q&a with Ernesto Baca
A: Several organisations together constitute the UN and you may find at least 17-18 different agencies working on the same emergency site, with their own resources, IT solutions and equipment leading to a duplication of efforts. We then set up another initiative called ONE UN IT, which aimed at combining resources from different agencies, integrating them on a single platform and maximising efforts. The genesis of EPIC was when we saw civilians in Haiti amputate a 9 year old boy’s arm because rescue workers could not locate doctors for a specialised surgery to recover the boy’s arm. They later discovered that less than 300 meters away there were a group of doctors with all the necessary equipment. EPIC is based on the ONE UN IT initiative but aims at enabling better communication between workers on the ground and the support staff who are away from the site. We use Wi-Max to illuminate the area, establish a small data centre with all the servers and maintain international connectivity via fibre optics and coordinate the efforts of all the agencies on the ground. This creates economies of scale and makes us more efficient at supporting the infrastructure. It is a win -win situation because we develop specialised solutions in conjunction with vendors to suit diverse regional terrains and also helps smaller agencies with limited resources.
Q: When and where were the pilot studies undertaken? A: Started 3 years ago; EPIC was piloted in occupied Palestinian territories and Dubai. A third pilot is to take place in
IT on the move WFP’s fly away kit is a set of equipment, pre-installed and ready to be shipped to the emergency site so that when it is powered and connected to a few more cables, it may be used to provide faster internet access for humanitarian workers, they can then access emails and databases. The kit contains a satellite modem, a switch, IP PBX because all voice communications are based on voice IP s and other emergency telecom equipment like VHF radios. Right now 95% of WFPs emergency telecom technology is based on analog technology; they are slowly adopting more digital VHF technology which makes it possible to access radios from the telephony network. The new technology also allows users to send messages in email formats to radios and also enables push to talk from the PDAs, making communication between radios and PDAs a reality. As long as there is coverage the GPS technology
Pakistan later this year. On Dec 15 2010, WFP was nominated a global cluster leader for emergency telecom, so we are going to use that responsibility to manage and align all the other agencies towards adopting a common set of solutions.
It is a win -win situation because we develop specialised solutions in conjunction with vendors to suit diverse regional terrains and also helps smaller agencies with limited resources.
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provides geo location of users and enables better communication via SMS or a call. The team is also working on putting all this technology with location maps in a sort of portal to further aid the workers. The map, inserted as a frame on the portal allows users to see collaboration tools, share files and access online real-time chat , where users may create real-time events , for instance, specify the location of a road block, plug it on the map and ask people to re route. This portal will be made available to WFP members, their partners, other NGOs and agencies that have donated to create this integrated system, which means they can see their own people in addition to the working members of other agencies in real time. Currently the team is in the phase of gathering components and other resources. The very basic scheme and portal is expected to be ready in the near future.
Q: What’s next, in terms of R&D and IT, at WFP? A: We want to Build IT solutions for the front line; and move from basic telecom solutions to vertical integrated solutions that can be adopted by everybody, this is a never ending road that we are only starting now and the imagination is the limit of what can be done. We have already achieved a unified communications platform at headquarters and are working on rolling this out across all our sites internationally so that we may have chat, have a video conference or share docs thru a central safe repository. This is the main drive for IT inside WFP.
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