blog « 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!

Littlebits training in Uganda

We’ve been big fans of Littlebits for a long time. Here Josh is training ex-pats in an impromptu training class. I love that Josh has become such a great instructor that now “Westerners” trust him for robotics training. Way to go, Josh and thanks to all the kids and parents that worked together to make this possible!

Pallet of gear on the way to Puerto Rico!

As we outlined in this post, we placed a $14,030.17 order of solar gear with Goal Zero (who provided us an amazing discount) and yesterday was a flurry of activity as we split the shipment out.

The reason we are splitting the shipment is that we ordered $2,965.58 worth of HFC-funded Goal Zero equipment in this order which we are using to build disaster relief kits that we can have ready to deploy when needed. In order to get this at discount, we bundled it with the Puerto Rico order. 

Because this order was so large, it had to be shipped as freight. I didn’t know what that meant.  All I knew was that is was supposed to arrive last Friday. When it didn’t show up, I called Goal Zero and they helped me track it to a shipping terminal near my home. This wasn’t FedEx or UPS, but a trucking company. OK, no big deal. I called the trucking company and they scheduled a drop-off, asking me strange questions like, “Do you have a loading dock?” and “Wait, this is a residence? How big is your driveway?”

They explained that they had a “truck” that would need some room to get in the driveway. When the truck showed up, I understood.

Yes, a full semi showed up with the gear!

Now, granted it only took up a small portion of the semi, but it was a full pallet of gear:

The driver used the pallet jack to get the gar off the truck, and together we pushed it up the driveway. We got it as far as we could, and finally gave up on the slope near the carport:

My son helped me split the shipment, and we got the Puerto Rico gear into our car. It literally filled the entire car. As you can see some of the gear was a bit worse for the wear:

I headed out to the local FedEx office, having heard that shipping was open to Puerto Rico. I arrived at the office and started unloading the gear. When we weighed everything out, I was told it would be about $100 PER POUND to ship to Puerto Rico, and that there were no guarantees as to when it would arrive and the recipient would likely have to pick it up at the airport. Then, the agent took one look at the Hazmat 9 stickers on the Yetis and said, “Well, we’re done here. I can’t touch that. It has to go freight.”

At this point I was confused. I knew Goal Zero shipped their lithium FedEx and UPs all the time. I called GZ to confirm, and they did confirm. FedEx was confused but helpful, connecting me to their freight office who told me to “come on by”. I put a note out to our Puerto Rico Operations group and everybody sprung into action, telling me what I thought I already knew: you can, in fact, send big lithiums through FedEx and UPS ground. But I was stuck. So I packed up the car, again, and headed to the FedEx freight office.

This place was a freight office, alright. Row after row of FedEx semi trucks all lined up at the loading docks. I met with an agent, Jamie, who was incredibly kind and helpful. She told me where to park the car, ordered a pallet truck and pallet and handed me a bill of lading. I had no idea what I was doing and she could tell. She jumped right in and started filling out the form while I loaded the pallet. When she asked me about the destination, it was obvious that going to Puerto Rico was not going to be an option. Instead we opted to send it to Pensacola, where our friend Dave has offered a charter jet to get it to PR. Finally, I finished loading the pallet and Jamie had finished the form. I was pretty proud of my packing job, but more relieved that it looked like this was going to be the last time I had to load and unload what turned out to be 620 pounds of gear!

All things said, the shipping was incredibly inexpensive, and the price came down even more when she applied a 65% discount which included a walk-in and non-profit discount. And the difference between two and three-day shipping was less than $20, so we went with 2-day. 

Our pallet wrapped and on the way!

When I got home, I caught up on my “real job” and later that evening I unpacked some of the HFC-purchased demo gear for our deploy cases. My heart sunk when I realized that the Nomad panels and Yeti generators had changed since I used them in Uganda. The new units were stronger and lighter, but were also reconfigured so that external cables were required to chain more than one Nomad 100 panel together. I connected with Goal Zero and had those cables sent Pensacola send-day air, which will hopefully arrive with the pallet. 

Later, the first FedEx agent called me back to apologize about her misunderstanding: FedEx does, in fact ship hazmat 9 containers via ground. This was good info but as it turned out, freight was much more economical for a shipment as big as this one anyhow.

I was thrilled with my experience with FedEx and will continue to use them for all of our shipments. 

I’m also thankful to Goal Zero for the great support, amazing product and ongoing support of our efforts and to our Operations team of volunteers that are literally working every day to pull this all together. I’m also grateful for each and even one of you that has supported us in this effort. You are making a difference! We are learning so much as we do this and it’s amazing to see that we are really helping when big organizations and the government are working on the big picture. We have been on the ground in this relief effort for nearly a month, much longer than the larger groups, and we are proud to stand in the gap as the “big dogs” leverage their resources to tackle the big-picture, long-term efforts.

