Sunday, January 31, 2010

Finally relief getting through.

Michael and Mathew have persevered and are having success.

As documented in Michael's blog they have identified dozens of communities of needy children. These communities have not had food water or supplies delivered. The media has plenty of information on why this is happening; the firsthand information is in the early days of this diary.

The Salvation Army allowed Michael and Mathew to stay at the camp; very good as they asked us all to leave a week ago. Maybe things have settled down in the administration of the SA there in PAP. I do know that Bob Poff has returned as of Saturday.

Michael and Mathew have been able to secure small truckloads of supply to deliver to the most desperate people they have located; supply from the SA. They have made deep contact with a Canadian Army unit to provide manpower. Now the Salvation Army is providing a significant aid flow to these two caring and dedicated volunteers. Great news for the people of Haiti especially the children who have had so much devastation visited upon them in the last three weeks.

Keep it up guys wish I could be there.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Verizon redeems itself

I got my cellphone bill the other day from Verizon. Mnay hundreds of dollars in roaming and long distance charges.

I dropped an email to customer service and explained what I had been doing. I requested a credit if possible. Within 24 hours I had a credit for the full amount on my bill. So thanks to Verizon it's a small part of this thing that I will not have to pay.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some photos from Josiah





Picture 1: Me (Rick) at the desk at the UNDAC reception office in Santo Domingo.
Picture 2: Josiah Magnusson flying in a helicopter in to Port-au-Prince
Picture 3: Jordan Allie carrying aid in Port-au-Prince

Michael and Mathew continue to work

Michael and Mathew continue to identify unmet needs specifically under-served or un-served orphanages.

On Wednesday they actually took a pickup truck of supply provided by the Salvation Army to a group of 200 children living on the ground outside of town. Great that the SA is working with the guys. They are still bunking in the tent in the courtyard.

Meanwhile I have been able to get a solid contact with USAID who says that if we can provide specifics (location, population, supply status, medical needs) of these orphanages he can assure us that USAID will get to them.

If this actually pans out Michael and Mathew will have accomplished the near impossible: they will have gotten a major aid delivery organization to listen to a couple of volunteers who are out there on their own trying to save lives. It looks good right now but in this situation an arrangement can fall apart in an instant due to bureaucracy or other external events.

Wish the guys well.

Rick

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Singing in the camp in the night

video

I was most blessed to be able to record this. The picture is dark as there is very little artificial light in the night in Port-Au-Prince however after about 45 seconds the audio is quite good. Please listen and appreciate as did I.

A poem

My sister Carl Ann Davis is a professor of creative writing (I think I got that right) at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Her son told a friend that 'Jesus died of natural causes in his sleep' and it was such a wonderful statement she did what she does: she built a poem around that seed. What she did not realize until the next day was that she had been following this blog and it had influenced the poem deeply.

The words she put down capture so much of what is important about helping our brothers and sisters in need. It is, to me, simply beautiful but since she is my sister I may be a biased judge. So here it is:

Jesus Died of Natural Causes

Jesus died of natural causes in his old age,
and received a proper burial. Before that, a certain amount
of dew turned to frost, right under the noses
of those waking to it. Just the right number
of thoughts occurred, and one by one
fell off the radar, the radar of what
was not worth asking, and no one thought to. No one
went hungry at 2 a.m. or died of thirst
at noon. The orphans harmonized
just beyond the gate, a harmony of orphans
and a gate clanking, the noontime thirst
of the orphans at the closing of the gate. Enough to slay him
on a normal day, but Jesus had grown
hardpan heart, a deaf ear, and a limp. At the temple
it was he who stayed late,
listening to a child of twelve
speak in riddlelike parables.
He hallucinated a destination
and walked to it, hoping to be blinded.
When the earth shook, he thought finally,
this is what it was for,
the something I came to do.
But that something was done to others, not him,
and among the lucky ones,
he lived sorting through rubble—an eternity,
it seemed— until help arrived.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jordan and Josiah

I just heard from Jordan. He is at PAP getting on a freedom bird; Josiah is already back. I look forward to speaking with them soon. Great guys. Glad they are safe.

Michael and Mathew

Michael and Mathew are still in Port-Au-Prince. They are collecting information on orphanages that have no relief. So far they have located 10 such facilities.

Mathew is Hatian-American; his family is still there and he/Michael are taking advantage of having transportation to go into the community.

Now that need has been identified Michael and Mathew need supply. They need food, water, medical supplies tents etc to deliver to these orphanages.

Anyone who knows an organization that is collecting supplies let me know. It is possible to get a private aircraft into PaP without a lot of grief (we will have to organize the logistics but I can do that as well as get someone to pay for the aircraft) and deliver the supply to the general aviation terminal. Mathew and his extended family can take it from there.

Anyone want to help?

Monday, January 25, 2010

By the way, one picture of me...


Waiting at the airport to head out. Six days, 14 hours total of sleep I usually am much more dashing in my appearance.

