Refugee Crisis response update: November 4th 2015.

Kara Tepe WiFi Coverage

To say that a lot has happened since we kicked of this deployment would be an understatement. Following is our latest sitrep.

Remember: if you want to support our work you can make an online donation by clicking this link.

Lesbos is currently the main influx point for refugees coming from the Middle East and seeking asylum in Europe. The small island is only 8 kilometers from Turkey and has seen over 250,000 refugees arrive in the last few months.

The majority of refugees only stay on the island long enough to register and be issued with a temporary visa. This normally takes between 3-5 days after which they travel onwards to Athens and north into Europe. At any give moment there are between 5 and 9,0000 refugees on the small island. Most are housed either in the two, hastily erected, main camps or in the half-dozen or so smaller temporary camps. The relief effort is being run by a dozen or so large and small NGO’s but infrastructure and available services are utterly insufficient.

Comms/Tech Response:

Disaster Tech Lab deployed an advance team on September 17th to assess the various needs and to initiate a relief effort. The team was made up of a mix of IT/comms engineers an. These engineers set to work finding suitable locations to provide Internet access. After meeting with representatives from the UNHCR we were asked to provide WiFi internet access to both refugee camps, which were being built at that time. This would require building an infrastructure being able to handle thousand of users in a location with no infrastructure. We agreed to do this and designed the network from scratch. This included designing and sourcing lampposts to mount the equipment on, solar panels and batteries to power it (there was no mains power). A 50 Mbps vDSL service was ordered to be installed at Kara Tepe camp. As there was no option for a reliable backhaul service at Moria camp we had no other option but to design and build a point-to-point radio link over 15 kilometers (with a relay mounted on water tower halfway).

water tower

The local police department who runs the registration center at Moria was also in need of a reliable link to their HQ in Mytilini and has asked us to provide this. To achieve this we needed to build another point-to-point link via another mountaintop.

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In addition to these large projects there are also a number of smaller aid locations on the northern end of the island near to the locations where the refugees are arriving. Most of these have no communication services or even electricity. We are working to provide internet access as well as solar power and lights in these locations. Disaster Tech Lab has become the lead ICT NGO on the island providing services to the UNHCR, Mercy Corps, IRC, MSF and a whole range of other NGO’s working on Lesbos.

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Goal Zero batteries and lights being installed at Skala.

Out tech team has also deployed a number of satellite phones on the island which have been used at the landing points to allow refugees to contact their friends or family back home to let them know that they have arrived. It’s a simple but very much service that has proven to be extremely popular.

Coordination:

With the large number of informal & grassroots organization working on the island as well as all the individual volunteers there is an urgent lack of coordination. To call the relief effort “organized chaos” is an understatement. To address this problem Disaster Tech Lab is deploying a team of experienced Incident Command & Coordination specialists who will assist in improving situational awareness, cross-organizational communication, overall coordination and resource sharing. This will be achieved by providing an on- and off-line component. Our aim is not to tell organizations what to do but instead help them work better and more efficiently.

Photo by Doug Kuntz

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Mediterranean refugee crisis response.

Disaster Tech Lab has decided to respond to the growing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean by deploying a team to the Islands between Greece and Turkey. These islands are being flooded by refugees from Syria and Afghanistan with thousands arriving every day. The infrastructure of the island is not able to provide for such a large number of people and impromptu refugee camps are springing up all over the place.

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Our goal is to provide internet access and communication services to these camps as well as to other humanitarian aid organisation working on the island. The team will build public internet facilities which will serve as public information points as well as allowing the refugees to establish contact relatives and friends. In addition to this we will provide secure WiFi networks for other humanitarian aid workers to use.

We still have room for a number of volunteers so if you have the required skills (WiFi networking, Vsat, VoIP) then please submit an application online and we will respond with further details.

You can also support this deployment by making a donation online. Just click on this link.

The deployment will be together with a medical team from our sister organisation Disaster Medics who will be providing First Aid and pre-hospital care to the refugees.

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Images courtesy of The Daily Mail.
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Interview: Evert Bopp on technological disaster trends.

Disaster Tech Lab’s CEO was recently interviewed by CCTV-Americas

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Oklahoma 2015 deployment update.

 

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Our current deployment in Oklahoma is now entering its 2nd month. While the initial reason for the deployment were the storms and tornadoes of early May the subsequent widespread and severe flooding has increased the need for our assistance.

