1 of 5Image
Carmen Hernandez's son in Spain: "Mom, where are you calling from? Your voice is trembling, are you sure everything is alright?"
Carmen Hernandez calling from the port of Pisco in Peru: "Don't worry, please keep talking, it's so good to hear your voice. We're lacking everything here but we're alive. When you come back, you won't recognise Pisco. I'm calling from a satellite phone, a free call offered by an international NGO. Don't worry son, stay where you are."
This extract from a satellite call made last week using equipment provided by communications charity Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) illustrates what motivates the charity's 13-strong team of mainly French IT and telecoms engineers to rush halfway around the world at a few hours' notice to confront the results of disasters, both natural and man-made.
The organisation, which was set up in 1998 by former France Telecom employee Jean-Francois Cazenove, may not be involved in direct rescue work or providing healthcare like its sister organisation, Médicins Sans Frontières, but the services it provides enables other agencies to do their jobs more efficiently. Where natural disasters are concerned, more time means more lives saved.
"We didn't ask ourselves any questions when we saw the scale of the earthquake. It was 7.9 and we knew there would be problems which were confirmed when we were on the plane," says TSF's Oisin Walton, discussing the lead-up to the organisation's decision to fly to Pisco following the earthquake there on Wednesday 15 August.
Within hours, five of TSF's France-based staff were on their way to Peru's capital Lima, where they would then travel overland to Pisco to be joined by volunteers from one of the organisation's regional bases in Nicaragua.
The team's first task was to set up a communications centre that would allow rescue workers to co-ordinate their efforts, to care for the victims who could be found and search for those buried under the rubble of Pisco. The next stage of any emergency response is to widen the scope of the communications centre to allow civilians — such as Ms Hernandez — to contact relatives.