Communication efforts were also No. 1 priority on a specially designed, all-in-one vehicle that was built to be transported quickly, anywhere in the world. An NACS mobile communication truck was sent down to Haiti on behalf of the Office of Special Envoy not only to help the Haitian government get back up and running, but to train new people to be ready for response and recoveries, as the DPC agency (Haiti’s equivalent of FEMA) lost a number of its employees in the devastation.
Brian Dekle, CEO and president of NACS, says James Lee Witt & Associates purchased the vehicle and offered it for use in Haiti through the Clinton Foundation. “In terms of emergency capability and emergency communications [in Haiti], there’s none,” says Dekle. “The UN is using some HF (high frequency), which we put on the truck for them, and we have VHF (very high frequency) to deal with the military at the port.” Dekle says they’ve also got FAA capability on board, and a ham radio to talk with organizations around the island. Still, he says, it’s extremely primitive. “For example, fire trucks. They’ve got some at the airport, but they don’t have fire stations around the country at all. None of that exists. [These are] things we take for granted; they have none of that capability.”
The NACS truck is also equipped with training materials, and an abundance of telephone lines and VoIP lines through a stand-alone satellite system. A server computer offers full GIS mapping. The truck currently stands post at the UN compound in Port-au-Prince. It provides James Lee Witt & Associates, the UN and the Haitian government with large amounts of bandwidth and telephone lines. It feeds high-speed Internet and phone lines, and video teleconferencing to sections of the UN compound.
While Dekle’s company built the vehicle, he himself was a volunteer in Haiti, and continues to travel back and forth from the states. When his mobile command vehicle got delayed a few days, he assisted non-governmental organizations in distributing food and supplies, and flew alongside pilots on aircraft missions to outlying areas of the country. Says Dekle of his experience, “It was so sad; I didn’t even take pictures at street level because there really wasn’t anything I wanted to remember.”
Telephone lines and a government-controlled Wi-Fi network were the country’s only way of communication before the quake. These methods are now utilized between aid agencies.
According to Dekle, James Lee Witt & Associates plans to construct an island-wide communications infrastructure, a robust system for emergency communications. And the company is looking to do it as quickly as possible, hopefully before the upcoming hurricane season.
Forging strong connections
A number of organizations continue their tireless quest to right Haiti’s fractured 114 service and provide radios and supplies to the people who are best equipped to administer aid. One of the biggest challenges in this task is the international collaboration that must take place among several entities. But that’s a good challenge. Though he admitted coordination was frustrating at times, Munjal says such cooperation made the support he helped provide a lot more meaningful. His team helped organizations like Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, NetHope and Internews Network. By integrating some of its equipment with NetHope’s solution, Harris was able to expand their capabilities to include other orgs that wouldn’t have been able to access Internet, particularly Internews, a group which did radio broadcasts inside the displaced person camps.
Mirgon notes Haiti has come from absolutely no communication to a point where it now has basic fire and EMS communications, and very basic 114. But it’s going to be some time before it improves on that. At least it’s a step towards stabilization.
Sometimes we forget how powerful nature can be. Currently more than 1.2 million people are living in spontaneous settlements in Haiti. Restoration is ongoing. Though the damage was clearly large-scale, it affected people on all levels. It continues to affect communities, families and people. Munjal will not forget working with one man in particular: Edward, a Haitian hired by the CHF to help with translation, had lost his wife and his family in the earthquake. He joined up with CHF to work, and to take his mind off his loss.