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Cisco and NetHope Work Together to Connect Family and Country


Cisco and NetHope employees set up camp in our San Juan office.
Cisco and NetHope employees set up camp in our San Juan office

My wife Vanessa and I have been married for 24 years. We have three children, and live in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ve been with Cisco for 18 years, and Vanessa now works with our partner, NetHope.

In September of last year, a category 5 storm called Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving my country without power and communications. To ensure our safety and provide aid as quickly and effectively as possible, our team of 15 employees took refuge in our Cisco office with their families, which also became the base camp for relief operations.

We were joined there by members of Cisco TacOps, DIRT (Disaster Incident Response Team) volunteers, as well as our partners at NetHope, who arrived to re-establish network communications. Before the storm, we set up informal communications using a messaging app to stay in contact. Afterwards, we worked with TacOps and NetHope to set up community-based power generators and centralized Wi-Fi endpoints networked across Puerto Rico. Our first deployment was in the Government’s Emergency Operations Center, where we set up a Wi-Fi network to coordinate relief efforts across the country.

From the moment the teams moved into the office we said, “We’re here, we know the people, the places and we speak the language. How can we help?” 

After the hurricane passed through, we went into the streets and saw the devastation. It was unbelievable—it looked like something out of this world! It was like a nuclear bomb had just blasted through Puerto Rico. But what hit us hardest was the lack of communications. Communication was limited for the first two days, and everything was running on generators. But then fuel ran out and it snowballed … no fuel, no communications and no ability to transport fuel to those who needed it.

Re-establishing communications was necessary to coordinate hurricane relief efforts
Our office was a command center for re-establishing communications in Puerto Rico

Immediately, we took Wi-Fi networking equipment from our lab and went to the government center in our shorts, t-shirts and work boots and said to the government CIO of Puerto Rico, “We’re from Cisco. Here’s what we can do!” We deployed our equipment at the government headquarters until Meraki mobile network kits arrived from the United States. 

Together with NetHope, we were able to establish dozens of local endpoints that provided consistent communications to over 240,000 people. That enabled relief efforts across the country.

In Puerto Rico, family is everything! We live together, work together and experience the same things. We take care of each other. And our Cisco team are like BFFs (Best Friends Forever): we travel a lot together, our wives are like sisters, the kids all know each other. We were an extended family before. But when the company reacted like they did, then you see each other in your pajamas in the office at 6 a.m., and it’s like a big slumber party—you realize that we are more than employees. Cisco is definitely family.

Local employees team with TacOps, NetHope and DIRT teams to re-connect people.
Local employees team with TacOps, NetHope and DIRT teams to re-connect people

Communications in Puerto Rico have improved. But many people are still reliant on power provided by generators set up by NetHope. Thirty percent of the population have none at all. There is still a great deal of work to do. So we hosted a workshop with our partners to document and publish best practices on tech issues, communication issues and public information flow so that the lessons we learned can be replicated here and anywhere in the future.

See how Cisco teams connected family and country after Hurricane Maria.

The experience was devastating, but it brought out the best in everyone—family, colleagues, neighbors, people in the community—with everybody willing to help. I cannot stress enough how much having Cisco behind us provided relief. It really brought home how Cisco is like a family. My wife Vanessa has now joined NetHope and works out of the Cisco office. So it really feels like she’s not only a part of my family, but also a part of my Cisco family!

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