(Courtesy Harris Corp.)
Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications' Sean Munjal and Sean Fitzpatrick setting up the communications system. Setting up the communications system in Haiti.
Harris personnel configure radios for use during the relief efforts.
Harris personnel configure radios for use during the relief efforts. Harris personnel configure radios for use during the relief efforts.
Harris personnel set up a station to distribute radios to relief workers.
Harris personnel set up a station to distribute radios to relief workers. Harris personnel set up a station to distribute radios to relief workers.
FEATURED IN PUBLIC SAFETY COMMUNICATIONS
Following the massive earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, in Haiti, Harris Corp. sent communications equipment and professionals to the Caribbean island to restore critical communications for the relief effort. The first team arrived two weeks after the 7.0 earthquake decimated Haiti. Along with 20 tons of communications equipment and medical supplies, the eight engineers traveled from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic on a military transport, then by cargo plane into Haiti.
Sean Munjal, a systems engineer with International Programs for Harris, was a member of that first team. He, along with a team comprising Harris engineers from the Broadcast Communications Division and Government Communications Systems, hit the ground running.
"Straight away we were able to start helping," he says. The Toussaint Louverture International Airport's control tower had been destroyed in the quake and a make-shift tower had been established in a trailer just off the runway. Munjal and his teammates spent their first 24 hours in Haiti replacing a KU-band satellite dish at the airport with a C-band dish to provide wireless Internet communications and phone service to the operations on the ground.
Harris is an international communications and information technology company serving government and commercial markets in more than 150 countries. Headquartered in Melbourne, Fla., the company has approximately $5 billion of annual revenue and more than 15,000 employees, including nearly 7,000 engineers and scientists.
Equipment provided by Harris Corp. for the relief efforts included:
- Satellite communications terminals with satellite transmission time donated.
- Several hundred first responder handheld radios and base stations to greatly expand the ability of relief agencies and public safety agencies to communicate.
- Advanced military radios through U.S. military and federal agency customers to provide immediate short and long-range voice and data communications to rescue and relief missions.
- In one example, a special unit of U.S. Air Force personnel provided air traffic control at Haiti's international airport using Harris handheld radios.
- For reconnaissance purposes, several military handheld radios that receive video from remotely piloted aircraft.
- FM broadcasting system from microphone to antenna that can be used to communicate with the Haitian population
- WiMAX hubs that can provide relief agencies with wireless connectivity to Internet based applications.
After inhaling dirt for 24 hours ("It looked like a giant dust ball at the airport," Munjal says), the team headed for Port-au-Prince. Even the chaos of the airport couldn't prepare them for the mind-numbing devastation and desperation they would witness in the capital city. "There's no direction you can look where you don't see utter destruction," he says.
Before the quake hit, an estimated 2.5 to 3.0 million people lived in the bustling harbor city. Actual counts are difficult to determine due to an ever-growing slum area. In addition to thousands of private residences, the quake destroyed most of the historic area, the majority of governmental buildings and at least one hospital. In the end, it’s believed that approximately 230,000 people lost their life during the 30 second quake and more than 1.5 million were left homeless.
For the Harris team, the first order of business was to establish a communications system for rescue and relief missions. With the experience they gained from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they knew that the handheld radios and satellite systems would help the non-governmental organizations assisting in the emergency efforts make decisions better and more quickly. But first, they had to find a safe place to store the tons of precious communications equipment.
After arriving at the storage facility, Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF) International workers made arrangements to hire five to six locals to assist in unloading the equipment. However, their efforts to select a few workers from among the many men desperate for work nearly caused a brawl. It was the team's first look at the horrible toll the earthquake was taking on the survivors.
The next stop was St. Francis de Sales Hospital to drop off medical supplies and establish communications systems. The huge medical facility had been leveled by the quake. "The smell was almost intolerable from the [dead] bodies [still trapped in the ruins]," Munjal says.
The team established a satellite system and a computer kiosk for the doctors. "They got used immediately," he says. The doctors were practically chasing them off the computers as soon as they were up and running. The computers provided a vital link between the supplies at the airport and the patients who needed them.
An EDACS Xtreme LMR (land mobile radio) System was set up at the CHF International compound where the team slept. It was used to connect hundreds of mobile and portable radios, but running it at the level of power consumption required quickly overwhelmed the system. It was critical to increase the system's capacity to accommodate the volume of relief workers that were still arriving. "We ended up rebuilding the power system," Munjal says.
Describing the Harris team as "MacGyver-types," Munjal says the engineers used what equipment they could find. In some cases, vendors had generously sent equipment to the island, but without technical experts to assemble it, it was not being used. Other equipment had arrived without programming kits to get it up and running.
Every night, the team returned to their tents at CHF International headquarters to eat a meager meal of rice and beans, take a shower of cold running water and prepare for the next day. By the time they left, the team had established five satellite communications systems.
Munjal says the hardship was worth it. "I will take that with me for the rest of my life," he says. "We were all privileged to help."
Munjal and the team received a nice note from the doctors at St. Francis de Sales Hospital saying that "the number of lives affected by the support we provided was incalculable."
"It made all the cold showers and beans worth it," he says.
When the message went out that Harris was looking for volunteers to deploy to Haiti for two-week stints, Mike Frazier knew what he had to do. As a senior system engineer, he is uniquely qualified to help implement ground communications for the various governmental agencies operating in the capital city. Frazier has worked with the international engineering group since 1996, so he had experience working in foreign counties. However, this was his first emergency deployment and things were a bit different. "Before, I would stay at a hotel, get picked up by a cab and go to work just like your normal job," he says. "This was completely different. I had no idea what was waiting on the ground."
Team 2's mission was to set up two additional satellite communications systems and the local area network (LAN) for mobile radios. The LAN couldn't get maximum range at CHF headquarters due to a rather significant ridge that runs through Port-au-Prince. So Team 2 decided to move the LAN to the top of a nearby mountain.
Aside from the damaged streets, crowds of people and animals made travel slow and somewhat dangerous. "We had to be very aware of our environment," Frazier says.
Moving the equipment to the top of the mountain was exhausting. "It was quite a physical undertaking," he says. Fortunately, one of the team members had been in the Marine Corps and another was former U.S. Army Airborne .
For their safety, the team had to be back to the CHF base station before dark. They worked furiously for two days. By the evening of the second day, Frazier and Team 2 succeeded in moving the EDACS Xtreme to the top of a nearby mountain, doubling radio coverage into downtown Port-au-Prince.
The next job was to set up satellite communications number six at the hospital. A third team set up the seventh, and final, satellite system.
While Frazier was there, signs of progress were visible, including the reopening of the airport to commercial flights. However, Team 2 also experienced something the first team did not: a significant number of serious aftershocks. Frazier says he recalls a particular series of frightening aftershocks in the middle of the night. In the darkness, he began to hear voices. The religious people in the area had gotten together to sing hymns to calm their nerves, he says.
Before long, it was time to go. "As we were leaving, we felt like we'd done something really great. There was a lot of Haiti in my mind, but I had to get back to my job," Frazier says. "We still think about it all the time; it will always be a part of us now."
While in Haiti, both Mujar and Frazier worked with a local man named Edouard Basille. He had lost his entire family in the quake, including his wife and daughters. As an English teacher, Basille offered his service to the Americans, and he was hired as an interpreter.
Basille became an indispensible resource to the Harris team members, who marveled at the man's ability to endure such a tragedy. Before leaving, Harris crews trained Basille to work on the equipment they left behind. "We are hoping that the things we've done down there will live on through him," Mujar says.