Interview: Dane Novarlic, the man who keeps the World Food Program's phones on

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Dane Novarlic is basically the United Nations' emergency network admin, part of the World Food Program ICT/Emergency Telecommunications Cluster. Dane, a 36-year-old Slovenian, is currently deployed in Pakistan, making sure the aid workers helping to feed and clothe those displaced by the current fighting with the Taliban. He took the time to talk to me this morning (his evening) by phone. (What else?)

BBG: What is your background from a technical standpoint? What sort of work had you done before you started working with the WFP?

Dane Novarlic: I do work now as the emergency telecommunications response officer for the World Food Program for the last seven or eight years. I was basically dealing with various types of communication systems in my previous work, which is in line with my duty with the United Nations. I've been deployed in Iraq; I've been deployed in Pakistan; I've been deployed in Sudan for three years; I've been in Somalia, Kenya. I've been in various places.

Basically I go where the needs in various emergencies are.

BBG: What is your standard operating procedure when you first hit the ground?

Dane Novarlic: When an emergency occurs we contact the headquarters in Rome, we see how big the emergency is, what should be the initial response, and determine who should go between us and the people that are in the country.

Normally we come to the country, establish a working group, start to do the assessment, see the needs, identify the gaps, what is on the ground—what has to be done to get the community up to speed with the technology and communication systems so they can get to work and exchange information between themselves and the rest of the world.

BBG: Do you tend to bring in infrastructure or do you try to repair infrastructure that's already there?

Dane Novarlic: It's always a case-by-case scenario. For instance, during the tsunami in Indonesia everything was wiped out, so we brought the infrastructure in. We do have dedicated stocks available in various hubs. (One of the biggest hubs we have is in Dubai.)

In particular scenarios like now in Pakistan there was no need to do that, because it is basically an ongoing emergency and there is an infrastructure for the United Nations in place from previous operations. All that was needed was to assess the situations, to streamline the procedures, and prepare for any possible further deployment if it will be required.

BBG: Are you trying to provide communication primarily for the people that are displaced or is it more about trying to provide communication for the aid and emergency workers?

Dane Novarlic: The first baseline that we have is to provide services to the United Nations staff and also the non-governmental organization staff that work hand-in-hand with UN agencies. That is goal number one.

Goal number two: we establish data communications.

Then three, we work to provide, if needed, on a wider, broader area with the government to see their needs, to basically address the people on the ground.

BBG: Why is your work part of the WFP and not part of a more specific technical corps in the UN?

Dane Novarlic: The WFP is such a leading agency in emergency telecommunications technology within the United Nations and the United Nations system. We are actually the core technical team for secure telecommunications.

BBG: What are your next steps that your team could take to improve response time?

Dane Novarlic: A big factor is always how open the country or the government of the area is. It's not a question of how fast we can go; it's a question of how fast we can get in. For instance, last year in Myanmar, the whole UN could not enter for the first few weeks, so that was a very major setback.

We do have pre-positioned equipment. We do have pre-positioned staff dedicated to responding to emergencies within 24 hours. So talking about responding in less than 24 hours, that would really be supersonic speed!

BBG: Have you run into situations with governments that are not so trustful of the United Nations suspect that you're part of a surveillance or spying organization?

Dane Novarlic: Not really. On that issue, no. It is more of an issue that they just don't want the presence of telecommunications. The governments themselves sometimes feel a little bit frightened with so much new technology coming into the country. [They can feel like] they're sitting in the second row.

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6 Responses to Interview: Dane Novarlic, the man who keeps the World Food Program's phones on

  1. tech4dev says:

    It’s great to get to see the faces of the people behind some of the UN’s important ICT work in disaster situations. As the World Food Programme’s “Global Partners for Emergency Communications,” the United Nations Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership funds critical missions like this one. You can view an archive of these deployments at http://www.unfoundation.org/global-issues/technology/disaster-relief-deployments/ and stay up to date on the Technology Partnership’s activities on Twitter at Tech4Dev.

  2. jackie221 says:

    I really admire people like Mr Novarlic for going out of his way to help other people. I work at a cheap party supplies store and could only wish to do something like he is doing. Many of us are caught up in our own aspirations and dreams and we sometimes forget about people that are needy. Hopefully I can live a better life and try to help more people.

    Thanks for everything you are doing

  3. johnny21 says:

    Yes I agree I wish I could have the time from work to actually do something for others. I have a affordable webhosting company and occasionally I make donations to help poor people.

  4. amanda21 says:

    I have worked in south beach luxury hotels for over 25 years and I plan to go feed the poor when I retire. I want to visit places like Africa, South America, to lend a helping hand.

  5. Jack222 says:

    I think doing good for other is vital to living a healthy life. I have been very involved in the video game community and I have tried to give to other that was in need. Nothing feels better than making someone else happy! Kudos –

  6. tiffany27 says:

    I am a volunteer and I really enjoy it. There has been times where I felt selfish and I wanted to only do for me but then I decided to try it. The only thing I really do for myself is go to german gothic concerts. If you are thinking about volunteering or doing something for someone else – Do it, you wont regret it.

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