Lawyer Bait

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What we can learn about disasters from the earthquake in Haiti

When I saw the news break last night, I was with a colleague and we were discussing the DR plans - or lack thereof - of Katrina, and wondering if there were any lessons learned that would apply to Haiti in the areas of IT and communications.

We tried to put ourselves on the ground and thought - what is most important immediately after a disaster happens and we determined that communication - Telephone and Internet were vital, but also very vulnerable in a natural disaster.

So after the earthquake happens, and it begins to be reported we envisioned that calls to emergency personnel couldn't go through, nor could calls from family members in the US and around the world for that matter. The cell towers would be laying in the ground, and the wireline systems severed to a large degree. Satellite phones would be the main form of communication - and in an impoverished nation in chaos - hard to come by.

So we began to discuss how communications could be deplyed quickly after a disater - be it hurricane, IED, earthquake, or act of terrorism and the conversation dovetailed into discussions we had been having with State and Federal Emergency Management organizations about this very thing. Let me share what has been discussed and shed some light on the communcations portion.

I will use Haiti as the example since it is releveant and unfolding now. The high level question was - how do we quickly set up a communications network to handle communcation with the outside world from inside a disater zone?

Our answer was that utilizing shipping containers to house satellite and wireless communication network gear made infinite sense. They can be stored and deployed from in any government locale - County, State, or Federal facility - so that you have a system that can be driven or flown to an area in a matter of minutes and operational in a few hours. It is a portable telco CO.

So in the case of Haiti, a fully operational communcations system - telephone and internet - would be housed in a container. Servers, switches, even satellite dishes to establish a connection via satellite to the world. There would be 4 of these systems/boxes deployed around the Island - in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. If a particular group/agency wanted their own unit they could choose to have their own as well, configured however they wanted it configured, but there needs to be a set that is for restoration of basic service for the disaster relief efforts. Even if one was at the Presidential Palace and was crushed or inaccesible, there are still 3 others that could be brought in quickly to establish a link with the rest of the world and stem the chaos and frustration following the event. The other thing we discussed was to have a backup of key systems on other tectonic plates and regions so that you can at least have access to a web site and a form of broadcast for status updates, etc. In this case hosting a site in Miami or Dallas or Rio would be ideal as well.

I will be attending several meetings of Emergency Management Personnel all over the US this year as it is important to bring pertinent solutions to a forum and raise awareness of what can be done proactively. We are so willing and able to throw money at a disaster after it happens when for 1/3 of the cost it could be addressed and more importantly give citizens and governments assurance that those responsible for response have actually done their jobs by thinking through what may happen before it happens, vs. after it happens.

I hope the politicians will read this entry because for 1/10 of what the spend to get re-elected they could virtually guarantee reelection by being proactive about deploying solutions that help their constituents when they need it most.

My thoughts and prayers are with the survivors, the familes, the emergency reponse personnel being deployed - there is much grief ahead and my heart is with you.

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