Haiti emergency: Another day in the fast lane

I woke at 3 am today.
An ideal quiet time to connect to the wireless network here in the hotel in Santo Domingo, to catch up with my backlog of Email, and to catch the first Emails coming in from our HQ in Rome.
In the Emails, there is a series of exchanges on call-forwards of staff on standby for deployment. Unblocked the deployment of two staff due to arrive asap to help us set up the communications here in the office, and updated the list of another four staff the buro is sending in. Wrote some quick terms of reference for them and just worked my way through some outstanding issues.

8 am: Quick shower and down to the office which is installed in two conference rooms downstairs in the hotel. The usual suspects are already present: the people from aviation are already up and running. The ICT guys start their usual shift at 7:30. The finance and HR people are already at their desks.
Breakfast with some of the staff and we are ready for another day.

8:30: the room is full and buzzing. We are squeezed with about 40 people in one small conference room. Staff come in and out, talking on their mobiles, working on their laptops. All tables we work on are make shift conference room tables filled with files, wires, computers, and stuff. There is laughter and a buzz of activity all around.

9:30: A quick brief with Brenda who just arrived and who will assist our project manager in finding a permanent location for our office.

10:00: Time for a short meeting with our security officer, trying to make some sense of the new security arrangements at the border with Haiti.
We agree it is time to beef up the security arrangements for our border operations.

10:30: Georges, our procurement officer, who normally works in Afghanistan, rings the alarm bell that the food shipment for our base camp in Port-au-Prince is not ready for the afternoon flight.

11:00 meeting with the heads of finance, supplies and logistics of our supplier for the base camp food for Haiti. Agreed on the line of credit and the way we will work to call forward the food next week. We stress the importance of the shipment we had scheduled for today, as it has to be on the plane taking off at 14:00. We have now two and a half hours left. The supplier leaves with Cecelia, our assistant procurement officer (normally based in Ecuador), to the wholesale food shop, to buy one and a half ton of food for our staff in Haiti, in one hour.
Georges winks at me "we will make it, but it will be 'just in time'"

11:45 Meeting on the ICT requirements for the pending move to the new temporary location of our office, with Dane, who coordinates the ICT deployment in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Another wink: "All will be ok!"

12:00 Catching up with my emails again. More debugging. Some releases in our ERP system. Saying hi to more new staff who arrived last night.

13:00 Anisa, who normally works in Dubai, is our office manager (or 'mama' as we call her) and the admin crew, have arranged someone to bring in food every day. A quick bite, sitting outside the office. I walk around for a bit of fresh air. We have a dozen of our staff sitting around in the parking lot, eating their lunch.

13:30 Agreed how we will pay travel advances for our staff passing through Santo Domingo, inbound to Haiti. Gwyn, our travel guru from Rome works overtime. Ximena and Beverley, our HR team, come to tell me, proud as a peacock, we just processed our local payroll. Hurray...! A first!

14:00 Mario, who normally works in Indonesia, Tony (from HQ) and Alex (from Panama) form our finance crew. They have me sign off on our monthly bank reconciliation. Once again a first, as before the earthquake, the office here did not have a bank account, had no access to the ERP system... We are processing all transactions online now, set up in less than one week. Another first.... HURRAY! The balance shows our office processed about US$700,000 in payments, in the past three weeks.

14:30: George tells me the food for the basecamp made it in time for today's flight. Cecilia bought 1.5 tons of food in less than two hours. She reports even the managers of the wholesale store ran around the huge warehouse with shopping carts for her. Good going guys!

15:30 Time for a nap. Unicef calls twice. A VIP is flying using one of our planes in two days. Final arrangements on the schedules.

16:25: a quick shower. Walking out of my room, I cross Henrik, my head of operations. There is a problem in Fond Parisien, just across the border.

16:30 I do my daily briefing with the newly arrived staff. Something I do religiously so newcomers know what we do, how we organise ourselves, and understand what a pain the boss is over here (me!). But I get sidetracked for a meeting with the hotel manager who wants to speak with us.
We desperately need to firm up the agreement we have with them. Jane, our "Head of Support Services With A Friendly Smile" from Panama, Michael (from our Dubai office) and Luigi stress: Yes, we want 70 rooms blocked, with a block allocation of 100 rooms, and priority booking for 150 rooms. Yes, we want to have the locks replaced on the doors of our new offices, and floodlights on the back of the office is a must, thankyouverymuch.

17:45: for the first time, I miss the 17:00 all staff meeting. We needed to firm up the agreement with the hotel, otherwise we would never be able to cater for the 50 local staff we are recruiting in the next two weeks. So instead of walking through our two office-slash-conference rooms shouting "5 o'clock - meeting!!!", I now shout "Quarter to Six, meeting!" which causes a collective "Booh, you are late" tease from the staff. We use these daily briefs to streamline any issues that need to be discussed, announcements to be made, and short briefs. It is also the ideal moment to introduce all new staff who arrived in the past 24 hours.

18:05 We are ending the brief, and Henrik gives me a sign. I can see there in his eyes there is trouble. "The situation we discussed this morning might run out of hand, we need to act now" is his short message. I call the head of one of our implementing partners in Port-au-Prince via his satellite telephone and we discuss briefly to the head of IOM at the border. It is clear, we need to move fast.

18:30 We call the head of UNICEF and cochair of the nutrition cluster in the Dominican Republic. She confirms the dire need of food in two small camps. I call Carlos in Haiti to clear the upcoming distribution. He gives us the go-ahead.

18:45 Jose (from Rome) and Sam (from our Sudan office) our newly arrived head of aviation confirm I can have a helicopter for tomorrow, take off at 9:30 to fly to the border, to meet with our programme staff there. We assemble a team of 6, file our security clearances online, and fill in a local travel authorization which Gwyn processes.

19:15: We get confirmation for the helicopter. All set. Luigi goes around and gets the names and UNLP numbers of the staff who will fly with us, so we can file a flight manifest.

19:30: a session of signing local purchase orders and finance papers, catching up with email.

20:00 the head of our implementing partner in Haiti calls me back. His team will drive from Port-au-Prince tomorrow to meet us in Jimani. We prepare the food logistics.

20:15 for two weeks in a row, I have been cross with the admin staff, normally working in our Panama office, as they are always staying up to 11 pm in the office. They can not keep that rythm, so I am happy to see them packing up their laptops. I hope they won't cheat and go to their rooms to work!

21:00 More emails, signing papers. WINGS releases. A debrief with a PI person coming back from Haiti.

22:00 I remember Tine, my wife, asked me to book a flight for her to Rome. We were supposed to meet there, but I won't be there, so she will stay in my apartment. Last financial releases, cleaning up of my emails.

23:00 I am happy to see my bitching on the staff to leave earlier worked... They all left before 11 PM.. Maybe there is some authority left in me, hahaha... I call the front desk and ask them to lock up the office. As I walk to the reception, one more staff walks to the office "Sorry boss, I have one more email I forgot to send".. Darned.

24:00 End of the day. Maybe 3 am is not a good idea for tomorrow morning. Good night everyone!

00:15: Darned my authority has failed on me. In my last Email replication of the day, I get more mails from our staff here in Santo Domingo. They are still working. They cheated... They left the office, but are working from their rooms.

I will call it a day. And you know what my last thoughts for the day are? I am happy I have a comfortable bed, in a room. Not so for the hundreds of staff we have in Haiti. I feel lucky for me, sad for them. And hope we made a difference for them today. And for the two million beneficiaries we are serving there... To all of you in Haiti... Good night, our thoughts are with you!


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