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This is how Cisco brings the web to the world’s most forsaken places

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The sun sets on a row of tents used as temporary shelters by resident-survivors of super Typhoon Haiyan, along the coastal area of Tacloban City, Leyte province, in central Philippines on February 15, 2014. Photograph by Ted Aljibe — AFP/Getty Images

Of all the types of emergency relief first responders can provide during a crisis, a secure line of communication maybe one of the most important.

Networking company Cisco knows this. And it has a team that’s prepared to deliver just that.

The company, based in San Jose, Calif., maintains a crack team of Internet infrastructure specialists who are trained to bring disaster zones back online, and quickly. The team, known as its Tactical Operations group (or TacOps), gets dispatched wherever disaster strikes. Its task is to “establish connectivity for continuity of government, first responders, and other relief personnel,” TacOps engineer Rakesh Bharania tells Motherboard.

 

TacOps is a small operation founded in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. With nine members in total, it relies heavily on volunteers. During crises—such as the recent earthquake Nepal, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., and countless others—the Cisco (CSCO) team sets up temporary Internet access through satellite uplinks, strung together Wi-Fi routers, fiber optic cables, and local area networks.

Sometimes, if the affected area is close by, the team rides into the field in a mobile command center: a truck sporting a satellite dish. For actions further abroad, it brings suitcase-sized kits that pack all the equipment needed to get a network up and running. As Motherboard reports:

Bharania said that after 10 minutes of instruction, basically anyone can learn how to connect to the internet via satellite and build a network in 15 to 30 minutes anywhere on Earth that the satellite uplink can be connected. TacOps designed the kits to fit into the overhead compartment of any commercial airliner, which makes them easy to transport when the unit needs to send them to others, or flies commercial airlines themselves. When TacOps went to the Philippines, they brought 4,000 pounds of gear.

Cisco isn’t alone in running tech-oriented response units. Other companies such as Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), and Ericsson (ERIC) have been known to charge into such storms as well, Vice notes. Intel (INTC), too, though the company apparently lacks a group dedicated to handling such catastrophes, often donates supplies and manpower to emergency aid efforts, a spokesperson tells Motherboard.