March 2014 Arapal Camp: communication, medical care & resilience.

On March 3rd a two-man team flew from Ireland via Manila to Cebu in the Philippines for a short 1 week deployment in Arapal Camp. Their mission was to assess the ongoing communications project and plan the implementation of further stages of this plan as well as carrying out a medical assessment in order to plan the forthcoming medical training program.

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Arapal Camp is located in a rural area South-West of Bogo city on the Northern end of the island of Cebu. The camp serves as a center for the wider community coordinating rebuilding efforts for damaged houses, providing food and other assistance but more importantly running lively-hood training programs teaching people currently living in poverty how to become self-supporting through organic farming programs, lively-hood training and more. Disaster Tech Lab is contributing to this by making the camp more resilient in the areas of communications and medical services.

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We already have delivered one of the largest satellite dishes that we have ever worked with (2.4 meters in diameter) to the camp and installed it. It’s a C-band dish & satellite router supplied by Businesscom. In addition to this we’ve installed an Aruba Networks 3200 mobility controller and 2 Aruba AP-135′s in the main building of the camp. The next step is to install an outdoor AP (possibly an Aruba AP175) on this building and Aruba Networks RAP-155′s in buildings on the two hilltops surrounding the camp. The latter will be backhauled through Globe’s 3G service. Test carried out showed that this 3G network could provide download speeds in excess of 5Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps+. Not blazingly fast but more than sufficient for what is needed. Due to the availability, low-cost and faster speed the 3G network will be used for day-to-day access while the satellite backhaul will be reserved for mission critical and resilient communications.

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The second part of our resilience program is targeted at training a local cadre of volunteers in First Aid and emergency medicine skills. Working with experience EMT instructors we will provide the required training, medicines and supplies to provide Camp Arapal with a first line medical capacity able to provide primary & pre-hospital care to local residents. The current situation is that if someone has an injury that is not life threatening they will forego medical care until the injury either heals or until a complication occurs that requires hospitalization. First line medical care is generally not available or too expensive. Through our resilience program we hope to bring change to that. In addition to the training our medical team runs daily clinics providing primary medical care for people in the wider area.

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If you like what you’ve just read and think you have the skills that we need? Why not volunteer?

No time to volunteer but still wan’t to support our work? Why not make a donation?

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SURVEY: Irish response to Storm Darwin.

storm darwin

Last month Ireland was hit by extremely bad weather causing widespread flooding and damage.

In an attempt to get an impression of the amount of damage/flooding and most of all how people became aware of the damage we have put together a survey. The data collected in this survey will be used to improve future response and information efforts during and after future Irish extreme weather events.

Click here to take survey

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WLAN Pros Summit.

Wireless Guru extraordinaire Keith Parsons offered us an opportunity to speak at the 1st  WLAN Pros Summit in Austin TX last month. Not only did we get the opportunity to talk about a work to an audience of top-class WiFi experts Keith also very generously donated a bunch of WiFi tools as well as a cash donation.

The summit was one of the best conferences of its kind and one we hope will be repeated next year!

Following is the video of our presentation. All other talks can be viewed here.

WLAN Pros Summit 2014 | Evert Bopp Disaster Tech Labs from Keith R. Parsons on Vimeo.

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Phase 2 Arapal Camp network: VSAT dish installation.

Just before Christmas last year Eric & Sean completed phase 1 of the Camp Arapal network. This consisted of the installation of an Aruba Networks controller, 2 wifi access points and a 3G router in one of the buildings at Arapal. Details on phase 1 can be read here. The 3G router was only a temporary means of backhaul (and insufficient at that, but the only option) while we shipped in VSAT equipment from Dubai. This equipment arrived in Manilla on December 26th but took over a month to clear through customs. Yes, even this type of equipment gets delayed by customs. But that’s a different story..

The equipment finally arrived at Arapal Camp on January 30th and shortly afterwards, on February 5th,our Dutch volunteer Hans Raymakers arrived in Arapal Camp to start the installation of the dish & terminal. As the images at the end of this update will illustrate this was quite a task. Arapal Camp is in a very remote, rural location and the physical task of installing the dish involved the cutting down of quite a substantial amount of foliage and the digging (with hand tools) of a 5 feet deep hole in the rocky hillside.  In addition to that Hans came down with some sort of flu/cold in the middle of this. However he struggled onwards and completed the whole project together with the help of local tradespeople. All that’s left now is some aiming & configuration work before we can proceed with phase 3 of the project which will see the extension of the WiFi network across Arapal Camp.

