Effective Disaster Coordination


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A presentation given at a workshop in Taiwan on effective disaster coordination in November 2009.

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  • Thank you Professor Feng for your invitation to speak here and those nice words and thank you all for coming.One of the benefits of my job both working for Microsoft and for the United Nations is that I get to visit a large number of countries and learn how they have chosen to manage their preparations for and response to disasters. There certainly are differences between countries, but in my experience then there are more similarities, both in the challenges we face as disaster managers and in the ways we have chosen to deal with them. In my talk today I plan to discuss some of these common challenges but also point you towards ways in which other nations have selected to deal with them.The field of disaster management has changed in the 15 years I have been involved in it. Not only has technology changed the way we can now get more detailed forecasts of the risks facing us, but it has also allowed us to more easily coordinate and collaborate with each other. But there are also other external factors that are affecting how we deal with disasters and I wanted to start today by mentioning them brieflily.
  • It certainly has not escaped our attenion as disaster managers that the climate is changing. We are seeing more extreems, especially in weather related emergencies. The number of serious typhoons and flooding around the world have gone up and the effects are more drastic than before. Scientists debate if this is a result of man made polution or simply a cyclic change in weather patterns. To those of us who have to deal with disasters the cause may not be the main focus, because although we can mitigate many risks within our own country, if the cause is man‘s disregard for the environment then that is something that can only mittigated on the world stage.What we Disaster Managers however have to consider is that many of our contingency plans will get stretched to the limits as mother nature releases her force in greater extend than before.
  • Another big change that we experience is the fact that disasters now unfold live on TV. Ten years ago the world sat glued to the television set as for the first time in history the outbreak of a war was televised live. This changed the way many observe crisis around the world. Television networks now pre-position carmera teams and journalists in the path of the storms. They have the ability to stream imagery directly via satellite from remote locations. This change can be a double-edged sword for those handling disasters. On one hand it provides better visibility to the needs of the affected population and thereby increases donations and response from concerned citizens. But it also means that what we do is always in the public eye. Our actions are caught on film, and often those actions can easily be misunderstood by those who do not understand the decision process behind those actions.The media eye also exposes our weakness in dealing with very complex emergencies. As information about the situation is limitted and we do not have a comprehensive overview of the situation, journalists often focus on where we are not doing anything, instead of the great job our people are doing in those places we know there is need. This forces us to put more focus on the area of information management and effective coordination so that these gaps are identified earlier and preferably before the media starts crying wolf.
  • Another change that we are experiencing rapidly over the last couple of years is the tremendous growth of social networks like FaceBook, Twitter and blogs. Dealing with the regular media is at least something we can try to manage, because they are in a limitted number. Social networks are however the tool of citizens to raise their voice toward the world. In fact one can say that these tools have made every citizen a journalist. This can therefore often affect people‘s views of the response as more and more people start critizising the work that we are doing.We are also seeing more and more traditional media utilizing social networks as their source of information. When typhoon Ketsana passed over Philippines a TV station started gathering social media messages coming through Twitter and FaceBook and drawing them up on a map of Manila. Through that online map it quickly became apparent that large portions of Manila were under water and people utilized their mobile phones to report via social networks that they were stranded on roof-tops. In another case in England a year ago they utilized Twitter to ask people to provide information about depth of snow around the country during one of the blizards that passed over. This became a very useful tool for disaster managers.So one of the big question we as Disaster Managers have to face over the next few years is how we can leverage this change for good for example to get better information from our citizens. Working under the watchful eyes of these citizen journalists also means more push for accountability of our actions and that in turn should be a reason for us to continually try to improve the way we prepare and respond to disasters.
  • So what do these changes mean to us who deal with disasters. There are three things we must consider if we want to build a comprehensive approach when dealing with disasters. First of all we must shift our focus from dealing with the aftermath of a disaster and instead focus on disaster risk management as a continous cycle that starts well before the disaster strikes and integrates lessons from previous disasters into our mitigate and preparedness plans.As I started studying the disaster risk management approach here in Taiwan and during my visit this week I have been pleasently surprised to see how well your country has made this strategic change from focus on the response to a focus on risk management. Some of the risk assessments, predictions and modeling you do is world class. And it is fully understandable that you have put this emphasis on risk management, after all World Bank ranks Taiwan as one of the most riskier countries to live in when comes to natural disasters.But it is important not to stop there. As I mentioned earlier it is important to focus on the entire disaster management cycle. Once we have identified the potential risks, we must find effective ways to prepare for those risks. When nature unleashes it‘s fury upon us, we must be ready to effectively respond to the disaster. And as we rebuild our communities from the devistation caused we must make sure that those recovery actions build a community better prepared to face natural disasters in the future.And a comprehensive approach must also ensure that all the different constituents are involved. Disaster Risk Reduction is not just something the government does. It needs to involve the citizens, the non-governmental organizations, the academic community, the private sector, the politicians and the international community. It is only if we all work together towards a more resillient country that we can succeed in being better prepared to what nature has in store for us.I will now go through the disaster management cycle, starting with the prevention and mitigation phase and then as I go through each phase I will identify some of the key lessons learned from the international community in improving the work in that phase. So lets look at how we deal with risk information.
  • One of the issues we often face during a disaster is that different stakeholders perceive the risk not being as serious as our scientists tell us it is. This disconnect can happen both between the scientific community and the disaster management community but also between those two communities and the citizens involved. And let us not forget that we often utilize the media to alert citizens of an impeding danger. They of course will in some cases provide that information directly to the citizens, but all too often they either sensationalize the message or reduce the importance. In some cases they will even start looking for other sources of information to counter what the scientific community is warning about.What has been found to help reduce this disconnect is to provide better access to the underlying information that is the basis for the alerts and decisions being made. As first responders get access to weather and typhoon forecasts, as they are allowed themselves to compare the different predicitions models, then they are better positioned to gain an understanding of why that warning needs to be issued. We see the same happen with citizens. Today they are used to looking for information on the internet themselves. They want to make an educated decision themselves of whether to adhere to the warnings coming from the government. A recent example of this is in the state of Nevada in the US where houseowners can now see interactively on a map where seismic faults are and thereby get a better understanding of why they should perform mittigation work to prepare their houses for potential earthquakes.
  • Once we have identified and shared with everyone the potential risk involved, then it is important that we prepare how we will respond to disasters caused by this risk. In this respect I want to focus on three different areas of preparedness, firstly, the legislation we need to put in place and follow, secondly how we should organize our response efforts and last but not least the training we must do to prepare ourselves to deal with potential response. All of these are activities that we must do before the disaster strikes, because we cannot and should not attempt to change any of them during the disaster response itself.
  • The first area I want to talk about is the legslation related to disaster management. One of the work the UN team I am member of does is to visit countries and perform an assessment of the disaster preparedness that these countries have done. How well positioned these countries are in dealing with disaters ranges from little preparedness to some of the best prepared countries.One area we always look at is how the disaster related legislation is organized. The reason for this is that it is the legislation that determines how disaster response and recovery is organized and it lays down the foundtion for what can and can not be done during a disaster.In our guidance towards the countries we have visited, we emphasise the importance of a comprehensive disaster legislation. In that legislation a clear distinction needs to be made between the daily emergencies that we deal with and the disasasters which require the different constituents to work effectively together. As such the legislation needs to clearly defined what role different organizations play in the disaster response. It also must ensure that during a disaster these organizations report up through the same channels and that only one organization is in charge. We also recommend that preparedness, response and recovery efforts are linked together under the same organization because otherwise there will be a disconnect between the different phases.The legislation should also push the organizations involved into cooperating together and share information with each other instead of creating silos between them. A disaster legislation should constantly be revised to reflect lessons learned from previous disasters and to reflect how things work effectively. The legislation should also define what powers the disaster authority has – an example of this is that this morning in the southern part of Australia the local government utilized for the first time a new clause in their disaster legislation that allows them to do mandatory evacuations when an impeding disaster is emminent. In their case they are expecting record temparatures creating ripe conditions for wildfires, such as those that killed 170 people last year in the state of Victoria and prompted this change in the legislation.
