360°IT: deploying emergency communications

Martin Kristensson, IT and emergency co-ordinator at the UN gave a fascinating talk at the 360°IT event in London about setting up communications systems after an emergency.


“The challenge is that we often have no equipment as that’s gone with the emergency. People have lost everything. So we may have 10,000s of support workers who need a solution to get connected to people. The requirement from the beginning is communications,” he said.


In just a few hours Kristensson’s team are able to get a data centre up and running through satellite connectivity. “We use our own private networks that can work anywhere in the world,” he said.


Kristensson has worked in disaster operations in Haiti and most recently Pakistan, bringing in high speed data voice and internet connectivity using VSAT and local ISPs, and radio networks with 24/7 operations.


At the moment he is working on a project called EPIC (Emergency Preparedness Integration Centre). “This is attempting to bring connectivity to people working in the field and involves a portfolio devices such as analogue and digital radios, security compliant work stations, IP telephony service, regular phones fixed, cell and satellite.


“We have staff tracking within those devices. Telephones have a GPS built in as do radio and PDAs. Brought together in one system and display on map.”


Kristensson also looks to alternative power sources, such as solar power to run operations. “This is easy to install and offers an important source of energy,” he said.


After an emergency, a flood for example, after one to two months water drains away. So an operation lasts for a minimum of six months, leaving the equipment for someone else to take over. “It’s only the satellite equipment and some of the radio devices that are most cost-effective to recover,” he said.