UN World Food Programme

My Mission As Radio Trainer In Libya

Mick boarding the MV Fehim Bey. (Copyright: WFP/Rob Buurveld)

It's important to be able to use a VHF radio correctly in emergency operations because the security of humanitarian workers often depends on these devices. So, one of the things WFP often needs to do is to train staff and operatives of other partner organisations to use them. Mick Eccles, radio trainer for WFP’s Fast IT, Telecoms, Emergency and Support Team (FITTEST), was recently deployed to Libya to do this job.

BENGHAZI -- A team of IT and telecoms technicians were deployed from Dubai very early in the Libya operation. My role in this was to provide radio training to staff operating within Benghazi.
 
My first job involved five radio operators who had been locally recruited to run the newly installed 24/7 radio rooms. They had to support the humanitarian effort in Benghazi by providing radio coverage to staff working in and around the city. They came from all walks of life - a mining engineer, a student, merchant sailors and IT experts. But they all had the same goal: to provide support in any way they could to the humanitarian operation in their home country. 

The training was partly one-on-one and continued while they started the job. I introduced them to the various radios used within the UN community, how to operate them effectively and the associated procedures. It wasn't just the basic techniques that enable you to speak on a radio. They also learned more advanced techniques, such as Select - when you call a specific radio, and Stunning - where you disable a radio from a distance.
Something else I did during my time in Benghazi was to introduce a mechanism to track staff and vehicles, around the city, from the radio room. The tracking of staff and assets plays an important role in being able to offer assistance in times of need and also recalling the asset (vehicle) to a pre-designated position in times of evacuation and relocation.
 
Assessing Local Needs
Four days of my mission in Libya consisted of a voyage between Benghazi and Misrata on the MV Fehim Bey - a ship hired by the Logistics Cluster to move people and equipment between the two locations. The aim of the mission was for UN agencies to meet with NGOs on the ground in Misrata and to conduct an assessment of the needs of the local population. My job was to provide radio coverage and data communications, as well as track two UN vehicles as they moved from location to location during the assessment.
 
I set up a VHF base radio on a box in a room just behind the ship’s bridge and used this as my operating position. During this period four staff members from the NGO ACTED came to the ship and received radio training on the correct use of VHF radios, which their agency uses.

Upon returning to Benghazi, I trained two NGO’s - Handicap International and the Libyan Red Crescent. Handicap International required training in GPS and satellite phones, and Libyan Red Crescent requested radio training and also an introduction to satellite phones. Other NGOs, including International Medical Corps, Mercy Corps, Islamic Relief, Echo Response and CESVI, sent some staff to participate in these courses.
 
Training the Libyan Red Crescent
The training course with the Libyan Red Crescent really encouraged me and made be proud to do what I do. Approximately 30 staff participated in the session. Once the ‘ice was broken’, the staff relaxed and the language barrier was sorted, we had a lot of fun. The staff became so confident that during the practical exercise they were well able to simulate an emergency, call for help and respond accordingly.
 
After six weeks, it was time for me to depart Benghazi, return to Dubai and await my next deployment. My mission to Libya was different from others because I was providing radio training from the very start of the emergency whereas usually I arrive some time into emergencies. I departed Libya happy with the outcomes of my mission - there are now five radio operators who are capable of providing good radio coverage to staff working in Benghazi, and also a vehicle tracking system and trained UN and NGO staff to support the ongoing emergency operation.