More than two months have passed since Superstorm Sandy devastated communities and lives in the eastern United States and the Caribbean.
But Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, still shows up at 6 a.m. every day to lead dozens of volunteers who have come to the Rockaways in Queens, New York, to help families clean, repair, and rebuild their homes.
“We are still at a critical time,” Jim said by phone in late December. “Today, we are gutting a house with two little kids and a mother, and she still has mold.” He described one elderly resident who is putting hot water in soda bottles to stay warm.
Jim said his team has mucked, gutted, cleaned, or repaired more than 250 homes so far – an accomplishment that has depended as much on the ability to communicate as it has on supplies and volunteers.
Cisco supported the relief effort in the Rockaways by providing emergency voice and Internet access for Habitat for Humanity of Westchester at its temporary field office.
“Communications is everything during a disaster,” Jim said. “Having communications from Cisco was invaluable in creating a solid base for us to be a real resource without being fearful of not being able to communicate.”
Often times after a large storm or earthquake, fixed communication infrastructure fails. The Cisco Tactical Operations (TacOps) team provides emergency communications support to enable first responders, government agencies, and relief organizations to deliver critical services like food, water, medical care, and shelter to people displaced by natural disaster.
In the case of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, Jim needed Internet and phone access to recruit and organize volunteers, secure supplies, coordinate with other relief agencies, and communicate with his staff back in Westchester.
The TacOps team first became aware of Jim’s need from William DeKnatel, a Cisco employee and Habitat for Humanity advocate in the New York City area. Within three hours of receiving William’s email, the TacOps team activated to respond.
The Cisco TacOps team partnered with Hughes Network Systems to provide an Internet uplink. Hughes installed a satellite and Cisco provided free IP phones and an Emergency Communications Kit – a suitcase-sized cabinet containing Cisco technology that provides rapidly deployable, field-based voice and data communications.
Matt Altman, a Cisco TacOps engineer, said Habitat will use the Cisco Emergency Communications Kit as long as needed.
“When the time is right, we will help them make the transition to a landline that will be self-sustaining,” Matt said. “When the dust settles and they get a sense of how long they are going to be there, then we can work on a transition plan.”
“We are still using the system as we speak,” Jim said. “I am very grateful. Here we are 49 days later and your communication has helped us in a big way.”
After the TacOps team finished connecting Habitat’s makeshift office, they boarded their Network Emergency Response Vehicle (NERV) and assisted other agencies in New York and New Jersey that lacked connectivity. The team demobilized on November 16.
Get more details on how the Cisco TacOps team helped in Highlands, New Jersey.
Supporting Sandy Victims from Home
While the TacOps team was helping the relief effort in New York and New Jersey, Cisco employees around the United States and world were making their own contributions, literally, from home.
As of January 2, 2013, Cisco employees donated more than US$203,000 to 16 humanitarian organizations and food banks in the United States and Caribbean through the Hurricane Sandy Relief Campaign. The Cisco Foundation doubled the match for any organization providing food as part of the relief effort — tripling the impact of our employee’s contributions to more than $609,000.
“We knew from talking to our customers, partners, and fellow employees in the impacted areas that the situation was dire,” said Cisco Foundation Executive Director Peter Tavernise. “Many of us are frustrated and want to help when we see the devastation on television. The campaign gives our employees a way to contribute in a meaningful way to direct relief services via the Red Cross and a number of local and regional agencies.”
The TacOps team and disaster relief campaigns are just two components of Cisco’s effort to meet critical human needs.
Learn more about our societal investments in critical human needs at csr.cisco.com.