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Keeping connected

Haiti, February 2, 2010

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I arrived in Haiti yesterday to help our field teams with their IT challenges so they can better deliver aid and recovery programs.

A small plane delivered me and five other aid workers, including two Mercy Corps colleagues, to Port-au-Prince. Our bags were stuffed into any empty space the plane had to offer: in compartments on the wings, in the nose and behind our seats. We landed on a field next to the airport where prime space was taken up by jumbo planes delivering supplies.

Once at the office, there were clear needs for computer support. Blackberries have become vital in our needs for communication while outside of the office. Cell phone coverage is spotty, yet messaging abilities on these devices have been extremely reliable. Without any means of communication, Mercy Corps programs would roll out slowly and security could become a greater concern.

NetHope (http://www.nethope.org) is providing Internet connectivity to Mercy Corps and partner organizations by setting up a high-speed internet connection through long-range WiFi connections to their VSATs (satellite Internet dishes). This requires that there are no obstructions between our office and their satellite. The site survey tomorrow will officially determine if this is possible at our two offices.

The power at the house blinks off and on every once in a while, resetting the connection we have through a local service provider. I was glad to learn that equipment isn't as challenging to find as I feared it would be. I was able to procure a small UPS system today to prevent our connection from going down and disconnecting us from very important calls with HQ.

The rest of my time here will be spent assessing long-term IT needs for the offices and identifying candidates for local IT support. I hope to make contact with other organizations to see what has worked best and learn from each other.