Bulletproofing Sea Shepard's IT

A couple of years ago I began a fantastic journey with Sea Shepard, and now with their permission I can tell the story of some of the things we have done to help bulletproof their shipboard IT.

In 2011 I read a great account of life on a campaign. Shortly after this I learnt that Sea Shepard were setting up their Southern Ocean Headquarters nearby in Williamstown, Australia, and I lived a mere 10 minutes away.

I did a weekend tour of the ships and as well as the mission I loved the energy, warmth and wildness of them and what they were doing. After considering various ways of getting involved I simply decided to take direct action.

I had in my shed a bunch of technical outdoor gear from my past life as a field ecologist that I realized I was never realistically going to use again. I loaded them in my car, drove down to the ships and donated it all. It turned out the waterproof cases were used to store the radios on the ships smaller rubber boats.

On a later visit I learnt that our tour guide - Rolf - was the ships Comms Officer. I had been doing some professional work with devices known as solid state disks. These replace hard disks and have no moving parts. Disk failure from vibration was a big problem on the ships, so as I was walking off the ship I asked Rolf if they could use solid-state drives.

Rolf was extremely enthusiastic, so we began systematically renovating all the hard disks. These devices work at lower temperatures, use less energy and are resilient to vibration.

It turned out their ship the MV Steve Irwin had a bunch of IT problems at the time. Among them was the state of the ship's IT infrastructure. As the other ships joined the fleet they typically had similar issues, and I got to work with the other Comms Officers, including Tim and Tux.

Most of the mobile phones were second-hand. The computers were ancient PC's. Laptops were rare and personally owned. Networking was primitive, unreliable and wires were actually sticky-taped together. There were no routers, switches or uninterruptible power supplies. PC's were operating as network servers. There was no wireless networking.

I made it my mission to fix that, and was blessed to have the support of an anonymous donor who after learning what I was doing financed pretty much whatever we asked for.

We made a running list (spawning the Amazon wish lists in use today), prioritised the items on it and just got on with doing whatever we could whilst the ships were in port. A slew of donations were made, including UPS's, networking hardware, cabling, a big bunch of slightly second-hand laptops with SSD's, iPods for social media posting and iPads for visitor email collection.

One outcome of which I am particularly proud is that media files are now transmitted wirelessly between ships, replacing dangerous small boat transfers of USB devices at sea.

I had the honour of having my photo taken in the Captains Chair of the Steve Irwin.

Thanks Sea Shepard.

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