Disaster response Haiti

Hurricane Gustav

Published on Sep 03, 2008 02:00 AM  -  Updated on Jul 09, 2019 03:26 PM
TSF supported satellite communications and IT resource centres for humanitarian emergency operations following four hurricanes in Haiti.

Context: Hurricane
Start date: 03/09/2008
End date: 04/10/2008
Areas of intervention: 2 cities

  • Port-au-Prince
  • Gonaives


  • Telecom centres
  • Telecom assessments
  • UNDAC support
  • Humanitarian calling operations

11,250 MB of data exchanged by humanitarian workers
1,514 family beneficiaries of calls
50 users / day in the telecom centre in Gonaives


From 16th August to 7th September, 2008, Haiti was swept by four hurricanes and tropical storms (Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike), leaving behind a humanitarian toll marked by more than two hundred deaths, massive destruction and a general state of desolation. In a country where self-sufficiency barely reaches 50% and 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, the consequences of these disasters were dramatic.

On 26th August, Hurricane Gustav, classified in category 4 with winds up to 240km/h, ravaged the coastal areas, killing more than 80 people.

The most affected area was the city Gonaives in the north of the country, which had already been severely affected in 2004. Out of 300,000 inhabitants, at least 250,000 needed immediate assistance.

The commune of Gonaives was quickly converted into the main hub for humanitarian organisations (NGOs and UN agencies), coordinated from Port-au-Prince.


At the request of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Télécoms Sans Frontières deployed a first team from the Managua operational base to Port-au-Prince on 3rd September. A second was deployed the next day from the International Headquarters followed by a third team on 17th September.

As a first step, TSF provided technical support (telecoms and IT) to the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Teams (UNDAC).

Telecoms centres

OSOCC in Port-au-Prince

OCHA set up an On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) in Port-au-Prince to manage the crisis from the capital on 3rd September. The OSOCC was the focal point for the exchange of information of all humanitarian actors present in the field (information sharing, sectoral and general meetings, etc.). TSF provided technical support during the first 15 days of the emergency:

  • Setting up the necessary equipment for day-to-day functioning (printer, scanner, telephones, etc.);
  • Management of the extension of the local network;
  • Establishment of the Groove Information System to facilitate the exchange of information between UNDAC, OCHA and the Resident Coordinator's Office;


With the support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), TSF deployed an emergency telecom centre for the humanitarian community on the premises of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the 5th September. Integrated from the beginning into the OSOCC, the main activities of the centre were:

  • Provide a reliable and high speed internet connection during the emergency phase;
  • Provide a satellite telephone line to alleviate the GSM network failures;
  • Provide computer services (printing, scanning, fax, photocopying, etc.);
  • Provide technical support to the entire humanitarian community (configuration of computers, telecom equipment, advice, etc.);
  • General technical support to the UNDAC team to improve overall coordination (setting up a meeting room with a video projector);
  • GPS loan for UNDAC team evaluations;
  • Support for the mapping of shelters in Gonaives.

“Very impressive and helpful. It’s been an asset for so much coordination needed within the organization and with other organizations [...] more offices like this are needed in such a situation”, stated Haitian NGO, AMURT.

Until 1st October, the TSF telecom centre provided an essential link to over 30 beneficiary organisations. This connection allowed humanitarian workers to liaise with both their offices in Port-au-Prince and their headquarters abroad. On average, 50 representatives of humanitarian organisations per day benefited from TSF's satellite internet connection and technical assistance.

Telecoms assessments

On 5th September, a complete assessment of the telecoms situation in Gonaives was carried out by TSF team, which was flown on the spot the same day. The passage of cyclone Ike during the weekend of 6th and 7th September did not cause additional damage to the telecom infrastructure.

A TSF member provided telecom and logistical support to both inter-agency assessments. The telecom resources provided by TSF enabled to send the evaluation reports quickly to Port-au-Prince, but were also used to ensure the safety of these teams should there be a problem - Haiti being classified as zone 3 according to the UN classification.

From 9th to 11th September, a telecom assessment was conducted in Les Cayes by UNDAC, WFP, MDM, Terre des Hommes, World Vision, DPC. On 16th September, the second assessment was conducted at Nippes by UNDAC, FACT Team, and DPC.

Humanitarian calling operations

TSF set up humanitarian calling operations to allow those who had lost everything to give news to their relatives and to seek their help. Due to security conditions and difficult access, with Gonaives still flooded, calling operations started on 16th September.

In order to reach the largest number of people, TSF focused on the most important reception centres and settled at the most frequented places during the day such as the towns’ squares, markets or health centres. The mobile team moved from centre to centre, usually covering two per day.

Each family benefitted from a free three-minute call worldwide. In total, more than 1,500 families were able to contact their relatives. More than 80% of the calls were to overseas, 90% to the United States, but also to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, France or Canada.

The GSM network was partially available after the cyclones and many of Gonaives’ residents had mobile phones, but power cuts prevented them from recharging the battery. In addition, they often did not have enough money to call abroad, considering a 3-minute call abroad cost about $3.50, or 135 Gourdes. As an indication, a cup of rice (the measure used locally) costs 35 Gourdes, about $1. For these populations, wiped out by the food crisis and repeated natural disasters, access to TSF telephone lines meant not only the comfort of talking to their beloved, but also the opportunity to seek financial assistance from family or friends through Western Union.

A 53-year-old resident was able to call her father in Miami for the first time in a month. Although her father could not send her money, she was happy to be able to give him news. "Just hearing the sound of his voice, you gave me three minutes of happiness," she told us.

By the end of September, the phase of the first emergency in telecommunications was over in Gonaives: the victims could now recharge their mobiles and be called from Haiti and abroad.

Before withdrawing, TSF ensured that alternative solutions existed for an internet connection. Some organisations had time to deploy their own communications - GPRS cards to connect via the mobile network were working and a cybercafé was open again in the city. In order to ensure that all the humanitarian organisations had an Internet connection, TSF coordinated the handover with the World Food Programme (WFP), leader of the Emergency Telecommunications Working Group. The TSF connection was then replaced by the WFP connection at MINUSTAH Compound in order to allow time for all organisations to be autonomous in terms of communications.

With the support of