We’re assisting a local non-profit called “The Facilitators” which sprung out of a group whom we supported during our 2013 deployment following the Moore tornadoes. This group has established very strong connections with the rural communities in the region and is tirelessly working to coordinate and assist in the rescue work, clear-up and rebuilding. The vehicle that we have fitted out with communications equipment, internet access and laptops for them is travelling around the area visiting affected communities as well as families affected by the flooding. This mobile unit allows them to carry out damage reporting on the fly as well as assisting people by providing phone and internet access which can be used for tasks such as registering for aid with FEMA, contacting insurance companies and friends and family.

The experience of the Facilitators volunteers combined with the mobile communication unit is proving a great help in assisting the affected communities to repair the flood damage and get their lives back on track.

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Op White Khyah: WiFi for Nepal 2015

Image courtesy of CNN

Image courtesy of CNN

Disaster Tech Lab is deploying a team of IT/Networking engineers to Nepal later this month. During the initial relief effort following the April 25th and subsequent earthquakes it has become clear that reliable & resilient communications are an issue for many NGO’s operating  in Nepal. One of the large NGO’s which has been operating in Nepal for many years is “Operation Mobilisation”. Their compound just South of Kathmandu is being used as a hub by many other NGO’s and humanitarian organisations. This makes resilient, scalable communications even more essential.

The Disaster Tech Lab team will build a wireless Point-to-point link from the center of Kathmandu to the Operation Mobilisation compound. This P2P link will provide a reliable internet service to the compound. From there we will build a public and a private WiFi network covering the compound. The next step will be the installation of a VoIP service providing in- and out-bound calls. The resulting network will provide resilient internet access and communication services not only for Operation Mobilisation personnel but also for all the other NGO’s using the compound as their hub.

While in Nepal the team will also examine the options for providing reliable communications for the OM field teams and work to provide a suitable solution to this problem also.

The team will be composed of 7 volunteers from Europe, the US and Australia and will be using networking equipment generously donated by Cambium Networks as well as GPS SPOTgen3 trackers from Globalstar.

You can support this deployment by making a donation via our GoFundMe page.

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Oklahoma May 2015 deployment.

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Following the recent severe weather in Oklahoma recently (resulting in widespread flooding and damage) we have activated a small team to offer communications support to affected communities as well as responding organisations. One of the first organisations that got in touch with us was “The Facilitators” which is a group that come out of the people who we worked with at Steelman Estates following the 2013 Moore tornado.
We have worked with them to set up a mobile comms unit.

This unit is consists of an SUV (Ford Explorer) fitted out with two laptops (with headsets and webcams), a Cradlepoint 3G -> WiFi router, an Aruba Networks WiFi access point, a Mikrotik VoIP & SIP server and power inverters, cables, USB hib for phone charging etc.

The mobile unit will offer both public and secure WiFi access and both laptops are set up with Skype so that people can use it to make calls to other Skype users, landlines and cellphones.

The unit will be initially deployed to the Bridge Creek area but will move around visiting areas which have sustained flood, storm or tornado damage.

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Vanuatu deployment sitrep March 30.

  • Our first team member has been on the ground for 24 hours and has established contact with local partners as well as other responding organisations.
  • Meeting with CNS (local IT company in Port Vila), they are providing DTL with equipment storage, office space and additional volunteers.
  • Arrangements have been made for onwards travel to Tanna.
  • The first equipment shipment has arrived in Sydney and will be collected for onwards shipping to Port Vila, Vanuatu.
  • The 2nd equipment shipment is due in Sydney tomorrow.
  • Additional team members will arrive over the next two days.
  • Wireless signal survey in Port Vila initiated (see images below) data is being processed at the moment for use in digital mapping.

 

Port Vila survey 1

Port Vila survey 2

Port Vila survey 3

The meeting with Digicel (the countries largest cellphone provider) produced a good insight in the damage to the telecoms infrastructure, the recovery efforts and the most urgent needs.

All northern islands (less impacted) have been restored, quality is not always perfect but it’s workable
Remaining issues are for Erromango, Emae (Shepherd islands) and Tanna:

– Erromango (population around 3000):

  • Situation: No coverage, 60m tower went down during the cyclone, it is 50 kms from Efate (Port Vila island) and was normally relaying data to get to Tanna
  • Need: temporary satellite link with E1 capabilities

– Emae (population around 2500):

  • Situation: No coverage, tower went down during the cyclone
  • Need: temporary satellite link with E1 capabilities

– Tanna (population around 45000):

  • Situation: Partial coverage, operating on VSAT at the moment but solution is not stable, they had no network yesterday pretty much the whole day. 3 of 9 positions are up at the moment and they are working on the others. A VSAT team will go there this weekend to work on a new installation.
  • Need: backup E1 VSAT solution to cover any outage and make the new installation easier without downtime. Equipment required: 5 x satellite link with E1 capabilities, BUC with 60W power, 3G Huawei compatible sites, Wifi units

We are currently planning on how we can best support Digicel in meeting these needs.

Please support our work by making an online donation via our GoFundMe page.

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Welcome Home deployment; Columbia MO.

 

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Team Rubicon is like us an organisation which sprang from the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In the years since we have rubbed shoulders with them in disaster zones across the world and we have assisted in a number of their deployments. We have especially close ties with their Region 7 team with a number of our volunteers also working with Team Rubicon. They’re an absolutely fantastic organisation who not only help people affected by disasters but also does great work for the many veterans who volunteer with them.

When the Team Rubicon Region 7 people asked us to assist with a slightly different project we jumped at the opportunity. During the weekend of February 28 – March 1st they are working on “Welcome Home Project”. The Welcome Home project in Columbia, MO is converting an old motel into temporary and long-term housing for veterans. They’ve asked Team Rubicon Region 7 and friends to come in, demolish the interior the old structure, and get it ready for remodelling. More details via this link.

Other organisations involved in this project are: Veterans United, Team RWBStudent Veterans of America and the Marine Corps League. Food will apparently be provided by Operation BBQ Relief!

Disaster Tech Lab has been asked to provide internet access and VoIP services at the work location and the nearby VFW building were the volunteers will be staying during the project.

For this short deployment we are still looking for 2 more volunteers who are available to install our equipment in both locations on Friday evening, take it down on Sunday evening and can provide support, if needed, during the time in between. If you’re available and interested please email us on: contact@disastertechlab.org

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Launching down under.

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With offices in Ireland and the USA we are now taking the next step in our global expansion by establishing an Australian branch of Disaster Tech Lab. Our recent work in the Philippines has resulted in an influx of Australian volunteers and establishing a permanent presence there is the next logical step. Not only does Australia have it’s own fair share of disasters, a base there will serve as a springboard for deployments across South-East Asia decreasing our response time. (Note: this team is also open to volunteers from New Zealand and Tasmania).

We already have a core team of volunteers but are actively recruiting for more. If you have one or more of the following skills and are interesting in volunteering and gaining some invaluable experience than please complete the form below.

Wanted skills : 

  • WiFi engineer
  • VoIP engineer
  • Vsat/UMTS/Cellular engineer
  • Alternative energy (solar/wind) specialists
  • VHF/UHF/UVHF/HAM radio
  • Fundraiser
  • Marketing
  • Logistic manager
Fields marked with an * are required
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December 2014 Philippines deployment, technical report.

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With the end of the December Philippines deployment now just over a month behind us we have completed the technical report for this deployment. Following is a short summary;

Mission statement:

  • To provide internet access to the main buildings & locations in Camp Arapal.
  • To establish an internal (and external) VoIP service.
  • To provide basic technical training in maintaining the network.
  • To provide multiple redundant backhaul links.

Site description:

Camp Arapal is located in a rural area South-West of Bogo city on the island of Cebu. There are no terrestrial communication services. Electricity supply is via an intermittent utility network and a backup diesel generator on-site. Geographically it’s located in an area typified by rolling hills of volcanic rock. Camp Arapal has a resident population but also serves as a hub for the wider region as it houses a school, runs lively-hood programs and a very busy church.

Project description:

During an earlier deployment in early 2014 we had already installed a C-band satellite dish on a hill beside the main building. Additionally an Aruba Networks 3600 controller and two Aruba AP135 WiFi access points had been installed inside the main building. However due to technical issued and the building work going on but the satellite service as well as the AP’s had stopped functioning. Part of the task-list for this mission included getting the Aruba AP’s and controller working again as well as establishing additional backhauls as the satellite service was too costly to use on a continuing basis and would be configured to serve as a back-up service for when the other methods of backhaul stopped functioning (for instance because of a typhoon).

sat view arapal

 

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The above satellite imagery shows the lay-out of Camp Arapal with the different areas which needed to be connected marked. To give a more 3-dimensional view the second image shows the view from location 1 looking towards location 6/7.

