Joplin, Missouri, was one of the disaster sites
IT volunteers responded to after the infamous 2011 tornadoes.
Joe Hillis is the kind of guy you want on your side during a natural disaster.
During his 25 years in the field, Hillis has worn the hats of fireman, paramedic, policeman, and IT manager. The end result is what he calls “a 360-degree vision of the IT world and the disaster world.”
Getting businesses and other organizations up and running again after a hurricane, flood, or tornado is how Hillis and the non-profit Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) help communities in need. Professionals in the IT field from all over the country join ITDRC to help get communities reconnected to the world.
The organization, which is based in Ft. Worth, Texas, currently operates a 39-foot motor home and a 48-foot trailer filled with wireless, satellite and phone communications systems, generators, and a combined 17 work stations. The Command Bus and Disaster Operations Trailer are deployed to disaster sites such as Joplin, Missouri, and Marion County, Alabama, which experienced several destructive tornadoes in Spring, 2011, and needed the help of the ITDRC.
Computers, networked laser printers, routers, and cabling are among the gear that ITDRC volunteers use to help organizations get up and running again from amidst the rubble.
In Hackleburg, Alabama, the ITDRC provided mobile workspace, power, communications, and technology support for the county’s emergency management team in the days following the tornadoes’ romp through that town.
Right now, the ITDRC has a database of over 100 volunteers across the country. The group has a webpage that lists desired skills and areas of knowledge. Once a person registers, he or she is given an online orientation and training session, as well as a background check.
Keefe Andrews, 29, of Houston, Texas, was motivated to volunteer due to his experience after Hurricane Ike in 2008, when he was working in the IT department of a construction company.
ITDRC Command Bus at a disaster site
“I saw how important IT was in getting a company back into production and restoring critical services such as phone and Internet access,” Andrews explained. “Many small businesses do not have the budget for a dedicated IT person, and therefore experience more difficulty in restoring business services.”
When a disaster hits a community, small businesses — the employment lifeblood of most communities — are among the hardest hit. One 2004 study by DTI/Price Waterhouse Coopers found that 70 percent of small firms that experience an unexpected major data loss go out of business within a year. With so many businesses relying on their computer network to make sales, process orders, and deliver product, each day without working IT infrastructure is a day closer to that business shutting down permanently.
Volunteer Keefe Andrews
The organization needs more volunteers, because, as Hillis reminds us, “A disaster doesn’t just last a few days. A place can be a disaster area for years.”
Volunteers who respond to a disaster site have their accommodations provided, but must volunteer their own travel costs. Not all volunteer efforts have to be performed at the disaster site. For example, one group of volunteers is creating a piece of software to help track food distribution and relief-supplies inventory.
Lakay Patterson, a CompTIA A+ certified IT Pro who has been in the IT field for over 20 years, can’t deploy due to her job, but helps out by updating ITDRC’s computers and servicing printers.
“ITDRC does what so many of us wish we could do — to give back when the need is the greatest,” Patterson said.
Students back at work in computer lab after post-disaster efforts of ITDRC volunteers.
Though it may sound strange that some would run toward a natural disaster, there’s a good reason to do so, says Hillis.
The feeling you get from helping out is incredibly satisfying.
“Many are afraid to take that first step, but once they do, it’s so personally rewarding for them,” says Hillis. “They feel so empowered. You’re not picking up debris in a field. You’re using your skill-set to help someone get back on their feet after a disaster.”
The ITDRC has a wishlist of equipment needs. To donate equipment or to become a sponsor with a cash gift, contact Joe Hillis at: (817) 886-8550, or at email@example.com. Visit the ITDRC website at www.itdrc.org.