Less than 24 hours after the largest recorded typhoon in history slammed into the Visayas region of the Philippines, WFP had deployed FITTEST, its fast IT intervention team, to assess the damage and start providing IT and telecommunications services to the humanitarian community. They were acting on behalf of a global network called the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC).
“When we arrived at the airport, we were met with smells of sewage, rotting vegetation and rotting bodies,” says Neil Murphy-Dewar, FITTEST member and ETC Team Leader in Tacloban. “And then the total devastation around you.”
“The first part of the deployment in these situations is to get satellite communications up for the humanitarian community. Then we also implement a radio network to allow staff to communicate with each other on the ground in the disaster zone,” says Neil.
Partnerships strengthening response
The ETC is a global network of organisations that work together to provide common communications services in humanitarian emergencies. As global lead, WFP is leading ETC activities in the Philippines with responsibility for coordination, implementation and overall IT operation support.
“In Tacloban, the electricity infrastructure was totally destroyed, the mobile phone networks were brought down, the landline telephone networks and internet service providers all severely damaged,” says Neil. “In these kinds of situations it’s only the satellite and radio communications that we bring into the country that can provide the humanitarian community with the means to connect to the outside world.”
The ETC is now providing free internet connectivity to the humanitarian community in Cebu, Guiuan, Estancia, Roxas and Tacloban. This includes the ability to make phone calls over the internet. Six members of FITTEST are on the ground along with technicians from ETC partners Ericsson Response, emergency.lu and Irish Aid. Satellite equipment to provide these vital services has been contributed by BT, emergency.lu, Ericsson Response, Inveneo and WFP. The ETC is working in close cooperation with a number of partners including the Logistics Cluster, NetHope, the Government of the Philippines, Plan International and Save the Children.
“In terms of ICT, cooperation in this emergency has been fantastic,” says Gisli Olafsson, Emergency Response Director, NetHope. “We’re working as one team to provide services to the entire humanitarian community. Connectivity is all about enabling information-sharing; and information-sharing is key to effective coordination.”
Communications helps to save lives
In the coming weeks, the ETC plans to scale and optimise the rapidly deployed solutions to ensure more stable and reliable IT services for the humanitarian community.
“The devastation is great and damage to infrastructure is massive,” says Eric Kiruhura, seconded to WFP from World Vision International, and deployed to the Philippines as ETC Wingman and ETC NGO Coordinator. “As the ETC we support NGOs, the UN and the government to be more effective in work which will go a long way in negating suffering and saving lives.”