Photographs and some thoughts

Appeal for food and water


10,000 gallons of purified water a day using table salt to chlorinate from the good people at Edge Outreach


Destruction on the Street; the car was (and still is) occupied

















The bad

The destruction of humanity that this earthquake caused. Physical pain, psychic pain, the fear of another earthquake. Fractured families that will never be reunited.
The sounds especially at night.
Dust all of the time. Concrete dust is like a fog much of the time. Any breeze stirs up billowing dust.
The odors that are never far away and at times are overpowering.
The sadness in the eyes of the victims and the exhausted relief workers.
The despicable pettiness that is so endemic in the NGO community.
The profiteers of whom I met a couple. I think profiteering from this thing should be an immediate capital offense.

The good

The indomitable spirit of the Haitian people
Children, children children. Smiles at a simple 'Ca va?' Kids kicking a ball around trying to have a normal afternoon pickup soccer game amongst the broken concrete, trash blowing in the dust, noise and heat and constant reminders of death all around you wherever you stand.
The way the whole world responded. Dozens of nations represented by hundreds and thousands of volunteers and professionals.
Medical people working in inhuman conditions to save lives and constantly doing just that.
Aid workers screaming at each other as they try to figure out one more way to get desperately need supplies to desperate people; voices raised in passion because each wants so much to prevent that next death from thirst or that next infection from killing.
The people I met and hope to remain in contact with.
Thousands of Haitians asking 'what can I do to help?'

I told Andree that I will go back. I will as soon as I am needed to do something that I can do well. The temptation is to just go; I know that well. Going to Haiti right now requires that you carry your own sustenance. Anybody who goes to help and does not take care of their own food and water is taking those out of the mouths of the population and that is as bad as profiteering.

Some photos.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Been home 24 hours

Larry King on CNN is running a two hour celebrity telethon. Lots of Hollywood types trying to get money for Unicef and Red Cross. Unicef is great; the Red Cross spend a very small percentage of donations in actual delivery I am not a fan.

I spent some time trying to get information on Jordan, Josiah, Michael and Mathew. No news yet. That's causing me some concern as there was a 5.x aftershock again today. I hope someone will get back to me soon.

Lots of things to think about on an individual action basis (did I do anything of value) and watching the coverage and wondering if the administrators of the various entities trying help really understand that food and water must get into the destroyed neighborhoods soon. The Larry King show has a couple of folks who get it, so maybe so. Tia Leoni really understands and Alyssa Milano knows what is going on. That is heartening.

Media seem to think the population is moving into the countryside. That's not what I know and I do not understand why that would be a good thing. Efforts need to continue and expand to get aid delivery and medical care into the neighborhoods. I don't care what Wycliff Jean says. You aren't going to depopulate an urban population while a government with no money and an international aid community with no interest try to do a half-assed job rebuilding the city. People in the countryside are hungry they just aren't as hungry as the city. Unless an extra two million people move out there. Let the citizens of Port-au-Prince rebuild their city themselves. The Haitians I met are proud and hard working people they can get it done if they have the funds. And they are staying outside their destroyed homes.

I am probably going to stop posting in the next couple of days unless something significant happens. I was really happy to see the Globe and Mail article on the overland distribution of aid I think that is the real short term solution to supply. I was involved in the initial discussion with Chris and Ray so it is good that information is getting out. The pipeline is functioning.

Vegar has been moved out of the Airport into a Santo Domingo office of the UN and he is going to PaP in a couple of days. I know he will do well for the people of Haiti.

Brian is home I haven't heard from him.

I spent the morning with Nora and Samantha what a healing process being around those miracles can be. Lunch with Mom James JR and Carol talking about Haiti; everyone at the Beacon coming over and giving me a hug. JR came over for the afternoon and provided me some good talk. That was great for me and I am feeling fully integrated back into the world.

I will sign off for tonight and thank everyone for their support.

Rick

Good article by Paul Waldie

Toronto Globe and Mail article on moving goods from DomRep to Haiti. This is the process I spoke about early it is now functioning.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/haiti/dominican-republic-becomes-haitis-hope-for-swift-relief---and-its-biggest-hurdle/article1437200/

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Siting on the porch...

I was siting on the porch having a drink a while ago. Quite naturally my thoughts turned to the last few days. I was deep in thought and was startled by the cry of a great blue heron. They sound like what a pterodactyl would sound like I have always thought.

I woke up last night about 2 AM. I listened to the other guys sleeping and wondered if sometime in the next ten seconds or ten hours if the ground would start heaving and the remaining buildings collapse. I thought about the millions of people who have blocked half the width of many roads in Port-au-Prince so that they can build tent cities and actual wooden and tin structures. They will not be moving back into the few remaining buildings very soon.

As I lay there in the heat I heard a moaning; it probably was coming from the clinic 150 feet away. The moaning was profoundly distressing as I understood it was someone fighting to live. After a while it stopped and for some reason I thought then, and think now, that he had finally given up the fight. Another life gone in this unfolding example of nature's lack of interest in our individual or collective survival.

