Communication Is the Lifeblood of Rescue Operations in Japan

03/18/2011 04:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We know all too well the devastating statistics coming out of Japan. According to the Japanese government, so far nearly 7,000 have been confirmed dead, with over 10,000 missing. About 650,000 people from the affected areas have been evacuated, and over 450,000 people are reported being in shelters. Power remains cut off for 1.2 million households, water supply in the most affected areas is cut for 1.4 million households.

At times like these, many people find themselves asking, 'what can I do?' At NetHope, we've focused on that very question since the moment the earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated Japan on Friday.

As we continue to believe that communication is the lifeblood of rescue operations, NetHope disaster response experts have been working fast and furiously for the past five days with our member humanitarian agencies, the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and the FCC to gather information about the state of the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in Japan. Based on initial reports, we've learned that communication networks have been severely hampered in the devastated areas. This includes mobile networks, which means that most relief teams must use satellite phones to communicate reliably with each other.

What is needed now is to provide satellite-based communication equipment and service by which humanitarian agencies in the region can communicate with each other and the outside world. At NetHope, we're making this our top priority.

In close partnership with our members and others, NetHope will drive efforts to provide connectivity and information sharing services. This includes working with private technology companies and government agencies to identify top needs and corral donations of hardware, expertise and cash to assist in establishing this connectivity that will enable critical information sharing. Taking on this task largely frees up our member organizations to focus on what they do best: deliver aid to those in need.

NetHope member organizations have been active since the initial reports of the earthquake, monitoring the situation as it develops. While many are still evaluating response plans, several are already active in the response including International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mercy Corps (in partnership with Peace Winds), Oxfam International, Plan International, Relief International, Save the Children and World Vision. To learn more about what NetHope and its members are doing in Japan, please visit You can also follow NetHope (@NetHope_org) and our Emergency Response Director, Gisli Olaffson (@gislio) on Twitter for the latest information on our efforts and what you can do to help.

Unfortunately, there's much we still do not know including the total scope of the disaster, which will likely only grow as rescue workers reach and inspect the most affected areas. Tragedies of this magnitude are always shocking, and our hearts go out to those impacted by the destruction.