BT engineers assist tsunami relief effort

A team of BT engineers are on their way to restore communications links in Indonesia, as other tech giants pledge money and equipment

As technology companies rallied to support the relief effort following the Indian Ocean tsunami, seven BT engineers flew to Indonesia on Tuesday to help restore telecommunication services in one of the worst-hit regions.

The engineers, who left London this morning, will work with Indonesia Telekom in the Aceh region of Sumatra, which was devastated by last week's disaster. Their first task will be to re-establish satellite communications links to a number of islands in the area.

The seven men -- David Corrie, Andy Kennedy, Rod Montgomery, Dave Hart, George Johnson, Bill Green and Paul Hendy -- all volunteered their services last week. An eighth, Richard Harris, is due to fly out later this week. They could be joined by other BT employees once they have assessed the extent of the work needed to rebuild telecommunication networks in the area.

"We'll speak with them every day to find out what's needed. We'll then source this equipment locally or fly it out to them," said a BT spokesman.

It is understood that quite a number of the telco's employees have expressed a willingness to take part in the reconstruction work.

Indonesia was particularly badly hit by the tsunami, with over 94,000 people killed according to the latest estimates. The areas being visited by the BT team are likely to have suffered massive damage. A team on the ground has already set up logistics links and an office in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra.

Networking giant Cisco has pledged communications equipment to help relief organisations communicate from the disaster zones, and has donated $2.5m (£1.3m) for humanitarian relief and reconstruction.

On Friday, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation announced a $3m donation, saying that it hopes the donation will encourage others to give to the relief efforts.

"We in the United States understand firsthand what it means to receive support from across the globe in times of crisis. Now it is our turn to show the people of southern Asia how much we care for their survival and well-being," Michael Dell said in a statement. "We encourage people in our country and everywhere to find in their hearts to give generously to these people and the relief efforts."

The pledge from the Dell Foundation came a day after Microsoft announced a donation of $3.5m.

"Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by this terrible tragedy," Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said in a statement. "Microsoft is committed to helping governments and relief organisations in the recovery effort through financial donations, technical resources and volunteer support."

Microsoft's donation will include $2m in immediate corporate contributions to local and international relief agencies. The company projects that its matching of employee charitable contributions worldwide will provide an additional $1.5m in corporate donations to relief agencies.

BT has donated £500,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee, whose Web site it has also supported over the last week as the public rushed to donate.

"The DEC would urge people to donate online if they have the choice," said Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the DEC, on Friday.

"All donations are of course welcome but online donations reach us immediately thanks to the support of BT who volunteered to take over the running of the Web site. There are more than 11,000 online donations an hour at present and we are hopeful that many additional millions of pounds will be donated in this efficient manner."

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