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Joseph Harrison (right) on a deployment in Lima, Peru (2019). TacOps and NetHope collaborated to connect a community center for Venezuelan migrants.

There are different approaches to helping out during a crisis. One form of aid is providing internet to those most in need of connectivity.

Cisco Tactical Operations (TacOps) helps relief agencies during a crisis, and they are still mobilizing – remotely – during this global pandemic. They set up highly secure communications on the ground during emergencies and render their services free of charge.

The TacOps team recently worked with a county in Northern California that set up a temporary homeless shelter. Representatives from the county reached out to the TacOps team in March to request their support for an effort to contain disease spread in the homeless population. Community buildings are being converted into ad hoc homeless shelters but require WiFi for telehealth calls. TacOps provides modems, access points, security appliances, expertise, and more to connect these shelters with voice and data. Providing this type of service ensures that people have access to the public health information and resources they need.

Four members of the TacOps team helped to facilitate conversations, determined the appropriate solution, and physically handed over the technical gear. One of those team members is Ops Coordinator Joseph Harrison. Before joining Cisco, Joseph spent the previous decade managing partnerships and programs for a humanitarian medical aid and emergency response nonprofit called Direct Relief. The focus was on providing free medicine and medical supplies to charitable healthcare providers in the developing world. During deployments in the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and many other countries impacted by natural disaster or civil unrest, communication was always a challenge. “A difficult situation only becomes more challenging when communications infrastructure is compromised. That realization led me to Cisco’s Tactical Operations team,” Joseph shared.

The county and TacOps work together to provide connectivity

We spoke to a county worker named Richard, who collaborated with Joseph and the TacOps team on this project. For the past two years, his primary focus has been to install WiFi in public parks to help those who are experiencing homelessness stay connected. Richard has 25 years of experience at large tech companies, including Cisco. “I spent a lot of days building and running IT stuff. I’ve been retired for a few years and decided to take a job with the county. When the pandemic hit, I was thinking of ways I could help,” Richard shared. They needed someone to help set up phones and internet for those experiencing homelessness, and Richard got involved.

This shelter provides a safe place and food and gives residents more reliable access to the internet. Residents can connect with their doctor or caseworker through the phones that TacOps set up. Access to essential services like healthcare provides a sense of normalcy in a world that has changed so much.

Richard shared his experience working with TacOps, and how it felt to help provide connectivity: “This is my first time working with TacOps, and the experience has been great. It is important to remember we live in a connected world, and people rely on other people. I feel like it is my responsibility to help those around me. For those who don’t have access to internet connectivity, it is a small way for us to give back and show them other people care.”

This partnership between TacOps and the county shows how technology can help to keep us connected, even in the most difficult of times. It also shows how people are coming together to help the most vulnerable members of our community. “With current travel restrictions we haven’t been doing installations ourselves. Instead we’ve been mobilizing equipment and providing remote monitoring and support,” said Joseph. “Even with no boots on the ground, use of cloud-based technologies like Meraki demonstrates our ability to support without deploying personnel.”

The Cisco TacOps team runs the Network Emergency Response Vehicle (NERV) – a mobile command center that provides connectivity.

Other ways that TacOps is helping

Food banks are also seeing a massive surge in people reliant on their services. They depend on connectivity to process applications and coordinate operations. Two such organizations, in California and Washington, secured the additional warehouse space required to double their capacity, but could not secure WiFi connectivity for several months due to internet service provider backlog. TacOps provided equipment to fill that gap to get these organizations back in operation immediately.

In North Carolina one county was hit by a ransomware attack, which impacted their ability to support a public health call center which is fielding health-related inquiries. TacOps emergency communications kits provide Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, making it possible for people to make phone calls through an internet connection until their commercial services can be restored.

TacOps kits are also deployed in other locations to provide critical connectivity for Alternate Care Sites (ACS) and field hospitals.

Learn more about TacOps and how they are committed to using technology to help others.