This project is different from our normal rapid response work. We originally went to Arapal Camp to assist in their short-term communication needs. However it quickly became obvious that Arapal Camp was a unique location serving as a disaster response hub but also as a community hub for the wider area providing basic necessities but also addressing longer term needs such as education and employment. Arapal also served as a hub for at least half a dozen relief and aid organisations. As the area was a communications black hole (with no outlook of improved services) the benefits of providing a permanent means of communications were obvious. While Mike Baumgartner from Disaster Assistance CoC donated funds for the purchase of the VSAT equipment we arranged transport from Dubai, installed the equipment (and the local WiFi network) and lastly secured the actual VSAT service. Once phase three is completed the majority of the buildings in the camp (including the school) will have wireless internet access inside and outside.

Hans comtemplating the best location for the dish

X marks the spot

Digging begins

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The dish mounting pole

Mounting bracket

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LNB mounted

This shows the actual size of the dish...

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Point-2-point link in Santa Fe; sharing internet in Bantayan,

During the last week of January a couple of newly arrived Disaster Tech Lab volunteers (Roberto & Frank) worked together with Sandy on building a long awaited Point-2-Point link in Santa Fe which would function to share the available internet access from the VSAT unit based at the Oxfam building with other NGO’s on the island.

In addition to this they also installed a 3G -> WiFi routers at the gymnasium, mayors office and at the shop where the BVERT volunteers congregate in during their breaks. Lastly they also installed a laptop for public use at the shop.

Ubiquity Nanostation; one end of the point-2-point link

Sandy showing of the nanostation.

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Frank running the cabling up to the equipment on the 2nd floor of the building

Sandy putting the finishing touches to the cabling.

Sandy & Frank posing in front of the VSAT dish

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Wireless Field Day: “WiFi in disaster response”.

Below is my presentation from the recent Wireless Field Day in San Jose.

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Sea Rescue

We just received a report from our team in Bantayan who were involved in a sea rescue today:

This morning while we were waiting to begin our training for BVERT volunteers we received an emergency call that the persons ferry heading to Santa Fe from San Remigio was having difficulties and was unable to dock due to high seas and heavy winds. Eric was onboard returning from Cebu with the wifi equipment and luckily he had brought a two way radio with him giving us immediate communiciations and updates from the ferry. A rescue plan was launched by the mayors office and Alanna deployed to the ambulance with Sandy as translator and Wayne joined the rescue boat (he is a licensed seaman with all ship and sea survival) to provide medical care with the SAMU medical team. On arrival to the vessel the rescue team boarded the vessel and worked to evacuate the 300+ passengers to local boats while the rescue boat transported mothers, babies and persons with disabilities.
During a very difficult operation (weather was very bad wind and rain), 1 of the boats carrying passengers we had evacuated capsized due to the high sea and wind. Thankfully the rescue boat was near by and full emergency response took place.
The people were recovered to the rescue boat and the ferry, unfortunatley one passenger, a 23 year old female from the boat that capsized, was very seriously injured as she sustained head, spinal and thoracic injuries due to been struck by the boat. We recovered the injured party and transported her on the rescue boat safely back to shore, were Alanna and the ambulance were awaiting to transport the patient to Bantanya local hospital.
Today saw the true & urgent need of coordinated emergency services on the island. Thankfully all souls recovered were alive, we send our thoughts and prayers to the injured passenger and her family. All together 300 passengers were recovered from the ferry and 3 transferred by ambulance. Our thanks to Eric for his communications and thanks to Sandy for all his translating and assistance with the patients we cared for.

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Loss of focus?

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We’ve received some comments since we started our Philippine deployment early December asking why we were providing medical services in the Philippines and what has happened to our work in the area of building WiFi networks to provide emergency communications?

It’s understandable for someone following our progress via Facebook or our Twitter feed to ask those questions. In the past 4 weeks we have indeed done a lot more medical work than communications and IT work in the Philippines. But this is by no means a change or loss of focus. Disaster Tech Lab’s primary mission is still the provision of Internet access and IP-based communication services in areas hit by disaster. Period. That will never change. Look what we did during our deployments in the last year, Rockaways, Oklahoma & Boulder. Those were classic Disaster Tech Lab deployments through & through.

The current Philippine deployment is different. While planning the deployment of a tech team to the Philippines we identified the need for a medical person on the team. Someone qualified and experienced to look after the team members primary medical needs. This specifically to avoid placing an additional burden on the already overloaded medical emergency services. We put a request for such a person out through our network and the response was overwhelming. We were contacted by a large number of very qualified medical volunteers. EMT’s , Paramedics, Combat medics and RN’s. The response was so huge that we decided that it would be a waste to turn most of these people away, especially considering the emerging need for people with those skills in the hardest hit areas in the Philippines. So the decision was made to attach a medical team to the mission capability. The medical team would provide primary care and carry out a medical assessment in the hardest hit areas. One look at our Facebook page will show you that this was a right decision to make. Our medical team has been hitting the ball out of the park from day 1.

