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Disaster Recovery: Nonprofit Org Provides Vital Communications and IT Tech to Devastated Communities

by Joe DeBari

OnSIP interviewed Chris Hillis, cofounder of the ITDRC, to learn how they provide critical communications services to crisis-stricken communities.

Published: November 12, 2018

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was, tragically, another destructive one for the United States. Hurricane Florence inundated North and South Carolina with record-setting flooding— approaching 3 feet in some locations there. And Hurricane Michael, the fourth-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S., shattered communities in the Florida Panhandle and Southern Georgia with 155 mph winds.

Thankfully, there are many organizations that stand ready to provide immediate aid when disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires strike. One of these organizations is the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC), and OnSIP is proud to contribute technical support and resources to this worthy company.

I recently spoke with Chris Hillis, the Co-founder of the ITDRC, to learn more about their mission and how they help people in need.

The ITDRC: "Connecting Communities in Crisis"

The Information Technology Disaster Resource Center is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency communications and technical equipment to communities affected by natural disasters. Founded in 2008, the nonprofit deploys its teams within 24 hours of an event, setting up critical communication services that have been taken down by the storm or weather. These services include Voice and Data infrastructure, VoIP, satellite communications, and WiFi networks. They also distribute hardware such as power cables, phones, satellite dishes, and tablets.

"The ITDRC harnesses the collective resources of the entire tech community," says Chris. "We bring together IT professionals and technology companies and figure out how we can give emergency tech solutions to these communities at no cost."

The Fort Worth, Texas-based ITDRC has upwards of 1,200 volunteers, a force made up of IT technicians and others with technical backgrounds. Many volunteers donate their time by traveling to crisis-stricken areas to coordinate and deploy the ITDRC's response efforts. Others offer their assistance remotely, providing guidance over the phone on how to use specific devices or optimize network configurations. Many companies, including OnSIP, Google, HP, Inc., Ruckus Wireless, and DISH Network, also donate their services and technology assets.

For more information about the ITDRC, check out their introduction video:

Setting Up Emergency Communications for Disaster-Stricken Communities

Deployed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, ITDRC teams are trusted partners to first responders and mass care teams, relief organizations (like the Red Cross), and the general public. "At first, we triage the situation to make sure that resources get to those first responders who urgently need them, but we provide tech assistance to all who are affected," notes Chris.

The nonprofit's teams stay deployed in afflicted areas for weeks after a crisis event; when their teams are demobilized, the ITDRC continues to provide support to local volunteers and long-term recovery centers through their Remote Response Team.

This past September, the ITDRC sent field deployment teams to 22 sites throughout North and South Carolina in response to Hurricane Florence's flooding rains. And when Hurricane Michael struck in October, teams were sent to another 49 sites across Florida and Georgia. Michael's severity meant that teams were scattered from the Gulf Coast to locations far inland in South Georgia.

Chris even explained how the ITDRC still has some active sites in Texas, the Florida Keys, and Puerto Rico, offering continued communications assistance to citizens that were afflicted by 2017's trio of catastrophic hurricanes: Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Providing Voice and Video Communications to the ITDRC

OnSIP is so pleased to be able to support this valuable and vital nonprofit in many ways. Larry Browne, OnSIP's Senior Director of Customer Success, is a current volunteer at the ITDRC. He supplies them with a variety of OnSIP-donated resources, including: free VoIP calling through OnSIP, a cache of several hundred Polycom IP phones, and even phone numbers when they need them.

Chris noted how ITDRC teams used OnSIP's cloud phone system to re-establish phone communications for a beach town in North Carolina in the aftermath of Florence. They also set up call centers, again using OnSIP's voice services, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Marshall County, Iowa, after those locations were struck by tornadoes in June and July of 2018.

What You Can Do to Help

There are many things that you can do to get involved with the ITDRC:

  1. If you have a background in IT tech or technology in general, consider becoming a volunteer at the ITDRC. Whether you can travel to afflicted areas as part of an ITDRC field deployment team or provide remote support and assistance, you'll play a key role in relief efforts.
  2. You can also make a monetary donation to the ITDRC through their secure portal or by sending a check in the mail. Your support enables the ITDRC to keep sending resources to where they're needed the most.
  3. If you or your company has unused technology equipment that's still in working order, consider donating those items to the ITDRC. They are specifically interested in enterprise grade switching, routing, and WiFi equipment, as well as notebooks, workstations, and monitors manufactured in the last 5-7 years.

When emergencies and other natural disasters strike, organizations like the ITDRC are essential to the survival and recovery of those who have been hardest hit. Consider supporting this noble nonprofit in any way that you can— you'll be making a difference in the lives of those who've lost their homes, possessions, and even family members or friends.