Signal tests had proven that both location 1/2 (dubbed My Left Foot Hill/MLF) and location 7 (Shepherds Hill) had 3G coverage coming from a Globe telecoms mast about 13.5 kilometres to the North-West. Therefore 3G gateway devices were installed in both locations (1 & 7) to serve as backhaul links. In total there were 6 locations that required to be connected . These were spread across the camp. The below network diagram shows the layout of the network of the equipment used. As there were multiple routers in the network as well as multiple internet gateways we used VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol) to manage the network dynamics. Follow the link for more details on how this works. Auto failover is configured in case a router or port failure (power outage, device failure, or device being unplugged).

network diagram

 

During this project we used Cambium ePMP (integrated) devices to build the Point-2-Multipoint links. This was our first deployment using these devices and they have proven themselves to be easy to install, easy to configure and very reliable. We used the model with the integrated antenna which simplified the installation. As VRRP routers we used Mikrotik RB750UP’s a very low-cost but reliable router which also gave no problems at all. Globe Telecom had supplied us with a couple of their Globe Tattoo USB 3G sticks. These  gave some issues, mainly because they are consumer devices and not designed to be used in the type of network we were building but some fiddling, configuration changes and testing got everything to work in the long run. The Aruba 3600 controller and 2 AP135’s in the main building were reconfigured and are now providing WiFi access in and around the building. We had shipped a number of Aruba Networks AP’s antennas, POE’s and other equipment from the US to be used in the network but as this shipment was still stuck in customs we were forced to source certain equipment locally. Hence the other buildings were all equipped with TP-Link TL-WR700N WiFi routers to provide WiFi internet access.

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To handle the VoIP services we installed a Grandstream UCM6102 in the main building and Cisco 7940 desk-phones in each building. In one building we installed a Cambium C3VoIP-150 ATA device with a standard phone.

While the installation and configuration was ongoing our techs also ran classes for local volunteers teaching them networking basics ranging from IP addressing and routing to how to crimp Cat5 cabling and how to install the various devices. Beside the obvious benefit that it enables the local people to carry out basic maintenance on the network thereby guaranteeing its continuity it is also a means of introducing new, valuable skills into the community. Skills that might make people more employable and able to secure or improve a source of income.

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An additional, and not insignificant, part of this deployment is that we had a radio tower built-in MLF-Hill. This tower will serve a number of purposes; it improves the LOS from this high point in the camp to all other areas but it  will also serve as a location for equipment that will be used for longer distance Point-2-Point links to other communities in the area or to a (better) source of back-haul connectivity. Since the tower has been erected the organisation managing Camp Arapal have also suggested using it to install FM radio equipment so it can be used for a local community radio station.

As one can see from the long list of equipment used network deployments in this line of work are significantly different from those in the “first world”. In addition to the usual challenges of the physical environment, unreliable power supply etc. we also have to deal with logistical issues of getting equipment to the location. Sometimes equipment doesn’t show up, or doesn’t show up on time requiring a high level of improvisation and adaptability. Our networks might not always win beauty competitions but it achieves what is needed; getting much-needed connectivity to those areas and people who are in dire need of it. To quote a recent report published by Deloitte on behalf of Internet.org:

Internet connectivity has already changed many aspects of the lives of individuals in developed economies and provided far-reaching economic and social benefits. Extending these opportunities is critical to accelerating economic and social growth in developing economies, while enabling the transition from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy.

If, after reading the above, you feel like joining Disaster Tech Lab as a volunteer you can do so by following this link.

As a non-profit we are depending on private and corporate donations to enable us to continue doing our work. Generous and much appreciated donors can find our how to donate here.

We would also like to thank our sponsors: Cambium Networks, Aruba Networks, Grandstream as well as our two tech-volunteers Martin & Tom.

To finish of here are some more pictures from the deployment:

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The new radio tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree mounted Cambium ePMP device.

Tree mounted Cambium ePMP device.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin doing link-testing.

Martin doing link-testing.

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