An Aid Worker's First-Hand Account of Haiti's Enormous Technical Challenges

Pierre Petry is a World Food Program senior ICT specialist. He's currently positioned in Haiti, and has passed along his first-hand experiences trying to help a country with virtually no telecom infrastructure left in the aftermath of the recent earthquake.

I was in Cap-Haitien sub office located in the north of the country giving the "GVLP Driver Training" when we felt the earthquake for about 15 seconds. Everybody rushed outside the old building.

Some minutes later, we learned that Port-au-Prince was badly hit by an earthquake. We tried to contact the WFP country office by FoodSat phone, mobile phone and landlines without any success. Finally we got in touch with the HF radio on 3.xxx Mhz.

The Port-au-Prince VSAT is out of order, the landlines and GSM phones are dead. Port-au-Prince (PaP) Country Office can not be reached anymore even by e-mail or LotusNotes as the FoodSat is probably damaged.

The following day I travelled from Cap-Haitien to PaP, but the WFP security officer denied me and my driver access to the capital. So we drove back to Gonaives sub-office.

Fortunately in Gonaives I found an unused iDirect BitSat. It was used for the Inter Agency cybercafe in 2008 during the "Ike cyclone" emergency. It was installed in the MINUSTAH base. With the help of local staff we took down the antenna and the router, loaded the equipment on an old M6 truck and got the security clearance for PaP. Now we are ready to go tomorrow morning to PaP with an MINUSTAH military escort.

—Provided by the United Nations Foundation

You can help out those affected by the Haiti earthquake at Unicef here