A little later a parade went down the street. I got up and watched a few hundred people walk down the street carrying candles and singing in Creole. It's was not by any means a protest I had the sense it was something like a religious observance and an appeal to some god for relief to the people who were suffering. Very moving.

I smoked a cigarette and went back to bed wondering if I could get back to sleep. Just as slumber stole my thoughts I heard the most blood curdling scream I have ever heard in my 53 years. Again from the direction of the clinic. Half a dozens screams to freeze your heart and in the middle of the last an abrupt cutoff. Another soul blanked out? An emergency amputation without any anesthesia? There have been a lot of those I know. I do not know which and will never know but that man's voice is forever part of my history. Maybe that is why I awoke to record his last uttering.

I will sit here on my dock and drink my scotch and enjoy the love of my family and the safety of my life. I will know that I am very blessed and that somewhere a man is screaming for relief; a group of people are marching in the night for justice; thousands of strangers are dropping everything and going to a strange land to help strangers in a time of urgent need and somewhere a man is giving up the good fight because the burden for him is simply too much.

We humans have such varied daily existence that when we are exposed to something so fundamentally different from our norm we have a problem understanding that yes those are humans just like us. They want the same things: security and food for their families; the opportunity to contribute to the community; the knowledge that they will leave the world to their children a better place than that which they themselves entered.

The information I have seen on CNN since I got home a couple of hours ago is a very distorted picture of what I saw. The news folks run around in $ 80,000 Range Rovers with drivers and armed guards and drop in on various 'news opportunities'. I helped change the diaper of a little guy today who was saved from starvation at the SA clinic in the last few days; great glad to do it everyone knows I got that particular activity nailed. What I did not like was the ten or so news cameras clicking away at a dozen frames a second. I understand the need for information but let us get the work done eh? Stopping clogging the already blocked streets; stop eating food that should go to the needy and stop running around like you are what is important. I met one reporter from the Philadelphia Enquirer that was fantastic; I am really sorry I did not get her name. She was reporting but not intruding; contributing if it did not violate her professional code. Well done. I also met a reporter from the Toronto Globe and Mail and he spent most of a day with Vegar and myself while we set up the SDQ to PaP trucking operation. Another good guy. I will leave the jerks out of the list.

All of us who ever do this sort of thing have these memories. I think I mentioned early on that Andree was concerned about the emotional impact on me of the experience. I will remember the night; it was the same each night I was there. I think it is worthwhile to me that I have those memories and I can better appreciate what I have in my life.

Distribution of aid

One of the facts that became evident in the last few days is the complete disconnect between the Haitian community and the organized aid delivery organizations.

I heard a lot of concern at the UN, the US embassy and a bunch of the big name NGOs about distribution security. A bunch of crap; get it out to the communities. Largest concern is actually that the relief will get stolen and then put out for sale.

Here's a clue if anyone is listening: I can buy HDR (humanitarian daily ration packs) on the street, same with HDR water. It's already getting stolen. Get it out there NOW. So what if 50% gets stolen?

We have hundreds or thousands of kids who probably die every day of thirst and starvation is now a real threat.

Don't worry about doing the SAR for living people. That one fellow got recovered today and good for him. While those resources are being used we are losing hundreds of people a day to thirst and starvation. The news media likes the big story but come on let's get real.

We were at the Hotel Montana yesterday; lots of resources being put out there. It's a luxury hotel so of course the society is going to go all out to save a few folks. Four miles down the hill in the slums people are literally falling over for basic need. It's wrong.

Sorry to rant but there is a lot more of that to come.

The US Air Force is running evac flights out of PaP. Brian and I decided to leave because there simply is nothing to do without an organizational sponsor. I was also quite concerned about the continual strong aftershocks and the possibility of a larger quake. Brian would have been happy to stay but could not find a mission so he cam home as well. We made the decision to go partially because staying consumes resources that could go to someone who has a mission of aid. A difficult decision to make but I think the right decision.

I was finished with my main mission and had been very successful in the unintended logistics mission on the first part of the trip. I am told hundreds of tons of supply moving over the road SDQ to PaP so that is great. Distribution is still the weak link.

Mathew, who is Haitian-American, has an excellent method of accomplishing immediate distribution without incurring significant security liability or significant theft loss. How does one get the idea into the right hands? The idea will work and requires zero infrastructure. Anyone who knows someone at the White House or UN to at least pilot this idea please email or comment. Minutes matter.

More later in the weekend.

I am solid; had a bit of the shock of being in hungry hot and desperate Port-au-Prince and four hours later having a cheeseburger waiting for Andree. Got through it and I am surprised by the fact I am not more whacked out. Need two days of sleep and six or eight showers. Still haven't gotten a new Blackberry will take care of that tomorrow.

