Within a few days of Typhoon Yolanda’s collision with the Philippines, UNICEF organized a team to deploy RapidFTR (Family Tracing and Reunification system) as part of the Child Protection programme’s efforts to speed up the process of identifying children separated from their primary caregivers and reuniting them with their families. The team includes the Innovations in Emergency Lead from HQ in New York, Mac Glovinsky; RapidFTR Technical Project Coordinator based in the UNICEF Uganda office, Cary McCormick; and two employees of ThoughtWorks from New Delhi and Chennai, Sri “Batman” Prasanna and Subhas Dandapani. ThoughtWorks has been supporting the development of RapidFTR for the past three years, and offered two of their colleagues with RapidFTR experience to the UNICEF emergency response free-of-charge.
The team arrived two weeks ago and reports here on its progress.
Day 1: Mac arrives in Manila approximately 7 days after the call for international assistance from the Philippine government in response to super-typhoon Yolanda. Check in at the office and initial brief on conditions, plans and strategies.
Day 2: Cary and, Batman arrive from Uganda and India respectively. Cary brings with him 200 kilos of gear – 20 android phones, 4 routers, 10 netbooks, 2 solar suitcases, a mobi station and 3 solar panel arrays. We assemble at UNICEF and work through the plans for deployment, as well as the demanding logistics we are about to encounter to get the entire team, with all the gear, into Tacloban to begin deployment.
Day 3: Subhas (Subhas Dandapani) arrives, completing the team, and we arrange flights to Tacloban (which are sparse). Tickets to Cebu are purchased, with follow through to Tacloban.
Day 4: Fly to Cebu with our full suite of equipment. Meet Jess of UNICEF Logistics who gets us in contact with the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) coordinator. We schedule to leave on an UNHAS helicopter the following morning. Excitement builds. That night, we assemble and program all the phones and computers with the Philippine Family Tracing form, as endorsed by the national government. Phones are tested as well as computers, and everything works. We are good to go. Last hot shower for a while is had.
Day 5: Up early at the Mactan airbase in Cebu, to find that we’ve had our gear bumped down the priority chain of the UNHAS chopper to make space for some UN chiefs. After serious runaround and persistence, Cary, Subhas and Sri make it on the UNHAS helicopter to Tacloban. Mac stays behind with gear with plans to leave on the early flight the next morning. Team calls from Tacloban with initial assessment. The damage is severe.
Day 6: Up early again, and after more assistance and a promise from the UNHAS helicopter pilot Mac gets on the direct helicopter to Tacloban City airfield. Head to the office and witness damage. It is truly astounding. Our gear arrives on the next helicopter at the stadium field in town (which serves as the joint operations command center). We are now all on the ground in Tacloban, with our 200 kilos of cargo.
Transport gear back to hotel (which itself is substantially damaged and lacks power and water for the most part). Bring up mobi station and solar suitcases to roof of hotel to check if everything is in one piece. Unpack and test gear. It all works! Play some Black Sabbath and exchange high fives. Brief and strategize with our Yolanda Child Protection team leader, Pernille Ironside.
Innovations in Emergency Lead
Read more about RapidFTR: