Friday, August 17, 2007

Sans frontières

Médecins and Reporters sans frontières are organisations with high public profiles - the former because of their presence in just about every natural disaster or war zone in the past quarter century, and the latter more recently evident during the kidnap of Alan Johnston in Gaza. Today's BBC News Technology page introduces another - Telecoms sans frontières - which organises international groups of volunteers who go into disaster areas at an early stage to work at providing emergency communications, then restoring as far as possible sufficient electronic infrastructure to make it possible for a stricken zone to maintain contact both internally and with the external world.

However good local army or rescue services may be, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, even huge avalanches can destroy power stations and exchanges, satellite earth stations, kill telephone lines or relay masts, and make it impossible for any modern means of communication to function. Rescue services can find the range of their radio equipment inadequate, and if an airport in a difficult location loses its radar, then organising, controlling and co-ordinating movements can be impossible, just at a time when speed is vital in saving lives.

Technicians willing to travel, face hardships, maybe take risks in order to do their everyday job in most challenging situations demonstrate an unusual face of good-will and compassion for those in need, as do doctors treating injuries, and journalists determined to tell the real story, no matter what the risk involved. Volunteers, offering their skills freely to help others in a suffering world, are one of the great signs of hope for the future of humanity.

This is a bit of good cheer, at a time when everyday life in our city church has us perpetually on the lookout for someone prepared to prey on the vulnerable and elderly. Indeed, for the first time, at a wedding this afternoon, we paid someone to be official doorkeeper, to prevent tourists and others apart from the wedding guests from entering during the service. It's the first time we've done that for a generation, as we're now determined not to get caught out again.

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