Home

I flew out of Port-au-Prince with Brian this afternoon. We were incredibly fortunate that the Air Force C 17 landed at Sanford Florida. 30 minute drive from each of our homes.

The last couple of days were very intense I will update details later tonight or tomorrow. Nice to have the support of everyone.

Rick

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Michael's blog

Interesting perspective on disaster reponse.

http://michaelthemaven.com/

I believe Brian is blogging as well will get that address tomorrow as he sacked out at 7.

Just re-read tonight's post

Much more exhausted than I thought. I decided to leave the spelling errors.

Some other stuff: The team is Michael professional from Arizona it but can't recall PhD in molecular biology. Brian an IT executive from Orlando PhD in computer science. Mathew the Haitian-American. I am trying to figure a name for this group but can only come up with piled higher and deeper. I met them all in the terminal while assembling the bus run Wednesday morning and they jumped at a ride north.

Josiah and Jordan got asked to join a field trauma team Wednesday at the last minute so they went up. Quick 'good byes good luck stay safe' and they were gone on the Russian chopper. Tried to find them but they are in the field somewhere as they should be. Both young Marines with two or three combat tours; they will do anything to help and I think battlefield medical experience will be valuable to the docs they are with. Probably found some official way to arm themselves as well if I know those two and so can assure safety although the medical teams never seem to have anything close to a security problem.

Some serious stuff: The aid at the airport is finally piling up now the challenge is distribution without civil disturbance. The organizations like the Salvation Army, Save the Children and dozens of US-church sponsored organizations will be a mechanism for a lot of that delivery. Michael is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (hope I said that properly folks) and he is already lining up US donated, already in-country medical food and water resources to be delivered via Haitian community organizations based on our SA assessments. Capacity building in the community my brother Jim calls it.

There is no apparent government here. The UN runs the country. The people are all very frustrated as far as my poor French and non-existent Creole educates me.

The people are all in the streets 24 hours. The buildings are collapsed or dangerous. Aftershocks again today not very strong but the population is nervous. One indicator: We had two places to put our tent on soft grass next to an unstable building or hardpan about 30 feet away. Hardpan it was we didn't really discuss it. Conversation:

(Rick) hey guys this grass is really soft how about this
(Michael) that building doesn't look real good rick
(Brian) I am sleeping over there outside.

Tent went on the hardpan.

Another thing: We met three separate medical teams today at the airport complex. Lots of expertise and equipment and desire to get to work. They had all been waiting at least three days in airplane hangers in the US to get to PaP all arrived last night. Today none of them could find transport to their assigned clinics or hospitals. Zero evident coordination on these large deployments of critical skills. Absolutely criminal to lose all the lives that were lost in the last four days because there has been no logistical planning on this.

I am going to have time tomorrow to do some work for the job; critical things going on and two team members are ill. Now that I will be online I should be able to help iSys (Integration Systems LLC) who have been so good about letting me take off.

So really bedtime now. Just got a plate of Haitian mac and cheese cooked on the communal fire in the courtyard with beef and tomato sauce and listening to the new orphans in the parking lot harmonize with the residents who were here before 12 January. Rhythm provided by the 5 KW generator.

Needs: I can't yet articulate what I think is needed short term. I do know that supplies can be purchased in the States and flown in. You can get a 10 passenger Cessna Caravan in fairly easily as respects landing slots. Anything larger is not going to get in very quickly. How you get that out of the airport without getting people hurt is the big question.

I was at the UN field hospital and saw surgeries going on. I wasn't inside; it's a huge tent with the sides rolled up because it is so hot.

Talking to medical teams it's mostly just a whole bunch of amputations. I can verify that. The marginal victims of the weekend are gone. Anything to help with that kind of medical problem (prosthetic devices crutches etc and such) will be appreciated in the near term.

Right now I could go out and dress 200 cuts and scrapes; primary issue there is infection and of course the pain. I make everyone take antibiotics every day, bought them in the DomRep.

One of the teenagers just brought me my first coffee in two solid days. Hard to believe. Amped up now on sugared espresso so you get more of my rambles. I wonder if they have any Johnny Walker Black? Probably good for me and my health. Brian told me I was going to go home a lean mean helping machine. I told him if I didn't fall over dead when someone dropped my backpack on my head. At least that is getting lighter as I eat the food I carried. (Sorry those who know me still smoking)

One point: it is essential that anyone coming here carry at least 7 days of personal supply. If it takes you 36 hours to get here and 36 hours to get out that means you are incountry 4 days. You gotta bring it with you; you can probably source fluids but carry at least two gallons. All that stuff is heavy and in my case add computer clothing first aid gear and 28 pounds of sat com and the old man is toughening right up. I have the lightest load in the group as befits an individual of my advanced age.

We had a situation in our little fledgling team today. Two team members (no names for obvious reasons) wanted to simply get out in the neighborhoods (which are very cohesive communities) and start handing out food and water; we know where there are some supplies. There really are children dying of thirst 500 yards from the US base exit. The other two wanted to follow a plan of helping the entrenched social organizations operate efficiently. I got a bit hot with the guys and offered to continue my mission. We worked it out and amazingly we got here to the Salvation Army and they have assigned us exactly the right mission. Everyone is now very happy.

