IT companies in Haiti rush to re-build

Satellite phones are most needed technology

Days after a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, collapsing buildings and killing more than 50,000 people, communications continues to be the main IT infrastructure concern, and companies are rushing to restore what can be salvaged from the rubble.

Crowd-sourcing sites, such as Ushahidi are helping to disseminate information about Haiti to companies around the world as well as international relief organizations.

Ory Okolloh, a South Africa-based Kenyan lawyer and co-founder of Ushahidi, said the site has received very little traffic from Haiti, which suggests that what little IT infrastructure there was has been "significantly" disrupted.

Most of "the mobile network still appears to be down, though [we're] getting reports that Blackberry is working. We've been struggling to get a local line or short code [numbers] that people can use," he wrote in an e-mail response to Computerworld. "Radio stations also appear to be down."

Okolloh said there are indications that some Haitians are able to communicate via satellite phone and to get online via satellite. Twitter and other social network sites were a lifeline for communications in the hours and days after the earthquake.

"So it's not a complete blackout," Okolloh said. "I've seen urgent requests for satellite phones to be donated for Haiti government officials."

The first plane to touch down at the Port-au-Prince Airport was a charter from Trilogy International Partners LLC, Haiti's second largest cellular phone service provider.

With little to no IT infrastructure, getting communications running as soon as possible is a top priority, said Ann Saxton, treasurer of Bellevue, Wash.-based Trilogy.

The IT industry as a whole is also working to send personnel to help repair what little IT infrastructure the country had as well as collect money for aid.

In most Third World countries, cellular phone networks are the primary means of electronic communications because of the expense of installing land lines, said William Hughes, director of consulting company Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Center of Excellence at SunGard Availability Services.

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