q&a with Ernesto Baca
An EPIC story Recently declared the global leader for emergency telecoms, the World Food Programme (WFP), takes its responsibility seriously. CNME spoke to Ernesto Baca, CIO and director IT and management services division, WFP on the dynamic role IT plays in disaster relief and the future of technology in humanitarian agencies. Q: Tell us about WFP and its role in disaster relief. A: We are the largest humanitarian agency in the UN system dealing with food delivery. The UN devised clusters so as to avoid duplication of efforts and enable better coordination between various agencies in the field, of these clusters we manage the food security, logistics and emergency telecommunications clusters. We have about 4000 employees around the world, a massive logistics army and an extensive deployment of ICT resources around the Globe. Our resources and teams spread across 400 countries are ready to respond to emergencies to support beneficiaries in affected areas on behalf of WFP and other agencies.
Q: How does the role of IT in an emergency differ from that in a regular organisation?
A: Yes it is a unique situation. Firstly, we deal with extremely tough conditions where most often human lives face constant threat, we require special people with specialised equipment and solutions. Secondly, we are must assume that in an emergency even basic IT infrastructure has collapsed and so have to ship equipment along with people qualified to set up an IT infrastructure.
Q: What is your average reaction time to respond to an emergency? A: We try to be at the site of emergency immediately, not only because we want to, but also because we need to be the first on the ground to ensure effective management of the clusters we lead. After the earthquake in Haiti for instance, we were successful in setting up
Consisting of 22 engineers in addition to support staff, the members of this team are trained and equipped to be anywhere in the world within 48 hours of an emergency, after mobilising resources, manpower, arranging visas etc. FITTEST is critical to our role in relief efforts.
within 48 hours and in just over a week we were almost fully operational. However, we also have to go through international procedures to arrange visas for workers and import permits for the equipment that affects our reaction time especially in the case of countries that are restrictive.
Q: How do you go about building the IT infrastructure from the ground up? A: First, we provide our teams with basic telecommunications equipment like walkie- talkies, PDAs and radios (VHF or HF) and the radio room acts as the central coordination centre. We then locate electric grids and connect necessary cabling and switches to power all the equipment, we are then equipped to set up Wi-Fi and sometimes Wi-Max solutions to illuminate the event area. Finally, we connect all the equipment and set up a telephony network linked via a V-Sat connection. We make sure all the equipment is integrated and tested for functionality before it is shipped to ensure rapid deployment this site.
Q: How do you set up a Wi-Max or V-Sat connection in regions where the infrastructure is lacking or where like you said, it has collapsed? A: There are different waves of deployment. In the first, keeping in
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