See what else has been going on with our Puerto Rico effort here and please donate if you can. We have so much more to do! Thank you!

Major shipment ordered for Puerto Rico

We’ve placed our largest @GoalZero order to date! Weighing in at a whopping 500+ pounds, and costing just north of $14,000, this order will go a long way to expanding beyond the neighborhood level. We’re working with Carlos and Jose to really understand the need on the ground, and they tell us that communication and power are still top priorities. Together, your donations have helped them expand beyond their neighborhood as surrounding communities have some to them for help and support. Seeking to cut back on theft and crime, we were able to get in the fight and cut back on both by setting up neighborhood watches with lights and radios. Now, together, we are also helping out local members of the Air National Guard and we are also outfitting the Mayor’s office with radios (they were previously using “foot runners” to communicate!)

For this particular order, we took advice from Carlos and Jose, and got into distinct kits with solar generators, solar panels and lighting systems for bases of various capacity. 

The breakout looks something like this:

It’s getting really hard to show visually what we’ve purchased so far, but here’s a representation:


We purchase our largest power station to date (the Yeti 1000 Lithium) which will be charged by 4 Nomad 100 panels, and also cables to allow for charging from car batteries and alternate power sources. 

Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Lithium Portable Power Stations
Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium Portable Power Stations
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Stations
22 Nomad 100 Solar Panels
12 Lighthouse Mini Lanterns
10 Light-a-Life Mini Quad USB Light Sets
12 Spot USB Flashlights
12 Luna Touch LED Lights
6mm Male to Alligator Clamps
18 8.0mm Input 15ft Extension Cables

Thanks for your continued support! We have done so much. But the world continues to turn, and the media has moved on from the events in Puerto Rico. Make no mistake; there is still dire need in Puerto Rico. The island is still without power, and communication is still terrible. We continue to rely on your support to help where we can. Please consider a donation today!

National Guard brings up Air Traffic Control

Lt. Arroyo is making a difference in PR. And you’ve got his back.

In this amazing article on, we get a glimpse into the difficulties surrounding the relief effort in Puerto Rico. While we vaguely understand that it is “hard to get supplies into Puerto Rico” most of us really don’t have a clue. The article outlines one of the many reasons:

The loss of power and communications lines required that all aircraft traffic be controlled by visual and physical spacing. Only one aircraft could arrive or leave the island every 10 minutes, or six per hour, to ensure that the aircraft were safely separated. Under normal operating conditions, an airport the size of San Juan International can handle about 45 flights per hour. The limited aircraft movement choked the supply chain of critical material and personnel, officials said.

The Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG) jumped into the restoration of the air traffic control system and the result was astounding:

With basic communications re-established, the number of flights taking place per hour began to climb —  from six per hour to 18 per hour two days after the storm — to more than 30 per hour, and finally into the upper 30s and low 40s, which is normal operations.

While this might look reasonably simple on paper, this was not a simple operation. This effort was the result of thousands of hours of effort by PRANG personnel like Air Force 2nd Lt. Jose Arroyo-Cruz, a 156th cyberspace operations officer and one of hundreds of Puerto Rico Air National Guard members who’ve been on the job since before the storm hit. He put it quite succinctly when he said that, “It was a giant hole in the highway in the sky. We had to fix that hole before we could bring in aid to the people of Puerto Rico.”

2nd Lt. Arroyo-Cruz told us privately that, “We are working 16-18 hr days, and when I get home I have no power.”

To honor his sacrifice, you stepped in, along with gracious support from Goal Zero and provided him with two Nomad 28 Plus Folding Solar Panels and a Yeti 150 Portable Power Station

With communication and power still down in Puerto Rico, service men and women are working tirelessly to restore service and safety. Turning on their lights is the least we can do. 

Thank you for your continued support. The island is only at 8% power and thousands of people are still suffering. If you haven’t already, please join our on-going relief effort in Puerto Rico. Your funds are going directly to the relief effort in very visible ways. Thank you! 

Great photos from the ground in Puerto Rico!

Some great photos of your donations at work. We’re so thrilled that together we’ve been able to provide power and communications support while the “big” organizations are working their way onto Puerto Rico. Thanks for your support! We’re making progress!

Shown are the following products in action:

Each link connects you to where a percentage of any purchase after clicking the link can support Hackers For Charity if you select us as your charity of choice! 

Touchdown of our first flown shipment to Puerto Rico!

