January 12, 2010, 4:53 pm local time
All hell broke lose in Haiti when an unprecedented earthquake of a catastrophic magnitude of 7 struck the island.
Tens of thousands of Haitians died within minutes, with thousands more left wounded and bleeding under the rubble of collapsed buildings. The capital Port-au-Prince was in mayhem, government facilities destroyed, infrastructures shattered, army and police overwhelmed and - of course - all telecommunications were down.
Pictures of former President Préval, erring in the streets of Port-au-Prince, unable to use his cellphone - or any other phone for that matter - to call for international help, are still vivid in the memories of many people.
The news of the earthquake reached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over night, and as of the next morning the Luxembourg emergency response team met to define the form and scope of Luxembourg's assistance to Haiti.
Within two hours it was agreed to deploy two Search&Rescue teams from the Red Cross and the Civil Protection.
Four hours later they were on their way and arrived among the first international responders in Haiti. They were eager to put their six sniffing dogs to task and start to save lives. For they knew fully well that you have only 72 useful hours after such a disaster to save the lives of the women, men and children that are trapped under the debris.
Unfortunately the teams failed to do so. Imagine their frustration when the lack of aid coordination at the airport prevented them from spreading out and help. Up to twelve precious hours were lost because coordination did simply not happen.
Why?- Well, all telecommunications were down. No network, no connectivity, no coordination… no effective aid.
5 days later, back in Luxembourg
After the debriefing session of the Search&Rescue teams, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided not to leave it at that. In order to save more lives, a better response capacity to restore telecommunication services within hours is needed, not within days, after a disaster occurred.
And because it is a matter of life and death, because no one had come up with an satisfying solution so far, it was decided to design, develop and deploy emergency.lu.
Our vision and the way to implement
emergency.lu is a public private partnership that comes in the form of a satellite based telecommunication platform, airborne two hours after an alert. Once delivered to the disaster zone, it takes less than an hour to hook up a telecom terminal to its inflatable antenna, to point the antenna to a satellite in geostationary orbit, 36.000 km above. The up- and down link provide high speed internet connectivity, for voice, data and image transmission. Wireless local networks allow aid workers on the spot to register their laptops, tablets and cellphones and use the satellite capacity at no cost. – How come?
Well, because the Luxembourg government has decided to put its money where its mouth is. Full public funding allows us to offer emergency.lu as a free global public good to the international community. All of this would of course not happen without the commitment and the professional skills of three Luxembourg based companies - HITEC Luxembourg, SES and Luxembourg Air Ambulance - nor without the practical insight and expertise of WFP and the technical partners Ericsson and Skype.
(Extract of TEDx presentation by Marc Bichler)