  • An effective disaster legislation should focus on defining an organizational structure that allows for effective response to a disaster. This organizational structure should allow for an efficient coordination of all aspects and of all organizations involved with the disaster. The organizational structure should also be agile enough to allow for changes to be made to reflect the conditions faced within the disaster.One key lesson we have learned is that this organizational structure should separate the policy and the operational aspects. The operational aspects should be run by professional disaster managers which are trained and experienced in managing large scale operations. When they need decisions to be made that are of policy (or political nature) then they should have direct access to the policy makers. An example of this is that in the US every major disaster has a designed ferderal response officer. This officer is an experienced disaster manger and he will run the operations for the government. When a decision is needed such as to announce mandatory evacuations, activating the national guard or things that will cause substantial future financial commitment, the designated disaster manager makes his case to the policy body and they make a political decision. All other operational matters are left in the hands of the disaster manager in charge.In order to effectively coordinate the response, it is also important that all organizations involved have a place to meet and coordinate. These places are normally refer to as emergency operation centers. But it is not enough to have a fancy room with phones and tables. The most critical component of an EOC is the competency of the individuals who staff it – their ability to respond authoritatively to any possible disaster and their capacity to think outside the box when confronting the unexpected. The second critical aspect of an EOC is its communication system. This needs to facilitate the inflow of information to ensure timely situational awareness and allow strategic and tactical orders to reach the right people without delays.
  • As I mentioned earlier one of the key critical points is the competency of the people involved. Not only do they need to have the approriate skills training required to perform their job, but they also need to know what their role is within the entire response and how that role is part of an overall effort to respond effectively. This means they need to know how to work with each other. This becomes quite hard when there are limited times each year that they get to respond together. We can address this in part through continous training efforts, but also through regular simulation exercises which not only serve the aspect of getting people to know how to work together, but also provide us with the ability to identify where there are gaps and opportunities to improve before the disaster strikes.
  • It is often said that every dollar spent on disaster preparedness saves six dollars that will spent on disaster response and recovery. But no matter how much we prepare, we have to face the fact that disaster do strike, especially when you least expect them to.So when it comes to dealing with the disaster itself, there are certain things that we can do to ensure that the response is more effective than otherwise. Today I want to focus on three things. I will spend the most time looking at how we can more effectively coordinate our response to the events unfolding. But I also want to touch two sensitive subjects today which way too often are not discussed openly. The first one is what happens when a disaster goes beyond the capacity of the local authorities and even the national authorities to respond. What do we need to do in order to ensure that these cases do not suffer from unnecessary delays in the response.I also want to talk about the very sensitive area of politics and how they can play both a positive and negative effect on the disaster response.But before we do that I want to introduce you to some very interesting research from Professor Denis Mileti, the founder of the Natural Hazard Center in University of Colorado and one of the most leading acadmic researcher in the diaster management space over the last 40 years.
  • When asked what was his most important discovery within the area of disaster mangement, Mileti said that 40 years of his work could be sumarized into this one finding.Mileti said we could define three phases of crisis. The first one is the Routine Emergency phase, something our fire figthers and police officers have to deal with every day. Then there are the disasters which overwhelm the daily responders and cause us to change our behaviour. Finally there are the catastrophees which luckliy only happen very seldom throughout our history.But lets look at these different phases and the behaviour of people during these phases. During the normal routine emergency phase, we look towards organizations such as the police to assist us in the problems we have. And when we interact with these organizations we related to the people we deal with through the roles they represent. In other words, when my house gets on fire, I call the fire department and the firemen will come and help me. I do not refer to them by their names or who they are as persons, in my mind they are representatives of the organization they work for.However during a disaster there is a radical change in our behaviour. The number of organizations involved increases and all of a sudden a coordinated approach is needed. But at this time the organizations become the problem. Political and sometimes financial motives of those organizations hinder them from working efficiently with each other. In the international humanitarian world we often see different UN organizations competing for the attention of the media and the donors instead of collaborating with other organizations involved in the same response. Very often the leadership of those organizations are playing a political game during these periods, something that can realy affect the efficiency of the response. But luckily there is a solution to this problem and in this case it is people. It is people at different levels of the organization which feel human emotions about those affected by the disaster and because of these human emotions are willing to break down and reach out of the organizational silos that they represent. It is through these kind of connection between people within the different organizations that work actually gets done. We must therefore learn to leverage and build up in advance those personal relationships between the people in these organizations.In the third phase, catastrophie, Mileti points out that society breaks down and the basic human instinct of survial kicks in. During this phase relationships no longer matter, only yourself matter. However he points out that lucklily this phase does not last for very long and only happens extreemly seldom.A key point to understand about his findings is that it is not a formal organizational declaration that transititions us between these different phases, but rather it is determined by the behaviour of the people involved.So keep this in mind as I go through the next few slides and discuss methods for effective coordination.
