Red Cross humanitarian worker Glenn Mitchell, of Dunedin, in Ormoc on Leyte Island with one of the Red Cross emergency vehicles used during the disaster response to Typhoon Haiyan. Photo supplied.
The month he spent in the Philippines setting up new
emergency communications links for the Red Cross after
Typhoon Haiyan highlighted the value of communications
systems and how they made things easier during a major
emergency, a Dunedin man says.
Telecommunications were wiped out for at least two days in
the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, and agencies such as
the Red Cross were unable to contact field teams to find out
what was happening locally.
Glen Mitchell's role was to oversee the setting up of new
systems that would be more secure in the event of future
storms in the area.
Mr Mitchell (49), a Dunedin City Council emergency management
officer, is part of the Red Cross' emergency IT
communications unit, members of which are trained to
establish, recover and maintain communications links for the
agency in emergency-prone areas.
He spent December based in Cebu City, leading a team of four
Red Cross humanitarian workers - another New Zealander and
two from the American Red Cross - setting up secure radio
stations that would allow people working in affected areas to
communicate with their home bases, and regional hubs to
communicate with the national office in Manila, in future
A first shift from the unit had re-established communication
links and the second, Mr Mitchell's, looked at the
longer-term security of the links to ensure they were robust
enough to deal with the up to 20 serious storms a year the
Communications were vital to enable rapid assessment of the
impact, rather than having to wait days because cellphone
networks were down, Mr Mitchell said.
His team's main work was installing radio-based stations
around the area.
He had completed training but this was his first time in an
Although he was mostly based in Cebu City, planning what
people did and where, he made several trips to the
worst-affected Leyte and Panay Islands.
The experience had been an education in working with such a
large number of international agencies, as well as the
Philippine people, who were proactive in helping themselves.
By the time he arrived, there was already a real focus on
moving towards the recovery stage of the disaster response,
but searches were still under way and bodies were being
pulled from the rubble.
The damage to the buildings and the vegetation, most
noticeably the palm trees stripped of their foliage, was
incredible, he said.
A third shift from the emergency IT response unit that
replaced his team would probably be the last as the Red Cross
sought to appoint an IT communications co-ordinator to work
with the Philippines Red Cross for the next six months to
finish what the emergency response unit started, he said.
The experience had been rewarding and had highlighted the
value of communications systems and processes and how they
would help make things easier during a major emergency.
The New Zealand Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan appeal has raised
$1.88 million so far.