Technology comes to the rescue in Haiti

The quake cut off many forms of communication in the country

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Telecoms Sans Frontiers, an organization that provides communications for citizens and aid workers in areas of crisis around the world, said Wednesday it was deploying two emergency response teams to Haiti and would be offering free two-minute phone calls anywhere in the world so people in the country can talk with their loved ones. Most Haitians have relatives in the United States. This is the group's fifth deployment to Haiti since 2003, including missions following hurricanes Gustav and Hanna.

Haiti cellular provider Voila reported Friday that its network was up and carrying a high volume of local and international calls. It had been restored by midnight Thursday, according to Voila, which is owned by the U.S. company Trilogy International Partners. The company said its next step is to finish restoring wireless data service with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution).

Meanwhile, mobile-phone users in the U.S. donated more than $10 million to earthquake relief within 36 hours by texting "HAITI" to the short-code 90999 from their phones. By late Friday, more than 900,000 people had donated $10 per text message, according to mGive, which is operating the donation drive for the American Red Cross. Verizon Wireless and other service providers will fast-track the funds to the relief effort, and 100 percent of the money donated goes to relief, according to mGive. Aid organizations have also successfully solicited donations via social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The full text of Petry's message, posted Thursday morning, reads as follows:

"I was in Cap-Haitien sub office located in the north of the country giving the "GVLP Driver Training" when we felt the earthquake for about 15 seconds. Everybody rushed outside the old building.

Some minutes later, we learned that Port-au-Prince was badly hit by an earthquake. We tried to contact the WFP country office by FoodSat phone, mobile phone and landlines without any success. Finally we got in touch with the HF radio on Mhz.

The Port-au-Prince VSAT is out of order, the landlines and GSM phones are dead. Port-au-Prince (PaP) Country Office can not be reached anymore even by e-mail or LotusNotes as the FoodSat is probably damaged.

The following day I travelled from Cap-Haitien to PaP, but the WFP security officer denied me and my driver access to the capital. So we drove back to Gonaives sub-office.

Fortunately in Gonaives I found an unused iDirect BitSat. It was used for the Inter Agency cybercafe in 2008 during the "Ike cyclone" emergency. It was installed in the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission) base. With the help of local staff we took down the antenna and the router, loaded the equipment on an old M6 truck and got the security clearance for PaP. Now we are ready to go tomorrow morning to PaP with an MINUSTAH military escort."

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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