Six months ago, an earthquake of catastrophic magnitude struck Haiti. The effects, as we all know too well, were devastating.
Restoring the country's telecommunications capacity was one of the main concerns in the hours and days that followed. The need for communications capabilities that drive life-saving rescue and response efforts and also connect loved ones desperate for information, was crucial. Recognizing this need, many in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry responded swiftly and generously, donating equipment, supplies, expertise, funds, and human resources.
On July 9, I, along with Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez and Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Steven Lett, hosted a roundtable discussion with representatives from the ICT industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provided direct telecommunications assistance to Haiti during this time of need.
Roundtable participants shared their experiences in helping to assess, stabilize, maintain, and rebuild ICT capabilities in Haiti. Through public-private partnerships, ICT companies and NGOs at the roundtable recounted how they contributed, and continue to contribute, in valuable ways ranging from donating and rebuilding mobile infrastructure such as cellular towers, to supporting Internet infrastructure, to coordinating the establishment of the 4636 “short code” emergency text system and the rapid launch of mobile-giving programs, to providing food and shelter for telecommunication workers and their families in Haiti. This roundtable also took a critical look at how to improve response efforts in future disaster situations, as well as the emergency response and restoration plans and resources these entities currently have in place or plan to implement.
Our work is not done. While Haiti looks ahead, it is important to restore and rebuild Haiti's communications infrastructure in an innovative and sustainable way that provides a secure foundation for further developing ICT as a driver of economic growth and social advancement. As the international community continues to respond to this tragedy, it is through these types of conversations that we can not only continue to address Haiti's communications needs, but also be ready to respond the next time a disaster occurs.