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Tools of the trade

Disaster response today has tech at its core

September 3, 2019

If you’re a firefighter, you need a hose. If you’re a surgeon, a scalpel. As NetHope prepares to help assess and respond to the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, we’re aware of the need for a full complement of digital tools to aid the work in emergency situations.

That technical power was displayed at NetHope’s recent Disaster Response Training that took place in Templeton, California, a prelude to the kick-off of September’s National Emergency Preparedness Month, focused on ensuring we are “Prepared, Not Scared”. The workshops were designed as a training on emergency field connectivity, it was also the opportunity to see the role that technology—digital and otherwise—plays in emergency response.

Responding to disasters and other emergencies obviously requires dedicated and expert teams, technology though is the underpinning wings that carry disaster missions in the twenty first century. The simulation exercise (simex) which brought together talented individuals and tech partners from Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Spatial Networks, and Google, as well as from our member organization, Team Rubicon. Digital technology took center stage at the training as these individuals were “deployed” in a simulated earthquake to install mobile internet communication hubs. These technologies also included Cisco Meraki, Ericsson, and and X2nSat VSAT equipment, and other associated gear to support and connect the network. But it also included a variety of equipment, from apps to software—even shelter—that allow these teams to successfully provide connectivity that is secure, documented, and reliable.

One critical element for those setting up networks is the means to document their work in the field, often under difficult circumstances. Setting up networks is only part of the puzzle; teams must also document what was involved and accurately relay that information amongst team members.

Joe Larson helped DRT participants and facilitators utilize the data-collection app, Fulcrum.

Fulcrum, a product from Spatial Networks, is a mobile data collection application and web platform for smart phones which allows users to design their own forms and capture information, even in disconnected environments. This information can later by synchronized and shared with other team members once connectivity is re-established. With an intuitive drag-and-drop designer interface, Fulcrum allows teams setting up connectivity to log installation site details and provide specific information that will be helpful to others during the recovery process. It also allows teams to access several different forms in one platform, saving time and lives in the most critical of moments. 

“We’ve designed it to be very intuitive to allow people to be agile and flexible in their data collection workflows without the need for advanced skill sets,” says Joe Larson, Fulcrum’s professional services engineer. Joe facilitated a part of the workshop and was pleased that the product could be used as an evaluation tool for those participating in the exercise. Collating and analyzing this information to be made available to course facilitators, as well as allowing participants to rate and comment on the training modules for a 360-feedback loop.

A Shiftpod shelter.

Technology also comes into play with the shelter provided to the participants. State-of-the-art tent shelters were provided by Shiftpod for the simex. Originally created for the harsh conditions for the famed Burning Man festival, Shiftpod uses advanced insulating, heat-reflective materials for a shelter that is both comfortable and quick to set up. Simex participants were provided Shiftpods that made the most of what would otherwise be a very uncomfortable setting for the 95-degree Fahrenheit heat of central California.

These tools, among many others, for installing, tracking, and maintaining connectivity in the field are NetHope’s arsenal of communication technology that keeps our members responding to emergencies connected, and often to the benefit of communities that are directly affected by the emergency as well.

While communication is key to aid, many tools are required to make that happen. We thank our partners, vendors, and other organizations that are a part of our DRT and help keep our connectivity teams up and running in our real-life emergency responses.

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