Nonprofit IT Disaster Resource Center Helps Deweyville, Texas, High School Post-Flood

The nonprofit, which leads about 12 national deployments each year, has a response time of about 24 hours — and it will spend anywhere from 15 to 45 days on deployment.

by Jessica Renee Napier / August 23, 2016
The Highway 63 bridge at the Sabine River is overtaken by flooding in Newton County, Texas. Texas Game Warden

In March, the town of Deweyville, Texas, experienced a historic flood — it was completely cut off from surrounding towns as waters in the nearby Sabine River reached over 30 feet. Part of Deweyville's emergency management requirements included resources to recover its technology infrastructure, including that of the Deweyville Independent School District, which experienced millions of dollars in flood-related damage.

Enter the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC). The nonprofit organization, founded in 2008, is made up of hundreds of volunteer technology professionals who provide no-cost information, communications and technology resources, as well as technical recovery assistance to help communities in times of a disaster.

Upon request from a governmental agency or NGO partner, ITDRC deploys its teams and resources to any community in the United States, such as Deweyville.

“Technology is very important in schools,” said Joe Hillis, ITDRC’s operations director. “The principal at the Deweyville High School said that it’s probably bought its last set of textbooks. So technology is totally important. They aren’t carrying books. They are carrying a tablet or laptop.”

The ITDRC provides three levels of service: preparedness, response and recovery.

Preparedness may involve stakeholder engagement and community disaster preparedness events, such as the 25 public outreach events it holds each year. Response may include support for emergency communications, such as community Internet and telephone access. And recovery may look like infrastructure and technology support for long-term recovery activities.

The ITDRC, which leads about 12 national deployments each year, has a response time of about 24 hours — and it will spend anywhere from 15 to 45 days on deployment.

When the organization receives a request to respond, it evaluates the disaster to determine if the damage is physical or virtual, activates volunteers and requests availability, mobilizes its assessment team, develops an incident action plan, activates and notifies any partner networks, mobilizes volunteers and equipment, and establishes a field operations base.

In the case of Deweyville, Hillis said that his team knew the school would need computers, but they weren't aware of how many, what partnerships the district had with other organizations or if they had funding to replace the damage.

“We kind of know what a community needs, but we need for them to know what they need. We need them to know what they have available," he said. "We’ll send in an assessment team. We’ll meet with whomever — a mayor, school leaders — and ask them what technology needs they have.”

In Deweyville, 200 to 300 computers were donated from local businesses and other school districts. As a part of its response phase, the ITDRC wiped, reprogrammed and refurbished all the computers. This month, volunteers revisited the school district as a part of recovery efforts to extend the high school's Internet and phone communications from the main building to temporary portables.

Volunteers include the organization’s 550 credentialed members, as well as corporate and industry volunteering teams. Members register with the organization and undergo an orientation process. Many have backgrounds in technologies such as voice, data and radio frequency infrastructure; video; applications; and critical power. Corporate volunteers include individuals from companies who make agreements to support disaster recovery with technology experts for a specified period of time each year. For example, DISH Network offers a program called DISH Cares, which promotes community engagement through employee volunteerism. In the Deweyville response, two of the volunteers were employees through this program.

“We hope to get involved in more corporate volunteering teams because that increases our footprint,” Hillis said. “If we can grow, we can do more in more places, more smaller regional events. If it’s a small community that gets flooded and never makes the evening news, we want to be able to reconnect them in any way we can.”

ITDRC is funded by grants, private donations and partnerships with corporations. Southwest Airlines is a corporate partner that provides a limited number of airline tickets for the organizations to deploy volunteers. After arriving at the field operation base, volunteers sleep in gymnasiums, tents, churches or on the floor of the organization’s command bus.

“I’m a big proponent that if we can all do our own little piece — volunteer for a day or donate a piece of hardware," Hillis said, "nobody feels like they are carrying the load themselves.”