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Response Force 1

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Ed Minyard is the President and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of ResponseForce1 (RF1), a specialized government contractor that works directly with FEMA and other government agencies as well as non-profit organizations to help coordinate logistical operations supporting disaster response and recovery efforts. Ed and his team at RF1 have been working closely with Hughes for multiple 2017 disaster response missions in Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Disaster planning has always been part of the information technology landscape and I had worked countless projects in that area before starting RF1,” said Ed. “But, I have never encountered a level of destruction like what I saw in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. It was overwhelming – an extremely complicated environment with no power, communications or dedicated means of transportation.”

Image by Ed Minyard
 Photo by Ed Minyard

Immediately following Hurricane Irma, Ed and his team were contracted by FEMA for their first mission: supporting the FEMA Air Bridge at the San Juan St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Johns Airports. Ed’s team boarded one of the first FEMA flights to the islands with a response team to evaluate how to get the islands’ airports back up and running.

On the heels of Hurricane Irma, came Hurricane Maria.  Ed’s team was evacuated, then returned immediately afterwards, to resume and expand the mission.  After Maria, aside from needing electrical power, the airports also needed Internet connectivity to schedule the rotating cycles of aircraft that needed to come in with response teams.

Ed noted, “RF1 deployed solar generators to ensure stable power at each of the airports involved in the mission.  Once the 1250 Watt solar generators came online at the airports, teams had to prioritize who and what would get a share of the limited power source. We started with powering a VSAT and a laptop to begin sending and receiving communications.” The hours turned into days and weeks before the all of the airports became regularly functional again due to limited power sources and structural damage to the facilities.

 Photo by Ed Minyard

Later, with the airport close to fully functional again, the bulk of the work was about to begin for Ed and his team. He was transported back to the U.S. to start lining up logistics to get people and supplies to the islands.

Given the lack of infrastructure, the RF1 team had to get creative. “We hitched rides on government flights, we chartered planes - anything we could find to reach the islands.” It turned out that getting to the islands was only part of the problem at hand.

“When we got there, we had to quickly develop working relationships so we could get around the island,” Ed recalled. “Luckily I had a friend who had a car rental business and since I knew to bring cash in advance, we were able to get reliable transportation. So it was me and two other installers in a small SUV packed to the roof, with passengers carrying stacks of cases on their laps as we drove to each location.”

It’s only natural that disaster relief starts with the most vulnerable – the elderly, sick and the poor but one area that isn’t seeing enough attention right now, from Ed’s perspective, are educational institutions.

“Schools may not be structurally sound to conduct class, and if they are, they don’t have power or Internet access,” he said. “Many of the schools here were very modern before the storm but an iPad isn’t going to help much without power or connectivity. They lost the means to a digital education and no one knows how long it will take to get it back.”

While initial government-led recovery efforts are necessarily focused first in more densely populated cities, Ed found there was also abundant need in more rural areas of Puerto Rico, such as Ponce and Santa Isabel where the recovery process hadn’t even yet begun.

“We worked closely with the Eagles Wings Foundation, who does tremendous work in situations like this where much of the efforts focus on the rural and poorer communities.” RF1 helped some of the smaller communities get supplies and the connectivity they needed to a deploy disaster relief coordination center in the local community of Santa Isabel. That enabled the scheduling transports for people with deteriorating health conditions to better medical facilities, as well as the ability to order more supplies and medicine.

 Photo by Ed Minyard

One hospital stood out to Ed – Hospital San Cristobal in Ponce. “Since this is a private hospital, they were way down the priority list for government assistance. We went to see what we could help with,” he recalled. “They were running low on medicines and facing potential outbreaks of disease which would only further complicate wider response efforts.”

RF1 teamed with NPO The Coalition of Hope – Ed is a member of their Advisory Board - to outfit the hospital with a VSAT so they could communicate with outside resources to get the medicines and supplies they were desperate to import.

“Power is still the big requirement; how will they continue to power chemo pumps, oxygen tanks or even contact specialists who are normally available via telemedicine platforms?” The diesel fuel for their generator is not a daily guarantee, making each day a struggle. To assist the hospital, RF1 donated additional solar generators for more reliable power.

With newfound dedicated communications deployed by RF1 and Hughes, the hospital was able to get the resources they needed from pharmaceutical distributers, medical suppliers and government agencies they had not been able to communicate with prior to getting back online.

Ed was not shy about his doing what had to be done. “In situations like this, it doesn’t really help to plan everything down to the granular details because nothing can prepare you for what you will face,” he said. “You just have to go and tell yourself that you’ll figure out a way to get the job done. And that’s exactly what we did and will continue to do until we’re no longer needed.”

 

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