November « 2017 « Hackers For Charity

Disaster Relief SEEMS easy enough

Disaster Relief can be such difficult work, even when you’re working on a small scale.

In our case, we are hackers.. technologists. We know communications, and power and tech. So when we heard that the primary needs in Puerto Rico were water, communications and power, we jumped in.

We had two resident volunteers living in Puerto Rico guiding us. They knew the need, knew where things needed to go and knew how to get them there.

On our side as an organization, we raised money (approximately $30,000), had a panel of experts in communications a power, the partnership and support of a major solar vendor (Goal Zero) and willing volunteers that could spend the time to order the gear and try to get it to Puerto Rico.

Our first shipment of hand-carried gear went to Puerto Rico as carry-on luggage with our resident volunteers on the first flight into Puerto Rico after Maria hit. They took small solar powered lights, handheld radios to keep in communication and start neighborhood watches to cut down crime and single-person water filters.

As we raised more money, we sent larger solar generators, larger panels, lots more radios, lots more lights to outfit multiple neighborhoods. This all went piggybacked on a charter flight that we couldn’t have normally afforded with an International Puerto Rican bank. This was a fluke, but the gear made it, a mere week after the hurricane and long before most relief efforts. This was not without it’s challenges. We learned that FedEx and other shippers have incredibly strict regulations about shipping batteries, the heart and soul of all solar power solutions. As it turns out, you can’t ship batteries of any useful size by anything by ground delivery. You can’t ship them by air on passenger planes. We had to jump through some real hoops to get the get to this private flight, but everything made it.

For our third shipment, we went big. We ordered over $14,000 worth of equipment to outfit clinics, more neighborhoods, and more. Our charter connection dried up and we sought out other means of transport. A pilot friend of a friend offered to get it to Puerto Rico so we sent that pallet of gear to Pensacola awaiting a flight. However, despite working hard to get the flight ironed out, and through no fault of his own, that connection dried up as the plane was re-tasked for other work. Our shipment stalled, but we tried angle after angle to find a way to get the gear to Puerto Rico.

One of our volunteers had a pallet of matzo bread headed to PR on a boat and we toyed with getting our gear all the way up to New York to go on the “matzo boat”. No kidding.

But nothing worked. As it turned out, getting support was easy. Getting experts together to problem-solve and come up with great solutions in a crisis is no problem. As hackers we do that well. Getting support (and discounts) from kind-hearted manufacturers like Goal Zero was also no sweat. The biggest problem was getting much-needed relief on a plane, on the ground so it can actually be used by people in need.

Suddenly, the clouds broke as one of our volunteers connected with HLPAir, and they generously agreed to help us get our gear to Puerto Rico. We were elated to have found an organization working in the sweet spot on a problem that had stumped us. 

When the flight details came in on Thursday, we raced to get the pallet of gear sent from Pensacola to Miami for the HLPAir flight on Tuesday. In Pensacola, our pilot friend Dave and two young ladies, Terri and Shannon, who worked for the charter management company, got to work to try to get our gear to Miami in time. These folks literally unpacked 600+ pounds of gear, walked it up and down two-story flights of stairs and moved it around to various shippers to try to get it to us. They did this for total strangers. I was dumbstruck.

But the difficulty of shipping lithium batteries bit us again, and time and time again, FedEx ran these poor folks in circles and our Goal Zero lithium generators, specifically the lithium Yeti 1000’s and Yeti 400’s were undelivered — returned to sender. Despite the heroic efforts of the team in Pensacola, only half the gear (Goal Zero panels and lights, primarily) made it to Miami in time for the flight. 

I have to admit, I was beyond frustrated at all of this, and I let my frustration get the better of me more than once. Fortunately those that were on the business end of my frustration were beyond gracious and I learned a valuable life lesson from them about the power of grace. 

As a result, we have more gear on the way to Puerto Rico. Here’s part of that shipment:

This shipment consists of:

The rest of the gear will follow on another HLP flight VERY shortly. 

Mos importantly, we have devised “Go Kits” that will help get gear where it needs to go without all this shipping fuss. We’ve developed two kits: one that is legal as a carry-on for commercial flights and one that’s larger that can be sent ground or on cargo / charter flights. More on that soon.

Thank you so much for your continued support of our Puerto Rico relief efforts. Specifically, thanks to Dave Cox, Shannon and Terri in Pensacola, Aubrey at HLPAir (and Josh Marpet for that amazing connection), our PR Operations team, and of course Jose Quinones and Carlos Perez who are working tirelessly on the ground to get this gear in the areas that still need it most. Remember, folks, most of Puerto Rico is without power and water. Just because the news media has forgotten about Puerto Rico doesn’t mean you have. 

Also, a huge thanks to both IOMAXIS and INGRESSIVE who have made a major donation to help in our PR relief efforts!

This has been a huge team effort. Thank you all!