The reasons why the medical mission has been much faster taking of are multiple. The main reason is that all that was needed to start providing medical care is a trained person with a medical bag which they can carry themselves. Transport them to the area of operations and they can start. Our tech team faces a lot bigger challenges. There are three basic components to being able to provide internet access in a disaster zone:

  • Trained personnel
  • Networking hardware to build the local network infrastructure
  • A means of backhaul (VSAT, 3G. 4G, LTE whatever)

We were hit by a number of (temporary) setbacks in all of those three areas. We have since overcome these setbacks. Firstly there was the question of transporting people & equipment to the Philippines. We have a longstanding cooperation with Airlink, an organisation which negotiates discounted or donated flight for NGO’s with the major airlines. In this case the global response to typhoon Haiyan was so huge that it “sucked up” the availability of humanitarian flights within days. This meant that we would have to pay standard rates for passenger and equipment transport. Something that a “cash-lean” organisation like ours is not geared towards doing. We have a large pool of qualified volunteers and equipment but limited financial means. We managed to raise some financial donations to purchase tickets and some volunteers were able to raise funds for their own tickets. Next was the challenge of getting equipment to the Philippines. Without going into too much detail this was a significant challenge we do now have equipment in the Philippines and are currently building a large point-to-multipoint network in Bantayan as well as shortly starting on phase 2 of the wifi network at Arapal Camp. The last challenge was securing VSAT equipment and service to backhaul our networks. Because of the media attention had focussed on Tacloban the majority of the cash-rich NGO’s were operating there and had used up all spare/donated VSAT capacity.  The shortage of VSAT services in the Philippines was becoming so urgent that even large NGO’s like the WFP came knocking on our door asking if we could assist them in securing VSAT services. Anyway, we decided that raising the necessary funds to purchase the service would be the best way to do so and we have since done this, ordered the equipment and it’s currently in the Philippines awaiting installation.

So have we lost focus? Not at all. We encountered challenges with our mission and while we working to overcome these, rather than sit on our hands, we helped solve an urgent need in a completely different area (medical services) that presented itself. Not only did we solve this but we did it in a very effective manner proving that our approach and methodologies are applicable in other areas too. The need for Internet access and communications is still current (ask any of the 8 NGO’s on Bantayan) and we are now solving that problem so expect more updates on our wifi/technical work in the next few weeks.

Disaster Tech Lab is still foremost an emergency communications provider.

We have learned a lot though, we’ve learned that taking part in large multi-agency responses is still as frustrating as it was back in 2010 and that big NGO’s still tend to suck up all the oxygen leaving smaller organisations in the lurch. We have however learned how to cope with these issues and have certainly become more efficient by our experiences in the last 2 months.

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Irish flooding crowdmap.

In the middle of our current Philippines deployment Ireland, where we’re based, is being hammered by some of the heaviest storms in decades. This is being accompanied by spring tides and has caused widespread flooding and damage, especially in coastal areas. We at Disaster Tech Lab went looking for an online resource containing locations and data of the flooding. Apparently these is none. While there are lots of individual tweets and Facebook updates there is no one resource where data is being collated. The “Irish National Flood Hazard” website hasn’t been updated since 1995.

Rather than sit and hope for someone else to build one we’ve used the online CrowdMap tool by Ushahidi to build one ourselves. It’s a true crowd-sourcing project as people can submit location, pictures and information on flooding.

All we need now is to get the word out. Please share the link widely: https://crowdmap.com/map/irelandfloodalerts/

Ireland flood crowdmap

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December 21st Philippines update: Bantayan.

The last 9 days have seen our work in Cebu has seen a lot of progress.  On December the 13th Sean arrived from Dublin together with a big bag of medical supplies. Sean’s primary task was to carry out a medical needs assessment in the areas that we were planning to operate in. Back in Ireland Sean is a Paramedic/firefighter with Dublin Fire Brigade. He also holds an M.Sc. in disaster management from DCU.

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Sean’s medical supplies.

The day after Sean’s arrival him and Eric traveled to Arapal Camp to start phase one of the wifi network installation. Eric had brought an Aruba Networks 3600 controller and a number of AP135 WiFi access points. These were installed in the main building to provide internet access. The network will be backhauled via a VSAT connection.

