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Telecoms Sans Frontieres Celebrates 10th Anniversary

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Ten years ago, T l coms Sans Fronti res (TSF), the first humanitarian organization specialized in emergency telecommunications was born. The idea for T l coms Sans Fronti res was the result of a simple observation made after many years' experience with general humanitarian charities, based on listening to those in need. During missions responding to the crisis in the Balkans and in Kurdistan during the 1st Gulf War, TSF's founders realized that, in addition to medical and food aid, there was a critical need for reliable emergency telecommunications services.

Conflicts and emergencies often led to massive civilian displacement and separated families, and affected populations are often left with no communications infrastructure in place to find assistance and loved ones.

During early missions, TSF's founders were often approached by refugees with scraps of paper asking them, for example: "When you go home, please call my family at this number, tell them I'm alive, uncle has been killed but I'm alive and I'm here at this refugee camp." To address the need for communications services, TSF founders, Jean-Franois Cazenave, Monique Lanne-Petit, Robert Chassagnieux, Franois Meyer, Christiane Constant, Daniel Nataf and Guy Hodet, bought their first satellite phone and the organization was born. Since this time, on every mission TSF has offered a 3-minute call to any affected family.

TSF soon found that the international response teams that deploy to emergencies also had a critical need for reliable telecommunications services in the first days after an emergency. TSF therefore opened its first Emergency Communication Centre for the humanitarian community using satellite communications in Mazr-e charif, Northern Afghanistan. TSF then expanded its operations, improved its technology, and began to establish rapidly deployable emergency telecommunications centers to serve UN, government, and NGO humanitarian workers, and developed a reputation for being among the first to arrive after disasters.

"In emergencies there is an urgent need for food, water, shelter, and medical help. None of these things are possible without quick and reliable communications. Our role is to help other organizations to save lives and we also directly support victims", said Monique Lanne-Petit, Founding Director of TSF.

Today TSF plays a key role in strengthening coordination and communication by deploying telecommunications centers within 24 hours of an emergency. These centers offer broadband Internet access, voice communications, fax lines and all the IT equipment needed for a field office. To do its work TSF uses highly portable and light satellite terminals deployable within minutes with a worldwide coverage - and teams in TSF's three regional bases are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Since 1998, TSF has deployed to over 50 countries on all of the 5 continents to the benefit of over 500 NGOs and UN agencies and millions of victims. Over the last 10 years, TSF has been deployed 350 days per year on average thanks to 3 deployment bases, in France, Nicaragua and Thailand.

As an international recognition of the importance of telecommunications in emergency situations TSF became the Telecom Partner of the European Commission's Aid Department (ECHO) in 2002 and led its first mission under European mandate in Iraq the following year from April to October. In October 2006, TSF signed the first worldwide partnership between a Non-Governmental Organization and the United Nations agencies OCHA and UNICEF and also became First Responder of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster.

Tlcoms Sans Frontires wished to thank its partners, Inmarsat, the Vodafone Group Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, Eutelsat, AT&T, Cable & Wireless, Vizada, the IT Cup and the Regional Council of Aquitaine. They believed in a group of volunteers and help them continue their humanitarian work and create an organization which became professional and is today the leading non-governmental organization specialized in emergency telecommunications. There is still much to be done particularly in the areas of prevention, disaster preparedness as well as development. Telecommunications can indeed play a key role to reduce the impact of humanitarian crisis and offer long term solutions.

"If it seemed natural in the past thirty years that pharmaceutical and food companies would help NGOs in their humanitarian actions, with the same engagement more telecoms and new technologies companies can help us save lives" added Jean-Franois Cazenave, Founding President of TSF.

On the web: Tlcoms Sans Frontires

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Tags: european commission  tsf  satellite  satellite phone  united nations  emergency