A key element of post-disaster recovery is coordinating the delivery of aid programs so that organizations can avoid duplication of effort and find ways to amplify each other’s work. All too often, the information that is necessary for such coordination action is missing, and the recovery effort is not as efficient as it might be.
When NetHope first deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017, most of the island’s communication infrastructure was effectively disabled. This situation made coordinated action a challenge. Working collaboratively, NetHope’s interagency connectivity team met the original challenge of getting networks up and running, affording our member NGOs the ability to communicate and work together.
But much more was needed as these communities, many remote and isolated by already limited communication infrastructure, continued to rebuild.
Recognizing this, NetHope was pleased to receive funding through the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Recovery Fund. The CDP grant is an innovative approach to using information as a form of aid. It has three major elements: first, ensuring sustainable, resilient communications for the frontline organizations that are engaged with vulnerable communities. Second, facilitating information sharing around activities in the thematic areas of the grant, including the creation of a mechanism for discussing shared information challenges and the provision of a data portal to share critical data sets. Third, to rehire the Citizen Reporters who were part of an Information as Aid project which was started in 2017, and engage them in data-driven journalism with several professional journalism teams at radio stations and centers.
NetHope has set an objective of improving communication, coordination, and information sharing on the island around four thematic areas: health, mental health, economic recovery, and food security. We are engaging with our members to distribute and train local NGOs on the use of solar systems to power their disaster communications networks, thereby reducing the time to coordinate in the next emergency. We are also working with NetHope members to convene teams around four areas: 1) improving access to data about health facilities; 2) improving access to demographic data; 3) creating a space for information sharing between (and among) international NGOs and local partners; and 4) piloting a new remote needs assessment methodology to understand needs at health clinics. We have partnered with Internews to deliver a data journalism workshop for 20 professional journalists with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI). In parallel, Internews is coordinating the publication of stories around the four thematic areas of the grant with four citizen journalists and a photojournalist, many of whom are appearing on WALO radio.
NetHope is excited to have found a trilingual information manager, Angela Sousa, to coordinate our work in Puerto Rico. In a few weeks, she has joined a program with our members to coordinate information sharing and build resilient communications. June will be a period of major activity ahead of the hurricane season: workshops with journalists and another with local NGOs; efforts to install solar systems and potential pre-positioning of networking gear; and continued publication of stories around health, mental health, economic recovery, and food security. The CDP grant has been a valuable resource, allowing NetHope to continue its work connecting island residents and responding NGOs. Through increased data sharing and partnership under the NetHope Network, we are amplifying our member’s work in the continued recovery efforts for Puerto Rico’s residents and preparation for future emergencies.