This business of responding to natural disaster, or man made, is a complex problem. I am using much of what I learned on Katrina to guide my decision in all areas. I continue to see what I told my mother's church congregation in September 2005: there are no bad guys. There is simply immeasurable need and a worldwide desire to alleviate the suffering. God is in the details they say and so it is here. Information drives logistics drives delivery. The management of this process while being pressured to stop the pain must be incredibly difficult.

The press is all over. At least 20 people told me they saw my TV interview from Monday night I am not really believing it went to CNN the reporter was a Venezuelan from CNN international. They really seem to want to report the facts I don't know if that is happening TVs haven't been a part of any of my recent accommodations. For that matter neither have beds, floors, bathrooms walls or roofs. We are scheduled for showers tomorrow morning.

Michael needs the link now to email his family etc. He has a blog as well so I will put that link up tomorrow.

Rick

Sorry for no posts

First thanks for all of the comments and emails. I and my team are safe sound secure and comfortably ensconced at the Salvation Army orphanage. We got here this after noon (more on that later) and were issued a five man tent and wonder of wonder foam sleeping pads. Brian told me 'you only takes us to the five star resorts Rick.' I think he was joking.

This will be a very long posts and I probably will have to finish it tomorrow I am beat.

I left Santo Domingo on Monday morning with 40 others on a chartered bus. I kept giving my flight seats to medical staff so Vegar at the UN center at SDQ said go on up Rick that's why you came.

172 miles in a blazing 12.5 hours. We got away late. We had 30 NGO, government and volunteer aid workers. It was going to be 40 but five minutes before the flight a Russian Mil 8 helicopter became available so we sent a trauma team up in that. With the cleared seats we went around the terminal to find Haitians who were trying to get home to find and/or bury family and we took them along. What a resilient people this community is. Hundreds of years of tragedy and the smile all the time and sing constantly.

We were the last vehicle across the border as it closed for the night at 7 PM. Scary, scary road the last 80 miles. One loan gravel washed out half the time and lots of semis moving up. The folks on the bus were giving me a hard time because the goods we had landed at SDQ were clogging it up.

Drive through all of PaP at night and that was an interesting experience; let's leave it at that.

Got to the airport where there is a tent city of maybe 5,000 first responders and some rather humongous field hospitals. 82nd Airborne owns that and the passed us in and told us to grab a patch of dirt. It was so late when the bus unloaded we had to stay there and get to the Salvation Army in the morning. Ha HA. Spent most of th enight chatting with various responder groups and settling down. I really should have gotten a sleeping pad but two JetBlue blankets on the hardpan were enough. I actually slept six or seven hours.

Woke up in the morning intending to go out the gate and get a tap-tap owned by Mathew; a young Hatian man from the bus. He hadn't heard from his family since the quake and had come to find or bury. We had spent hours talking with him and he asked to join our mission after that family stuff was done.

We got him out with Michael very early. Two hours later they showed back all smiles everyone was OK. AND Mathew's brother owns two tap-taps and was coming to pick us up at the compound gate.

We got to the gate when he cell phoned and there were maybe (estimating) 8,000 starving people beggin for water and food. We talked and I made an executive decision that if we walked out with our packs we might create a situation where lots of Haitians (and us!) could get hurt. Back in to the gate.

I ran into a Red Cross worker and asked her to drive us to the UN compound two miles away, all inside the walled airport complex. She looked at my tee shirt (SA emergency response services) and said absolutely not. Gotta love it.

So get this those hwo know me: 53 years old not exactly an exercise freak humping an 80 pound pack two miles in blowing dust next to the actibve runway; C 17s cycling ever 10 minutes or so and the occasional big honking Russian Anatov. Bye the way the flow cranked up measurably in the hours we were at the complex.

Long long afternoon at UN Port-au-Prince. Office to office to office and no joy; the uN folks were great just do not have capacity to handle any NGOs. We did have a fantastic meal at the UN cafeteria. I decided to try Mathew's brother again when I check the exit and no crowds, no mobs no risk. Mathew set it up and it happened; we were at the orphanage in 25 minutes. Mathew is a God send: brilliant, tri-lingual, finishing a PhD in electrical engineer. Best thing of all he is a two degree, soon to be three degree, Seminole.

Got here and checked in with Bob Poff who had invited me. Get through some SA politics, got issued a tent and told we are activated at Noon tomorrow.

The scene: The orphanage is at the center of the damage zone. The trip here is as reported in the media I do not care to describe it.

This is an urban multi building complex. Half the buildings are unusable th eother half are occupied. We have a damage assesment engineering crew going out tomorrow and they won't go in most of the buildings that ocntinue to be occupied by orphans.

