This axiom is too often overlooked when it comes to field communications, even though “comms” are essential to a rapid and effective response. How quickly the lessons of Hurricane Katrina fade into the past . . .
So here is a simple seven-question test for those in charge of comms equipment – radios, satellite phones, BGAN terminals - in your organization, and those who will use them (someday, and possibly soon):
1. Do you know where they are stored, and who has the key?
2. Can they be accessed on weekends and holidays?
3. Has someone tested the equipment in the last three months? (a full test, not just turning them on)
4. Does service have to be activated, and if so, do you know how to do it? Do you know where to find the sim card? Do you have a credit card to use for prepayment?
5. Has everyone been trained who might need to use the comms gear? Training = they can use it without any help, and have practiced in the last six months.
6. If key people are away, are you stuck?
7. Is your communications plan based on cell phones? Not a good plan. Remember what happened after Hurricane Katrina – power outages, phone facilities under water, and in places, several days without cell phones. And you probably won’t be able to get through in the early phase, since everyone will be calling someone else.
There are other things to consider, but you get the idea.
Last year, we heard from one of our field partners who had a Thuraya satellite phone, in a drawer, but had no idea that it wasn’t ready to use all the time, and required account activation. She learned this on the very day that armed conflict broke out in her community. Fortunately, she evacuated successfully and learned something about satphones. While most of our field partners are on top of these things, we do our best to advise (and sometimes scold) the busy people who are doing a tough job, in tough places.
Let us know if we can help – and please be prepared.
Also take a minute to read this message from the American Red Cross – thanks.
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