New Zealand Permanent Mission Geneva, Switzerland
The Weirdness of Matthew Lloyd
Matthew joined New Zealand Red Cross’s International Team when they needed someone to improve communications between Pacific Island Red Cross Societies and their distant outposts. He researched their needs and put together the Talking Briefcase, which essentially provided Iridium satellite phones in disaster proof cases with solar panels and other useful equipment, for example for running the phones off vehicle batteries. Having visited the islands as part of his research and to provide training, he came up with the larger Talking Suitcase, which contained a portable VHF repeater system, enabling emergency workers to communicate and co-ordinate as a team at any time and place of their choosing.
His work with the various Pacific Island nations has provided much opportunity for the sharing of ideas and camaraderie. He has been affectionately referred to as ‘Q’ when demonstrating the latest communications equipment.
He was delighted that the French Red Cross also saw the potential of the talking briefcases and suitcases, and invited him to teach disaster telecoms in the French speaking Pacific.
In 2007, Matthew was asked by New Zealand Red Cross if he could set up an IT&T ERU (information technology and telecommunications emergency response unit) for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, being one of only five in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. ERUs are a tool of the Federation, prepared to deploy anywhere in the world, instantly, to support the Federation when responding to major disasters.
He then had the task of recruiting people for the ERU who were intelligent problem solvers, technically competent, and able to function in extraordinary circumstances. Training the team was as much about giving them the confidence to go out and work in the field, as it was learning about hardware. He has found this very rewarding work, and has been at pains to ensure that the team’s personal lives did not suffer when they were deployed, potentially anywhere in the world and almost at a moment’s notice, to provide communications without which nothing else will happen.
At the same time, Matthew turned his attention to the New Zealand Red Cross portable reverse osmosis plant, turning it from a half tonne monster into a better equipped system packed to travel by air as personal luggage. This system has been employed very successfully recently relieving drought in Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands (which gained quite a bit of media coverage).
Just over three years ago, the Australian Red Cross alerted Matthew to cutting edge work being done at Flinders’ University, Adelaide, by Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen. Paul’s ‘Project Serval’ used Wi Fi and very clever software to allow computer files to hop from smartphone to smartphone until they reached their destination. Matthew could see the potential in this for the next step forward in disaster communications – to enable people to continue to use their familiar smartphones in crisis situations when there is a loss, or absence, of cellular infrastructure.
Matthew and Paul worked together on the idea, and a prototype was tested by the IT&T ERU at ‘Kiwi-Ex’ in 2012, an exercise with international participants. It is the result of their collaboration that has just excitingly just won the communications component of the Innocentive Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention (http://www.thetechchallenge.org/winners/communicate.html).
While delighted by this result, Matthew and Paul are not resting on their laurels and are exploring the possibilities of linking with US company DeLorme’s InReach satellite tracker, which is capable of exchanging text through the Iridium Satellite System, and can communicate with a smartphone by blue tooth.
Putting together Project Serval and InReach as a package provides for longer range communication, and results in what they are calling “Succinct Data”, a combination retaining the familiarity and capability of the smartphone but giving it unlimited range over the surface of the Earth.
New Zealand Red Cross now plans to give Succinct Data to the Pacific Island Red Cross societies, as a less expensive and more robust disaster communications tool with the important added bonus of being able to deliver tsunami warnings to remote Red Cross offices without other communications.