The parking lots, yards, assembly areas and everywhere else has tents set up and families. I am writing this in the courtyard listening to domino games and children singing and laughter and happiness. This evening I held a new born, I believe born here after the quake. Brian ran around patching cuts and scrapes and getting a lifetime of smiles in return.

There is security here but not really needed. It's a locked compound but the community loves these folks I think and Mathew agrees we are in one of the safest places in Haiti.

There is a large contingent of SA experts and commanders here now. They have a crisis command post in the main office. Six laptops doing all kinds of stuff but no Internet. Tomorrow we set up the Began 0.5 MB uplink I brought and they will be able to communicate outside.

Once we get here and I checked in the three site commanders had a planning session. They have wanted to get out and do needs assessments in there various satellite communities. The logistics of driving out, assessing and bringing data back prevented that action. Now that supplies are trickling in (and it is a trickle) the plan is to send me and my team with SA experts. We will do various assessments (security; food/water; habitation and medical. We will do any first aid we can the damage to this entire population is staggering, sobering and distressing. We will sat phone that in (we have two) and move on. Hoping to get two or three sites a day.

We have escorts and we are in marked relief vehicles so security will be good. It's thrilling to be able to go this work.

That's all for tonight I am wiped. I am sorry for the ramble and promise to clear up any holes tomorrow. Two full days to travel 178 miles. Next time I will take that chopper offer.

Sorry I could not release posts I am reconfiguring comments so that I do not have to release them.

Andree was very concerned about my mental health and how I would react to the more distressing sights, sounds and smells. Sure it is distressing but I am in great shape and so are the others.

Thanks to all for the mails and love; wish you all were as lucky as I am to be here.

Rick

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What a difference two days can make

I posted late last evening and went to bed; third row of the airport waiting room seats we have been using. I hadn't been down 10 minutes when a call cam in reporting 30 tons of medicine/medical equipment inbound. We handled that and put it into the pipeline it should be in place by the end of today.

12:30 I lie down again. 6 hours sleep in previous two nights I was beat. Got to sleep and the immigration staffer who is in the receiving facility woke me up. Six people from Islamic relief had just landed. They had a cargo jet with 40 tons of food that had left Dubai but turned around because the could not get a landing slot at PAP.

I put the guys through our system of landing at SDQ, offloading and warehousing via DHL (they are doing this at no cost) and the trucking company that has given us a flat rate of $ 2,000 USD per 40 foot semi delivered to Port-au-Prince airport. Tokk half an hour and they went away with a plan. And very happy to have the thorny problem of PaP landing slot denial solved.

Vegar Skildheim set up this receiving facility on Sunday because there was no organization for moving people and goods north. He is with the United Nations Disaster Assistance and Coordination command. What a guy. Twenty hour days doing this all on his own. Three of us have been here the last 48 hours helping him a bit. This guy always is calm, happy and solves problems. If he ever wants a job I can use him at work.

So we couldn't move a human cargo north in under 24 hours at 6 AM Monday now we are moving tons. As well as lots of humans on the UN aircraft based here; two small jets and a Russian Mil helicopter. Around the clock air operations are running smoothly with a seat prioritization scheme (not officially UN sanctioned but it seems to happen as we plan pretty much all of the time)

So 48 hours have made a real difference.

That's all for today wheels up to Port-au-Prince in about half an hour.

Rick

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Evening update

Things are running very smoothly. The folks come in to the UN office here at SDQ for transport and services and then darn it a few hours later they are gone. Material is moving as well.

Things are doing fine so tomorrow morning I along with Josiah and Jordan my friends two young former Marines who are volunteers who just showed up. They have been working hard in the center here and the three of us will be continuing together for the duration of our working in Haiti.

It will be interesting to see what challenges we face. I am not concerned about the travel since for the last 40 plus hours I have been working getting people and goods in country.

Next post will probably be from Port-au-Prince.

IN the middle of all this...

I mentioned my Blackberry died. The device's charging port stopped connecting.

I spent at least four of the last 12 hours on the telephone with Verizon support or trying to find them. I finally got an international telephone number and got support. All the awful things you are imaging happened. I finally said forward my calls to this prepaid I bought and for which I am paying a fortune every minute. I asked for a supervisor to call me.

Got a call back a bit ago from a manager. Went through the whole thing she said they can't do anything other than tell me to activate my insurance under Assurion. She acknowledged Assurion does not ship outside the US or Canada.

I explained what I am doing and asked for some help. She told me it was my fault for leaving the US. I asked her if she thought what I was doing might justify a little international travel. She again insisted that Verizon could not, by regulation, do anything for me.

That made me angry. I asked for the regulation and she could not cite such. I asked if she meant a corporate policy and she said the two words meant the same thing.

I asked, as a personal favor so that I could get back to this work I am doing, for someone to help me out by going to a FedEx office with an activated Blackberry 8830 world phone with my encoding and ship it to me via Fed Ex to Jet Blue's Santo Domingo office. She said corporate policy (quick learner this manager) prevented anyone in the company from doing any such thing.
I haven't posted in a while or at least it seems as if it has been days.

