We all love to think that our work can make a difference in other people’s lives. Some of us are fortunate enough to be engaged in work which directly helps others – educating the next generation, or healing the sick – while others are enablers, providing the tools those on the front lines depend on.

NetHope is a consortium of 50 non-governmental organizations that specializes in improving IT connectivity among humanitarian organizations in developing countries and areas affected by disaster. Cisco is one of the major partners of the consortium and contributes equipment, expertise, and transport to relief efforts around the world. Some of the world’s most challenging humanitarian disasters have seen responses from Cisco’s Tactical Operations (TacOps) team, including Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti and Nepal earthquakes, and the current Syrian refugee crisis on the southern fringes of Europe.

Typically, these Hastily Formed Networks – as organizations like NetHope call them – are brought online to assist and connect the humanitarian workers themselves. In the case of the Syrian refugee crisis, however, the TacOps team was tasked with enabling mass communication for hundreds of thousands of refugees at more than 60 sites!

We now live in a world with ubiquitous mobile device ownership, and in many cases refugees are landing in Europe with smartphones or tablets equipped with Wi-Fi capability, but typically no mobile network access via the SIM cards in their phones. Suddenly Wi-Fi becomes not only a convenience, but potentially a lifesaver, enabling families to connect with loved ones who remain back home, or were perhaps lost during their flight to safety.

Once connected, these vulnerable individuals can be a perfect target for those wishing to exploit, or even endanger them, with their devices providing a means to that end. Providing a highly secure network, with both perimeter and advanced cybersecurity capabilities, proves as important as the connectivity itself.

The TacOps team has been using Meraki technology for some time, which has proven itself dependable, secure, easy to manage, and perfect for building Hastily Formed Networks. Utilising our MX security appliances and MR wireless access points, the team was able to rapidly deploy multiple sites with probably the most advanced security ever deployed in the humanitarian field, providing reliable connectivity for vulnerable refugees with approximately 16,000 unique client devices every week.

Rakesh Bharania from TacOps recently presented a review of the team’s work in a special NetHope webinar. The highly recommended recording (here) provides a fascinating insight into both the human and technical challenges faced in creating these critical networks, and is definitely worthy of your time.

Technology has done so much for us: simplifying our lives and connecting us. At Meraki we’ve gone a step further, streamlining the experience of building and deploying multi-site networks, reducing time and cost. We’re both humbled and honored to see our products being used not only to power business, but also to connect disaster-stricken families and help save lives.

Take Meraki for a test drive and see how our approach enables the Hastily Formed Network.