Wilderness First Responder in the making

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been hanging around the Bay Area. I did a contract for my old boss at his new employer, and some other random undirected hanging out I can’t really remember. Oh, I think it involved postponing writing code by taking the dog to the dog park. I’ve also been working on the unread books from my bibliography, including some new ones I found. One is really gripping; it is a memoir of a Canadian nurse who worked for MSF for four years. So much of what she says is familiar to me after all my reading.

To save you the effort of reading all those books, the stories she tells that are repeated time and again in other books are:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and scared for the first week, especially the first hour, when the MSF driver who was supposed to meet her at the airport wasn’t there.
  • Arriving at her posting to find that things have changed and she’s doing a different job than she expected.
  • Noticing and remarking on the beauty of the land in the middle of human cruelty.
  • Mentioning the somewhat uncoordinated, or at least “fiercely independent” nature of the various MSFs.
  • Trouble at checkpoints, culminating in getting thrown in jail for a few hours.
  • Feeling guilt and loss when leaving a mission, and wondering what happened to national staff who simply disappeared when the fighting in their home village got too bad.
  • Mentioning that the logisticians (“loggies”) keep things running, and that when you find a good one you should marry him. Thus…
  • Meeting a husband who is a logistician, including the almost cliche of falling in love and starting a relationship in the middle of a war.
  • Feeling a space open up between her and friends and family from “before”, who simply can’t understand her new life.

The regularity with which all these stories are repeated in all the books is either due to the fact that because they make for good books editors crave them, or the fact they are unifying features of the life I’ve chosen for myself. Let’s just assume it’s the editors, ok? Not enough of those are happy fun things for me to be looking forward to them.

I’ve been looking into Geographic Information Systems some. I want to turn my local city park into a refugee camp, including a nifty map like they make at the Humanitarian Information Centre for Darfur. Paul told me to start off with pencil, paper, and my boots. But that doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun as spending hours trying to understand GIS software from the comfort of my house!

The other cool thing I arranged for myself is an 80 hour first aid course. When I’m done on April 3, I will be a WMI Wilderness First Responder (WFR, pronounced “woofer”). That’s pretty much one step (and about 80 hours) below Wilderness EMT. It means I’ll be able to take care of patients for days before “definitive care” like a hospital is available to my patient. To give you yet one more idea, WFR is typically required for the leader of guided wilderness expeditions.

I’ve been thinking for a while that taking an EMT course would help me relate to the doctors and nurses I meet in MSF, not to mention make me more useful in case of a medical emergency where I was the only one available to respond to it. I talked to Jon a while back and ran the idea by him. He agreed, but also agreed with me that any training that assumed I had the infrastructure available to me that United States EMTs have (i.e. fully stocked ambulances and hospitals within 10 minutes) would be useless. So I found a wilderness course, and I’m really glad I did.

So far I’ve had two days of classes. The course is excellent. I would recommend WMI to anyone. I don’t know about the rest of the industry, but it is clear to me that they put a very high value on professionalism, both in the material they are teaching me (which is governed by a board of licensed physicians) and in the teachers themselves.

So, now it is time to hit bed and do some reading before tomorrow’s classes start again at 8 am.

Got an MSF interview!

Some great news on the relief work job hunt: I got a phone call from MSF USA the other day to set up an interview. It will be on April 12, here in San Francisco. The nice lady from MSF told me that what made the difference were recommendations I got from ex-MSF volunteers. Thanks Jon and Amy!

A humanitarian aid bibliography

Here’s a list of the books I’ve been reading over the last year and a half as I figure out how the relief world works.

Books I’ve been meaning to get and study, but haven’t yet:

Be sure to visit AidWorkers.net. The aricles there are good. The signal to noise ratio on the forums is bad, but when you find an answer from an experienced worker, they are usually very valuable. Also, read stuff from MSF, lots of english editions of it things are available in the Biblioteque MSF.

The Onion knows why I want to work overseas

The highly respected journal of international development and humanitarian aid, The Onion, has a fascinating article on relief worker motivations.

Wink, wink.

Update: MSF’s own website backs up the Onion’s claims. Check out the contents of the life support kit for 8 staff members (KADMKLIF08). Yeah, there on the third page… CONDOM, lubricated + RESERVOIR (quantity 144!). Yeah baby… queue porn music (played on African instruments).

How my talk went

My talk on Monday went just fine. It was fun to see people that I’d met in Hancock County again, and the hard work I’d put in to the supporting documentation paid off. I saw several people reading my report.

One interesting thing was that though everyone was dressed in suits
to show proper respect for the proceedings, some people were “suits”,
and some people were just “in suits”. There were a whole lot of
vendors there with their hands out trying to sell something. Everyone
could tell within the first few words our of their mouth. What kept it interesting was that both on the panel, and of the invited speakers, there was at least 30%, maybe more, who were just “in suits”. They were people like me who had real-world experience, didn’t care for meetings, or having their time wasted, or getting sales pitches. They were there to make things better, and they didn’t have a lot of patience with people who weren’t there for the same reason. Very inspiring.

The talk went very well. I easily had time, and participated a bit in
the discussion afterwards.

In virtually every panel, people were talking about interoperability.
The resuce workers want it, the vendors keep saying, “we’ll have it as soon as you upgrade your entire networks to all use our new fancy radios”. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. I realized we’d already showed interopability when we’d taken laptops from first responders from all over the nation and let them connect over VPNs back to their home office and do email with each other. I pointed this out in my talk, and said, “IP stands for internet protocol, but it might as well stand for Interoperability Protocol”. That quote got picked up by the next speaker down the table, and it clearly resonated with the crowd.

Another thing that was really meaningful to me was when Sheriff Kevin Beary of Orange County Police Department spoke up. He told me that the work my team had done was the kind of hands on problem solving and lesson learning that we needed and that he was proud of the initiative it showed. I don’t remember his words exactly, but the undercurrent was, “people like you make the difference, not expensive systems from the sales guys”.

In response to a pointed question by a fire chief about “when will your system and motorola’s system work together”, a vendor danced around it and gave an unconvincing argument (I think it was MA/Com). I decided to open a can of whopass on the vendors and spoke up. I said, “Look, you don’t have to wait for moto or ma/com to deliver interoperability to you. You need to find an independent consultant, get their help to choose commodity parts that use IP, and build your network just like we built ours. You can have interoperability today. Stop waiting for the vendors to solve your problems, and show them that the marketplace is only buying open systems.”

Another cool thing is that Commissioner Deborah Tate was there for
much of the discussion. She gave a little speech when she had to
leave, listing lessons she’d heard that she was going to take back to
DC. There were 10 or 15, but two I’d mentioned made the cut: education for emergency responders on the benefits of unlicensed spectrum and IP = interoperability. (She didn’t use my quote, but she clearly got the idea, because it had been hit by so many people, including me.)

So, it was a trip well worth making!

Giving my talk today

I’m in Jackson, Mississippi today giving my talk on the work Radio Response did in Hancock County. I’ve been burning the midnight oil the last few days getting the following documents ready:

If you find a typo, please don’t tell me until next week! I know about the repeated picture, which I’ll fix in the next version.

My talk is this afternoon. I’ll spend the morning listening to other speakers and making myself nervous. Not really… I’m in good shape thanks to two nights of help from Curtis and DeeAnn.

Wish me luck!