We got all of the folks out of the UN center here at SDQ the last planeload went at 4 AM. I got a few hours of sleep on the floor.

This morning has been spent working the 75 ton food shipment. Things are difficult to arrange what with aircraft dispatch times, flight plans, landing permits, trucking unions, customs, border notifications, convoy security and about 20 dozen other things. Right now it looks really good that this aid will get there in the next 24 hours or so.

Reports are still coming in on the PaP airport situation and it has not improved.

The firefighters at the airport here took us out to their station so we could shower. What a great feeling.

In the middle of this whole organizing of flights and aid shipment my Blackberry died. Could not get it working and Verizon does not do a great job of support outside the continent. I got back on the air this morning using a prepaid phone and forwarding my number there. Whatever it takes.

I am being pressured by some entities to get up into Haiti. It's tempting to go however I want to see if a continual pipeline of aid can be established that will normalize the movement of the millions of pounds of stuff that has to be moved north in the next few months. A few days planning that out will pay tremendous benefits throughout the entirety of this emergency. So maybe Port-au-Prince in a couple of days.

Getting from SDQ to PaP is much easier starting this evening. There is a Russian Mil helicopter seconded to the UN flying and a 19 seat UN jet. So credentialed folks will not be spending hours or days sitting here.

The Dominican government approached us today about moving operations out of SDQ. The flight line is full all around the clock now and handling space, cargo movement and passenger handling is at maximum capacity. We will go look at an alternate airport that the government wants us to use; it will be essentially all UN and NGO flights with a half dozen daily tourist charters that come in. We'll see how that looks.

So busy busy with the good work. I remain very concerned that the PaP airport is not supporting a higher level of traffic. I haven't had any time to look into the media reports or read the UN information there is probably a good reason. The folks here are accepting that PaP is not available to cargo or large passenger aircraft and we are working around that fact.

Some of the SAR crews are repatriating out today. A bunch of exhausted folks. I was told today that the international SAR effort recovered 90 living souls; that's a lot of lives saved.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cearatigger asks a valid question. The answer is that we are airlifting; the lift does not have any place close to the need in which to land.

It i smy opinion, and opinion only, that the military is tasked with securing the operating base (Port-au-Prince airport) and then when that is complete moving forward with increasing cycles.

The US military is executing the mission assigned. The fact is that in the opinion of the experts this load is the largest load that the facility can handle in its present condition.

The solution is multi-fold:

1. Get aid in by road from the nearest major air entry point. That is Santo Domingo
2. Improve the traffic cycle capability of PaP
3. Improve the capability of delivering to the site of need those supplies that are arriving by any means.

I will tell you that in my opinion any aircraft permitted to land that does not have direct aid tasking is wrong. Politicians' aircraft, news media aircraft and commercial traffic all of it needs to be downgraded in priority to support the humanitarian mission. Anything that can land elsewhere and drive overland needs to do so. I hope that is the case I have not seen any figures indicating the various traffic types that constitute 100% use of the field's capacity at this time. I would like that information.

Some progress

I am still here at the UN center at SDQ airport.

Lots of things have been going right over the last four hours. We got landing slots at PaP; most of the filed rescue and recovery experts have moved out. There will be additional flights at midnight 2 and 3:45 local time and the center should be empty.

We have a situation in that there is some hard limit on the number of landing cycles at PaP. I spent a lot of time this evening on the phone with them, at the request of and with the authority of, the UN situation management office. We have 75 tons of food waiting less than four hours away by air and the earliest landing slot we can get from PaP control is 1:40 AM January 22.

We are probably going to get that food shipped here in to SDQ. The Dominicans are agreeable in terms of this facility and someone has donated warehouse space and materials handling equipment. All that is left is to organize six trucks or so to tag on to a food convoy tomorrow afternoon. That is a basic meal for 600,000 folks or so. I am working through the night to get all of that arranged and so far things look good.

I don't want to seem to be busting on the US but after the last 20 hours or so I have to say something has to change at the PaP airport. I can't think of any aid that is more important than 600,000 meals. 72 hours is a long time to wait. The folks at Haiti Flight Operations Command Center are doing the best the can; I just think that anything other than essential subsistence aid should flow to alternate sites.

As this post indicates I am not in Haiti nor, at this time, does it appear that I will get there soon. My satcom equipment has been used by some of the SAR times a bit but mostly what I am doing is talking on the phone and emailing with people to get logistics flowing. I have been asked to stay on with the UN doing this work for a while. As much as I want the joy of putting the food in the mouth of a hungry child I think I have to give this a little more time. The UN site coordinator and I have put together a process to handle 200 tons a day and get it to the hungry.

The hurrier I go the behinder I get....

Greetings from the United Nations room at Santo Domingo airport. No we did not get our three flights today so the situation remains fluid.