The bird has landed! We are so thrilled. Thanks to your support, and that of countless members of the community, our first shared cargo shipment has touched down on a plane funded by “an international Puerto Rican bank” who wishes to remain anonymous.

The detail of that shipment are outlined here.

Here are first photos of the plane, with Carlos and Juan waiting at the side of the runway:


Here’s a visual account of the gear that’s now on soil in Puerto Rico, thanks to you:

Thanks for your support, but we still have a journey ahead of us. We are going to get more power gear there, hopefully within this next week and hope to fill the gap as larger efforts begin to get underway. 

Please consider supporting our efforts by donating here. 

Our first non-commercial shipment to Puerto Rico


We have another shipment taking off from Miami on Saturday morning, September 30 detained for Puerto Rico. (Update: Plane arrived. See more recent post). We are sharing space in a larger plane and sending a good amount of gear.

First Mycroft sent a metric crapload of radios, including 30 Baofeng BF-888S handheld radios and 29 LT-316 handhelds, which are basically (Luiton RT/WLN rebrands). The Luiton’s are exceptional for our situation because they are USB-charged.

To power all of this we are sending four base stations including one medium and three stations.

The medium-sized stations include:

This can be used as a main neighborhood charging hubs or small law enforcement bases. 

The Yeti 400 can fully charge approximately twenty-five radios per day, or can be used to charge laptops, phones, tablets and more. The Nomad 100 should charge the 400 in approximately nine hours. Puerto Rico has approximately 5.5 hours of full sun per day, but we hope a fully discharge of the 400 will be rare. These power stations can also be charged from generator.

Each station will also include a Light-a-Life 4-light set and an additional Mini USB. These can be daisy chained to light an entire office. We will also include Torch tri-power (solar, USB charge and crank) combination spotlight, emergency signal light and flood light. The torch can also be used to charge the USB radios as well as any other USB device.

The mini base stations are for neighborhood hubs and include:

These portable Yeti 150’s can charge up to ten radios per day, or can be used to charge phones, tablets and more. The dual Nomad 28’s should charge the 150 in approximately five hours.

Each mini base station will also include a Light-a-Life hanging light and well as a Torch tri-power (solar, USB charge and crank) combination spotlight, emergency signal light and flood light. The torch can also be used to charge the USB radios as well as any other USB device.

We used this calculator to calculate the power requirements. This one is for the Yeti 400.

We are thrilled to have this first “non-commercial” shipment in motion. As you might recall, we had our previous shipment checked as luggage with Carlos and Juan. We have another potential shipment coming up on October 6 out of Pensacola. This shipment should allow us to send larger solar generators to assist local law enforcement, government, Civil defense and EMS.

Thanks so much for your support. This operation is taking a lot of time, effort and financial support. There are so many members of our community working on this from so many directions including and we couldn’t do it without each and every one of you. This is a true community effort! To pitch in, please stop by the Puerto Rico Disaster Relief donation page.

Planes and power math

We have a line on a plane to get our shipment down to Puerto Rico. This could happen by October 6. Hopefully, this will give our guys time to settle in a bit with their families and reconnect before we dump all this gear on them. 

Based on Goal Zero Nomad 28, Yeti 150, and Baofeng BF-888S handheld radios, we’re looking at this math. This will be a neighborhood radio charging station for (at most) ten radios:

Our larger setup will be based on (4) Yeti 1000 Generators, and (8) Nomad 100W folding panels. These will be larger systems not only for charging radios, but also fans, fridges, lights, comm gear and much more at operational bases serving Fire, EMS, Civil Defense and local Police.

We had looked at permanent install panels and larger folding 200W panels, but they are too big for the planes we’re looking at using for this next shipment. We also like the Nomad 100 because it weighs in at around ten pounds.

That’s where we are right now. We should be placing the order today. 

Thanks everyone!




Gear to Puerto Rico: First shipment

So far, we’ve been able to get the bare necessities to Carlos and Jose as they begin their journey back to their friends and family in Puerto Rico.

Our focus at this early stage was to get lightweight, immediate-need gear that could be checked on to their commercial flight. Based on their needs we included solar panels, power packs, lights and communications equipment. 

Thanks to a generous discount from Goal Zero, the following equipment was shipped to C&J and checked as luggage:

Mycroft also sent 30 Baofeng BF-888S handheld radios to get them started.

Here are some photos of the Goal Zero gear that was sent:

At this stage, we are working on logistics to get a larger pallet of radios and gear down to Puerto Rico, but we’ve run into some logistical problems. I have no doubt this team will get those issues sorted.

We will keep you posted and thanks for the support!