Disaster Techies Train Up

Information technology (IT) is essential to modern disaster relief operations. And when the American Red Cross responds, Disaster Services Technology (DST) relief workers are called on to build computer networks often from the ground up. In a recent 3-day training held at the Red Cross in Minneapolis, 24 volunteers from across the Upper Midwest learned how to do just that.

DSC_0907DSTWorking in groups of two, the participants practiced using advanced IT equipment in the most efficient and expedient way possible to establish a computer network during disaster response. Each pair was taught how to set up a computer workstation, most often with one volunteer reading the provided directions, while the other carried out the procedure. “I’ve been deployed a couple times in Minnesota, never nationally. So I don’t often get to ‘play with toys’,” says volunteer Giampaolo Malin.

In a real disaster situation, volunteers like Malin arrive on scene, assess the situation and survey the post that would become a communications hub for reporting, recording, and sharing disaster response information. Then using methods learned about in trainings like this one they contact national Red Cross operations to get technology equipment needed in the field for providing relief to disaster survivors.

As an added training twist, the computers the volunteers used during the training were not Internet capable. Instead, before the training began several active satellite dishes were set up outside the building. The volunteers were trained how to use their computers to sync with those dishes thereby simulating a potential disaster environment where cable access to the Internet would be unavailable.

DSC_0919DSTThe training environment was supportive and helped build rapport between people who would likely work together in serious and intense situations. Here, every volunteer present helped each other learn unfamiliar technology, and of course, the instructors circulated the room offering assistance as needed. For Paul Davidson, the training was worthwhile.

“I come to these trainings because you never know who you’re going to run into out in the field. I also like to see and learn about the equipment we would be using.”

Story and photos by Hayes Kaufman/American Red Cross. To learn more about Red Cross disaster volunteer opportunities click here.

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