I have spoken with my brother Jim quite a few times both to bounce ideas off of him and to commiserate with this situation. Sadly it is not unusual.

Haiti's people are being negatively impacted by a disconnect in the coordination of efforts. On one hand we have the United State's government and the other hand is the UN. Both entities from the top to the bottom are trying their best to be as efficient as possible.

We have three (UN sponsored) airliners that need to make the 30 minute flight from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince. The US military is handling air traffic control and the acquisition of a landing slot is most difficult. We have had a number of false alarms today in which we were going to head out only to be called back.

I am doing what I can to help this situation. I have gotten to know everyone in the room; lots of good and committed folks. The UN staff are ready willing and anxious to start moving bodies and equiment into Haiti. I don't know who the US contact is I am sure someone on the US side of the equation is working the problem no one here seems to know that process. I have made contact with the USAID folks to try and make sure the UN and the US can work together. I have connected US AID and UN here so maybe they can get things going.

There are two rotary wing aircraft coming in tonight for the use of the UN and NGO people in Santo Domingo. The local UN coordinator is hopefully talking to the right US folks so that once these two helicopters are unload and assembled the initiation of transport shuttle flights can begin. Everyone wants that to happen but no one quite knows how to do that. We will get through it.

Some feel good stuff, at least it makes me feel good: The Dominicans continue to be gracious hosts as we all realize we are spending the night on the floor. JetBlue Airways is feeding us and providing logistical support. That's not a commercial plug it is the truth. Thanks to both from me.

One last thing: All of the above report is my own understanding of the situation. It may be totally incorrect at some level however the observed facts are just that. My opinions are my own of course.

Rick

Due in Pap 14:30 local (that is 1:30 PM Eastern)

I arrived very early this morning in Santo Domingo. Next challenge is to arrange transport to Port-au-Prince as my aid organization told me to 'make my own way' north.

The folks here who run the airport have just today set up a United Nations receiving center. My complements and gratitude to the folks of Republica Domincana for hosting this group and providing support services they are doing a great job.

I checked in and got credentialed. There are about 80 or 100 people here from at least 10 nations. Primarily SAR crews.

I will be getting on a chartered 737 in a bit and will fly into PaP. From there I can make it to my base with little trouble I imagine.

This backpack is getting pretty heavy with the equipment and five days of food in it. I look forward to getting settled.

I do not know what the media is reporting but I can report that this is an international effort. I have spoken with folks from:

United Kingdon (three crews)
New Zealand
Croatia
Finnland
Slovakia
Denmark
Norway

Everyone is carrying self-sustaining supplies for a week so lots of duffel bags, backpacks and equipment canisters. Languages are a polyglot.

I had an interesting discussion with a Danish group who are setting up the United Nation's IT infrastructure starting today. I may go ahead and get with them after I do my task with the aid group that invited me. There will be no shortage of work.

The last few hours have confirmed that my decision to come here was the proper decision. Everyone is talking about communications being the greatest hurdle right now to delivering aid to the survivors of 12 January.

In terms of security I am much safer traveling with the UN rather than being a singleton using available/public transportation.

I will update the blog when I get a chance.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Heading to the Carribean

I have my equipment and have made all of my arrangements stateside. I will be heading south this morning. Traveling to Port-Au-Prince is a challenge.

My routing will be San Juan Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo Dominican Republic by air. From Santo Domingo I will go overland. My present plan is to catch a public bus unless I can catch an aid convoy going north. I expect to connect with my aid coordinator Monday afternoon some time.

I have been watching the news when I have time. This event appears to be particulalry wrenching for the people of Haiti.

I volunteered immediatley after Katrina so I am viewing everything I see through that lens.

Andree (my wife) is very concerned about my personal safety. While I understand that concern I refer myself (and those who ask) to the situation a couple of days post Katrina. The media was full of reports of violence and inhumanity. The actual experience on the ground was the exact opposite. People reaching out and helping people. I am hopeful that the same will hold true in Haiti. Being careful is smart in these situations and I will be careful.

I am traveling light with just a backpack. I am carrying both a satellite telephone and an inmarsat Internet access point with a solar power unit. I have some concentrated food bars as well enough for 40 days. I do not expect to be in Haiti nearly that long so I will hand some of that out.

What am I going to be doing? The initial discussion with the aid folks on the ground is to set up satellite communications for the operation of the aid delivery sites in country. If my past experience is a guide the tasks will evolve rapidly. Flexibility and a willingness to take on any task is a universal trait of people who do this sort of work so I expect to be asked to do things outside of comms/information systems or technology.

It is a busy time at my job and the company has allowed me to drop everything and take off. I am very appreciative of that decision. Hopefully I will be able to remain in contact with my team-mates and contribute remotley.

I will be missing Andree and the rest of family. The availability of satellite communicaitons is one of the great improvements in capability since Katrina.

I will update this blog when I am able to do so and when I have something to say.

Good luck to the Haitian people and to everyone who is working to help them.

Rick