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The last-minute call to take part could have made us think twice — but then, you don't get asked to take part in a UN ICT survival training exercise every week, so short notice or no short notice, ZDNet.co.uk was in.
IT is integral to any relief project as, without the two-way radios, portable satellite terminals, and GPS receivers the technical specialists set-up, it is almost impossible for the rest of the aid agency personnel to communicate with each other and the people they are there to help.
Vodafone Group Foundation, the charitable wing of the telecoms provider, and the UN Foundation have had a relationship since October 2005, when the mobile-phone giant donated $20m (£10m) over five years to the UN charity. In February this year, the organisations announced a further partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) to develop an ICT training programme for humanitarian relief organisations across the board. It was part of this two-week training course that ZDNet.co.uk was invited to take part in, with the promise of an action-packed couple of days in Pisa, Italy, watching UN IT workers get put through their paces, physically and mentally.
Things got off to a bad start, although one that was curiously in keeping with the disaster planning theme of the trip, when BAA decided to evacuate Gatwick's South Terminal in the middle of the afternoon. We were slightly disappointed to learn that the UN's influence doesn't extend to airport fire-alarm tests and this wasn't part of the training programme, but at the very least it was in keeping with the theme of the trip.
The WFP Emergency Preparedness and Response Management Training sounds like a mouthful and well it should, as it aims to prepare would-be IT managers for life in the field in some of the world's most dangerous conflict zones and disaster areas.
ICT specialists, along with the security teams, form the first wave of most aid agencies disaster-response groups. A UN IT manager in the field faces not only the technical challenges that a counterpart in any business would have to deal with, but also responsibility for the safety of up to a dozen colleagues, not to mention a budget of millions of dollars.