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Equipment pre installation

 

As any network engineer knows detailed network schematics are essential before an installation

As any network engineer knows detailed network schematics are essential before an installation

The house where the network was installed.

The house where the network was installed.

The installation for this stage was fairly straightforward from an IT perspective. The controller would be installed downstairs and the 2 AP’s would be placed inside the attic-space of the building. But this not being a typical “western” building there are risks of moisture and other aspects that could damage the access points. Enclosures were needed but not at hand. Our volunteers were quick enough to enlist the services of a local carpenter. A design was worked out on a piece of paper and the carpenter started fabricating custom-made AP enclosures on the spot!

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Building the base for the AP enclosure

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Sealing the joints to waterproof the enclosure

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The underside showing the ventilation openings

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The Aruba Networks AP135 inside the enclosure

While it looks quite basic there was a good bit of thought put into the design. The top and sides are waterproof with sealed joints.But the whole enclosure is raised on a set of short legs and has ventilation slots cut into the underside for both cooling and to prevent condensation. After the AP’s were put into the enclosures they were installed in the attic with cat-5 cabling running along the outside of the building down into the main room where the controller was placed. The whole lot was them wired up to the camp generator for power and tested. The wait is not on for the VSAT equipment which is en-route to Cebu. We tried using a 3G router as a temporary solution but there was simply no cellular coverage to support that.

Eric and one of the local crafts people

Eric and one of the local crafts people

Sean and one of the local people at Arapal Camp

Sean and one of the local people at Arapal Camp

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Santa Fe Ferry port

On December 16th Eric & Sean traveled to the island of Bantayan. This island had been badly damaged by typhoon Yolanda but because most of the media and large NGO attention had been focused on Tacloban and surrounding areas it had received very little assistance. Most of the relief work on Bantayan was being carried out by individual volunteers or smaller relief organisations. We had been alerted to the situation by people from Third Wave Volunteers, a volunteer disaster relief organisation who we had worked alongside on several occasions before.  The guys traveled by car from Cebu and tool the ferry from San Remigo to Santa Fe, the capital of the island. They were met there by Laura, a volunteer who we had first met during our Sandy response nearly a year ago. Laura had been on the island for a while already and had built up a good situational awareness. She was joining our team to assist in carrying out a thorough medical and comms needs assessments.

Sean, Laura, Nonoy & Eric (L2R)

Sean, Laura, Nonoy & Eric (L2R)

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The local ambulance

The next day was spent meeting the mayor of Santa Fe, local authorities and representatives from organisations such as BVERT, SAMU, Oxfam, Shelterbox, and more. It became clear very early on that almost none of these had acceptable levels of internet access or communications. Aid workers were forced to travel several miles to the few public locations with Internet access. A truly unworkable situation. What was even more worrying was the lack of proper medical facilities on the island. With over 100,000 people currently on the island only the basic medical facilities were available and emergency care, of standards that we westerners are used to didn’t exist. The urgency of this would prove itself shortly. The state of the level of healthcare is best illustrated by the below picture of a local ambulance:   The next day the team and specifically Sean got an opportunity to prove their value. A warning came in that two Oxfam volunteers had been involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Sean set out in the only available ambulance to triage the casualties and provide the necessary medical care. It became clear very quickly that the medical facilities on the island weren’t prepared to cope with the seriousness of the injuries. Not being one to sit still Sean coordinated with BVERT (Barangay Volunteer Emergency Response Teams) and SAMU (Spanish emergency response organisation) and decided to take an ambulance and together with a volunteer make the 3 hour journey, by ferry and road, to a hospital in Cebu Metro which would be able to provide adequate care for the patients. As you can imagine this was quite an epic journey with Sean constantly monitoring the patients and providing care when needed. The outcome was that both patients made it to the hospital in Cebu alive and are currently undergoing further treatment there. Sean skills, initiative and medical supplies made a lifesaving difference.

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Sean rushing to the ambulance carrying his grab bags.

While Sean was working on a medical needs assessment Eric was busy meeting with representatives of all the different relief organisations working on the island as well as with the mayor to build a picture of the communication needs. It became clear quite quickly that none of the organisations had anything close to acceptable communications. Relief workers were travelling long distances to a few public locations which offered wifi access but this was neither a practical nor efficient solution. We are currently coordinating the communications efforts for the various organisations. Repeated requests were submitted with the large NGO’s who are supposed to assist in the provision of VSAT services but as this has provided zero results we have ordered and paid for VSAT equipment ourselves. This equipment is due to arrive in the Philippines shortly.

While our work continues our costs do to. Please support our work by making a donation using the following link: http://www.gofundme.com/5fz3ts

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