank and ambulance services. In order to reach more people in the affected area, we set up Wi-Fi to support the offices of Save The Children (STC). STC shares this Wi-Fi network throughout the communities they are supporting. SOS Children’s Villages, Americares, Habitat for Humanity, and Relief International are now able to effectively communicate and coordinate relief efforts thanks to SAT phones provided by NetHope’s disaster response.
Local government offices that support community efforts have also received aid. In the municipality of Sevilla, the typhoon destroyed local agriculture and tourist markets and left most of the area without internet connectivity or power. Despite these conditions we were able to install public Wi-Fi at the municipal hall in Sevilla so that residents can contact their loved ones and to bolster the local government’s response efforts. We also provided a SAT phone and installed Wi-Fi for the Disaster Response Unit in Bohol.
The Philippines experience many types of disasters: typhoons, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, landslides, and earthquakes. In meetings with The Department of Information And Computer Technology it was decided that radio communications should be a priority for disaster response efforts in The Philippines. Even now, though it is seven weeks since the typhoon made landfall, there are still islands that are relying on radio communication as their primary source of communication. Not only is radio more effective after a disaster, it is also a more sustainable option, easily redeployed for other disaster response efforts. NetHope decided to help by supplying them with five radio kits. Each kit comes with everything needed to set up radio communications in the field and last for a few days on battery power. Each kit fits inside of a backpack and can be taken anywhere that is needed during a disaster. The donated kits are not only going to help during this response, but they will also be essential for future efforts.
I am proud of the collective impact that NetHope’s response efforts have had so far. Not only have we helped vulnerable people in the affected areas, but also the efforts of our Member organizations and the response efforts of the local governments.
NetHope would not have been able to make such a large impact without generous support from The Patterson Foundation, Airlink who covered air transport expenses, and Thuraya who gave us discounted SAT phones, and free airtime.