In this article

By Bob Olwig, David Hartshorn and Daniel Gutwein

Collaborating with technology allies such as Intel, Geeks Without Frontiers and other organizations committed to corporate responsibility, WWT pursues a range of meaningful endeavors to "make a new world happen." 

Now these organizations have come together to help as many displaced Ukrainian citizens as possible. In record time, WWT and its colleagues coordinated a supply chain to build a fleet of Portable Connectivity Centres (PCCs), customized 20 x 8 foot shipping containers, serving as ad hoc Internet cafés and information stations. Today those PCCs are delivering critical online support for Ukrainian citizens.

Thanks to innovative teamwork, WWT is part of an effort that deployed the PCCs in just over four weeks – less than a third of the time such a project would typically take. What's more, their portable, modular design allows the PCCs to be quickly re-deployed and upgraded as the humanitarian crises evolves, or when similar situations arise elsewhere. The ultimate result is to return a degree of "normalcy" to people whose lives have been upended, linking them to critical resources that will ease their path to rebuilding.

A solution built on teamwork and commitment

Intel and WWT, as N50 Project Lead Partners, were instrumental in working with Geeks Without Frontiers, Computer Aid International, American Tower and others to aid the people of Ukraine, each player contributing their own special expertise in infrastructure, hardware, network, security, connectivity, and much more. The N50 team helped to secure funding for the project from numerous sources and cleared the procedural hurdles to make it happen quickly.

A team of four dozen individuals representing their companies gathered to establish logistics and brainstorm challenges:

  • Where to build the PCCs.
  • What capabilities to include.
  • How to provide security and resist hacking.
  • Modifying hardware to address supply chain constraints.
  • How to transport the finished units.
  • Addressing pandemic-related issues.
  • Securing the financial backing to enable the project.

PCC success depended on the cooperation between US-based participants and their counterparts throughout Eastern Europe. For example, Intel employees in Romania were able to facilitate introductions to government personnel, while WWT leveraged contacts in Ukraine to help coordinate, deploy and maintain their PCCs.

N50 Partners rallied around the idea of rapid response to build the PCCs, navigate the supply chain, secure the build site, and manifest the PCCs. The question then became: who would be best positioned to receive, own, deploy, maintain and operate these assets? At this point N50 Partner, World Vision, stepped in to lead. True to the organization's solid reputation for this kind of work, World Vision became instrumental to the deployments of the PCCs in Romania. 

Touring the Portable Connectivity Centre

Project leaders agreed that deployment flexibility was of the utmost importance. They needed a solution that could be quickly and easily relocated as conditions changed for displaced populations. Thus, the use of flat pack shipping containers that could be loaded onto trucks and moved in a hurry.

Each Centre was provisioned with a robust array of features:

  • Secure connectivity for up to 400 users.
  • Solar powered with generator backup.
  • Multiple charging ports, charging lockers, laptops, video displays and phones.
  • Applications for accessing critical information.
  • Air-conditioned and insulated interior that can be locked and secured.
  • Easy portability as conditions warrant.

Versatility to meet expanding needs in evolving situations

Initially envisioned as a resource for remote learning, the PCC soon was pressed into service for other functions, including:

Supporting education – Previously Ukraine had established a remote learning infrastructure in response to COVID-19, when students could not attend school in person. Then, when the war began, a significant number of schools were destroyed. Now, PCCs can provide connectivity to restore access to a wider assortment of remote education resources – not just in Ukraine but throughout Europe as well.

Fighting human trafficking – The majority of displaced Ukrainians are women and children without resources or protection, making them easy prey for criminals and human traffickers. PCCs offer these individuals a resource for finding safe harbor, educating them to dangers, and helping to secure their safety.

Delivering access to healthcare services –As healthcare needs arise, PCCs can reliably provide an essential technology link to N50 consortium experts in telehealth as volunteer physicians perform remote assessments and consultations to support other clinicians.

Restoring government functions – In Ukraine, the government has requested PCCs for restoration of provisional access to government-related functions, providing passports for international travel, and information about local food, shelter and financial services resources.  

Teamwork and passion ignite a swift, strategic deployment

Consortium members coordinated their areas of expertise to conceptualize, plan, procure, build, test, validate and deploy a fleet of fully provisioned PCC containers in a little over one month – driven by dire circumstances and evolving threats that called for accelerated efforts.

Centres are prioritized according to the most pressing needs of the displaced. One of the first deployments was in Bucharest, where Romania has also established refugee support facilities, such as food services provided by World Central Kitchen and protection services provided through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. As the fighting continues, PCCs are being shifted and constantly upgraded. Presently the team has produced 11 units supported by World Vision for Romania; CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) for Romania, Poland and Ukraine. Each redeployment serves to validate once more the importance of every PCC's key feature: portability.

WWT and N50 Partners continue their role in the worldwide support effort for Ukraine 

Here are just a few of the contributing organizations that lend their support to end the suffering of the Ukrainian people.

Besides providing much-needed connectivity, the PCCs are hosting other aid endeavors, such as World Vision's "Happy Bubbles" program, in which women and children paint to relax and express their emotions; those paintings are even displayed on the Centre walls.

Best of all, this fleet of PCCs can be easily loaded on trucks for future deployments in years to come. And, WWT, Intel and other coalition allies will continue their involvement with aid organizations that are speeding essential services to displaced populations in Ukraine and elsewhere across the globe, collaborating to close the digital divide and make a better world happen.

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