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Planning a Disaster: Detail and Expertise Required for Disaster Preparation Training

How do you say, ‘cable clips’ in Spanish?

July 17, 2018

This is part of a series of posts that will occur through the end of July as we track NetHope's Disaster Preparedness Training occurring in Panama.

Mark Hawkins , the Global Humanitarian Technology Manager for Save the Children (pictured above), dug through boxes of electrical fittings in a tiny hardware store on the outskirts of Panama City, Panama. His quarry? Cable clips to be used during a disaster simulation that was only two days away.

“How do you say, ‘cable clips’ in Spanish,” Hawkins, wondered aloud, squatting near rows of electrical supplies. A Google search revealed it to be the rather unromantic “clips de cable.”


Planning the Disaster Prep Training began several months ago, but trainers met days before the event to hammer out the details.

But cable clips are only one of hundreds of details that must be planned and executed in order to mount something as ambitious as this disaster training and simulation, being directed through NetHope. The training is hosting more than a dozen expert trainers, several observers, a documentary filmmaker, and most importantly, more than 50 participants from nine of NetHope’s 56 member organizations (SOS Children’s Villages, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Christian Aid, International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent, Medical Teams International, Mercy Corps, Plan International, Save the Children), and employees from tech partners Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon Web Services.

Through this training, NetHope will expand its roster of skilled first responders and standby volunteers for disaster deployment; find and fill gaps in talent and technology; and ultimately, be better prepared to respond to disasters regionally and globally.

The training consists of two parts: the first is classroom training on both technical matters and the mental and physical challenges of being deployed into disaster situations. The second is an in-field re-enactment of a disaster situation being held on the grounds of Ciudad del Saber, a former U.S. military base located just a few meters from the locks of the Panama Canal.

All of the trainers are seasoned emergency responders from NetHope, Cisco, Ericsson Response, Red 52, and Save the Children, each deploying many times to a variety of disasters, from earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, to last year’s devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico.

“We are designing this training around not only the technical elements necessary to provide connectivity in difficult circumstances, but also around the emotional and physical toll that it can take,” said Matt Altman, network engineer with Cisco TacOps. “This training will test the participants’ suitability to deploy successfully and ensure we have the best, and best trained, people available."

Long before the first tent gets pitched somewhere on the site’s 60-hectare campus, months of planning has occurred. This includes identifying, shipping, and storing thousands of kilos of communications and power equipment from a variety of places, logistics needed to arrange travel, housing, and meals for more than 75 participants and support staff, finding and securing locations for the re-enactment, designing the presentations and simulation scenario, and, in the case of Mark’s cable clip search, a dash around the city to find some last-minute items, including purchasing the entire inventory of car batteries from the local auto supply store—used to store power for the equipment from solar panels.

“The planning necessary for this has been huge,” says NetHope’s Rami Shakra. “Fortunately, the expertise and attention to detail exhibited by all of the trainers and coordinators has made this a relatively smooth operation. Our goal is to grow our contingent of well-trained, well-prepared responders who are ready no matter what, or where, a disaster happens.”

Special thanks to The Patterson Foundation and all of NetHope’s tech partners for their financial support. You, too, can help us be prepared for the next disaster, wherever and whenever it may occur.

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