Irish charity advising White House

Thu, Feb 7, 2013, 00:00

An Irish charity that provides emergency communications in disaster zones met the US government’s emergency response agency at the White House yesterday to advise on better responses to future disasters.

Evert and Kate Bopp, husband-and-wife founders of Disaster Tech from Portumna in Co Galway, were invited to advise US policymakers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) on new ways to react to natural disasters and emergencies following their work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Sandy on north-east US coast last year.

The three-year-old Irish charity was the only non-US organisation to attend yesterday’s meeting with the government agency at the White House, which was opened by US secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano.

The Bopps were presented with a certificate of recognition for their work in the response to Hurricane Sandy.

Disaster Tech set up a command centre in the Rockaways, New York after being asked to assist in the relief effort by a US-based relief agency that had worked with the Irish charity in Haiti.

Evert Bopp, a technology expert who moved to Ireland from The Netherlands in 1995, said the meeting was a “huge step forward” for the charity and he hoped this recognition would help it raise funding and generate new contacts.

“If the value of our work is recognised here, it will also be seen by others who work in this area,” he said in an interview ahead of the White House meeting.

Mr Bopp said there was much discussion at the meeting about smaller, grassroots groups responding better than large emergency services groups to disaster relief. Big organisations are “much slower to respond and less agile," he said.

“Fema has found that there is good work being done by these small organisations and they want to learn from them to see how they can improve their response by working with these organisations,” he said.

Mr Bopp said that it was “very significant” that the Irish charity was asked for advice by Fema after the US emergency agencies were sharply criticised in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The work by the US federal agency to improving emergency responses was in stark contrast to “an absolute lack of response” from the Irish Government to proposals made by his charity, he said.

“We have just been constantly fobbed off,” said Mr Bopp.

He conceived the idea for the charity after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, believing that wireless technology could be used to coordinate communications and emergency services better.

The couple decided to put his plan into action following the Haitian earthquake in 2010 volunteering to work on the stricken island nation and using unpaid volunteers to provide emergency communications.