The humanitarian technology we use to connect after disasters
When a disaster knocks out communication with the outside world, Ericsson Response is there to reconnect humanitarian workers dealing with natural disasters and medical emergency relief efforts. That’s something easier said than done. Find out how the team provides connectivity in harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions.
Ericsson Response is a stand-by partner to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and a partner of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organizations led by the WFP that provides communications in disaster situations.
After a natural disaster, the ETC is on the scene within 48 hours. This includes our Ericsson Response volunteers. These situations often result in a complete blackout of communication. And the only way to connect to the outside world and have internet connectivity is through satellite systems.
The standard ETC solution consists of a satellite system and satellite capacity from Emergency.lu, a public – private partnership of the Government of Luxembourg and private companies in Luxembourg. Ericsson Response then provides the access network for that connectivity. We basically spread out that internet connectivity to different sites.
Most of our equipment is hand-carried and can be checked on a commercial airplane. It includes VSAT systems and the WiFi equipment containing links, access points and access controllers.
As soon as we arrive, we install a wireless “star“ point at the highest place possible, whether an airport or a hotel or hospital. The links are dependent on line-of-sight. If you can see another point, you can reach it via link. In a city, you have best line of sight from the tallest buildings, and in mountainous area, it's all about topography.
We can link different sites together over a distance of 10, 20 and even 30 kilometers, and provide connectivity to the entire operational area determined by the ETC.
Our solution was developed by our volunteers together with ETC and is based on open source technologies. The Access Controller manages access to the internet connection, and how much data can be used. We prioritize important traffic, and make sure that people with less urgent needs don’t slow others down.
Of course, every situation is unique. Since 2000, Ericsson volunteers have participated in more than 60 missions in 40 countries around the world. This includes natural disasters like Hurricane Maria on the islands of Dominica and Puerto Rico as well as Cyclone Idai in Mozambique.
But it also includes medical emergencies like the Ebola crisis in west Africa and protracted crises in places like South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The evolution of our humanitarian technology
When Ericsson Response started its work in 2000, hardly any organization was using IT in emergencies. It was very much driven by satellite phones, and hand-held radio communication.
For example, in Kabul in Afghanistan, we installed a system covering greater Kabul with GSM coverage. We sent two containers, and the network was configured like an external part of the local Swedish service provider’s network, only in Kabul. All external calls were routed through Sweden. It was the first mobile system ever in Afghanistan.
In 2012 and 2013, ETC used the first inflatable satellite dishes. This made it possible to provide high speed internet in a very short time. You didn't have to ship solid satellite dishes with a cargo plane. It could just be checked in on commercial flights.
These developments meant that, after an earthquake at 2015 in Nepal, our response time was significantly lower than previous missions. This trend has only continued. In 2019 the cyclones Kenneth and Idai hit Mozambique. We really saw the high degree of digitalization in humanitarian work – with people using devices across all their work, which has created new challenges when it comes to bandwidth and traffic management.
Applying the right technology in the right context
In recent missions we have expanded our scope to connect the local populations as well. This is also now part of the ETC mandate. This means that our technology and know-how will play an even bigger role in the future This can include partnerships with local service providers
We always strive to apply technology in the right context. Small things can have a huge impact if used correctly. We are proud of our technology, which can be counted on to perform in the toughest conditions.
Find out more about Ericsson Response.
Read our previous blog post about the importance of communication when disaster strikes.