12 April 2010
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Through a partnership with BT, the British Red Cross has been able to reduce international communication costs faced by teams responding to emergencies overseas by 75 per cent, ensuring that more money can go directly to helping vulnerable people in crisis. By providing the latest ICT hardware and software, and helping recovery teams to source and use the most cost-effective communications, BT has assisted the British Red Cross to be more efficient in overseas operations, most recently in Haiti.
Richard North, British Red Cross logistics emergency response unit (ERU) team leader in Haiti, said:
“The satellite phones funded by BT were critical to getting immediate aid supplies to survivors of the quake. I would not want to even guess how much longer it would have taken to coordinate the process of getting aid from relief planes to helping beneficiaries in the immediacy of the initial emergency operation in Haiti. Having the latest and most suitable technology meant the Red Cross could hit the ground running on arrival in Haiti.”
Effective and speedy communication is crucial, both in the very early stages of emergency response, and in subsequent recovery operations, to coordinate British Red Cross work. It is critical that members of the relief team are able to communicate effectively between each other and with third parties to ensure supplies and personnel reach devastated areas swiftly, to help those affected.
Over the last three years, BT has provided £300,000 of vital ICT support to the British Red Cross. This has included satellite phones, lap tops and Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment, as well as portable laptop internet access using Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), Skype mobile software and dual SIM card phones.
Richard Kearton, Head of Corporate Responsibility Programme Management, BT Group, said:
As a committed partner of the British Red Cross, BT is delighted that as a direct result of our assistance, Red Cross recovery teams have managed to cut international call charges by almost £10,000 - the amount needed to provide shelter for 355 families left homeless by the earthquake in Haiti.”
Case study: Haiti
The need for competent and effective communications in a British Red Cross emergency response operation was most recently evidenced in Haiti, when the earthquake that struck on 12 January 2010 wiped out the local mobile phone and internet network.
In the early stages of the operation in Haiti hand-held satellite phones funded by BT were essential, as the mobile network was affected by the earthquake and not functioning. Having satellite telephones meant Red Cross personnel positioned at the airport receiving relief flights of aid supplies were able to communicate with the main tented office set up in Port au Prince, passing on information on how much cargo had arrived and how many trucks were needed. Being able to share information quickly meant that the process of getting supplies, like tents and blankets, from relief planes to the thousands of beneficiaries was quick and well-organised.
In the main Port au Prince office, Red Cross teams used BT-funded laptops to access the internet via BGAN to download the latest information on affected areas and get updates from colleagues outside Haiti.
As access to the badly damaged airport in Haiti was often difficult, the British Red Cross had another team, and set up warehouses, in nearby Dominican Republic to also receive relief flights. Again satellite phones, BGANs and laptops provided by BT were used to receive shipping and customs documents, and were pre-loaded with tracking software in order to monitor relief supplies. Red Cross teams in the various offices, whether in Haiti, Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the world, were able to use Skype to contact each other and coordinate operations, further reducing costs.
Three months on from the earthquake, British Red Cross personnel and equipment are still in Haiti and are committed to being there for months and years to come as the country recovers.
With ongoing assistance from BT, the British Red Cross is looking to pilot more environmentally friendly technologies and test their effectiveness in emergency response and recovery operations. For example, solar powered mobile chargers could save the British Red Cross money, but equally do not deplete precious electricity sources and guarantees a constant power supply when one isn’t available.
Notes to editors
As part of its comprehensive global disaster relief programme, BT has been working with the British Red Cross since 2007. For more information, visit: www.bt.com/globaldisasterrelief
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.