  • This is a picture we use both within the UN and also within the Red Cross to explain to people the importance of coordination. I want to stress that this picture shows the simplified version of what it looks like during a large scale disaster where the international community gets involved. Last month I was part of a UN team that was sent to West Sumatra following the devistating earthquake that struck near the city of Padang. During the first week of the response, we had registered 110 organizations involved in the response with over 1500 invididuals taking part. Within the second week this number had gone up to 190 organizations. In Banda Ache following the tsunami there were over 600 organizations involved within the first month.Years ago it was only the government and a few NGOs such as the Red Cross which got involved in disaster response. Today there are more and more NGOs involved, but we also see the private sector getting more involved in this. An example of this from Sumatra is that the local mobile operators and Ericson response were a crucial in quickly repairing the mobile phone infrastructure and thereby enabling better communication within the disaster area. At the same time DHL sent their disaster response team to assist in ensuring that relief items being flown in were quickly and effectively processed through the airport in Padang.But this ever increasing number of actors involved in the response puts a burden on those trying to ensure that the response is effective and that there are not gaps left. To address this the international community looked at ways that could address this burden and result in a more efficient coordination. The international community came up with a model I will describe on the next slide, but I want to point out that this model is not unique to international disaster response, but is actually used by countries to coordinate their national response in an efficent manner.
  • The model that the UN put in place for coordinating all the different organizations involved has been called the cluster approach. In this model a cluster is simply defined as a group of organizations that are working together to meet the needs of a particular subject area, such as for example health, logistics, education, etc. The term Cluster has for some people caused a bit of confusion, but we can just as well talk about a sectoral approach or as the US calls it Emergency Support Functions (or ESF for short).As I said the idea is to group together the various organizations involved in each subject area. The number of areas differs between disasters and countries and sometimes two subject areas are joined together into one if approriate. For each cluster an organization, which can be a government organization or an NGO is given the task of leading the coordination within that cluster. I want to emphasise again that it is their responsibility to LEAD and not MANAGE the coordination. There is a clear distinction between the two. Whereas we who work for the government can manage what our response teams do, in other words they are within our command and control, then we can not manage what other organizations, such as NGOs, do. We must therefore use the cluster approach to effectively coordinate what these separate entities are doing. Through effective information sharing and coordination activities such as meetings then we can eliminate duplicate efforts and ensure there are not any gaps left behind in the response.It then becomes the task of the overall disaster management body to coordinate the inter-cluster activities, ensuring the different clusters are sharing information and finding with each other.As I mentioned earlier countries have taken up this model, and one of the benefits of using this approach is that when international asssitance is required the same model is being used and simply extended to include the international actors involved.
  • During the last slide you heard me a few times talk about the importance of good information sharing as a key to effective coordination. This is something we have taken very seriously, especially in the initial phase of the response when information is very scarce and hard to get. It is key that what little information we have is gather efficiently and shared with everyone involved in the response. The raw data coming in from various sources needs to be processed and presented to those that are planning the response. We often must accept the fact that information will not be avaialble to us during the initial phase and we must therefore use our experience and shared knowledge in estimating what the worst case scenario is we are dealing with an plan accordingly.Within the cluster approach we have designated it as one of the key tasks a cluster lead needs to perform is to ensure the effective information management within his or her cluster. But what we discovered is that it is easy for us to say information should be shared, but it is actually harder to achieve in real life.
  • This lead to the UN approaching us at Microsoft two years ago with this particular problem of how to enable efficient information sharing within and between clusters. They had come to the realization that it was simply not enough to provide the organizational structure and the processes that the cluster approach defined, they also needed to provide the platform for sharing that information.We at Microsoft looked at this problem and identified ways in which technology could support this information sharing. As we were in the middle of identifying these things, cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in May 2008. Within a few days a team of volunteers and 19 of our partners worldwide assisted us in building a working prototype of this platform that was used to coordinate the response for the first 12 months. We then took the lessons learned from our work in Myanmar and create a new platform we have chosen to call OneResponse and it is currently being launched and pilotted in a few countries by the UN as their information sharing platform during disasters.This platform also proofed it‘s applicability to different crisis last spring when it was used to create a collaboration platform for the Ministry of Health and other organizations involved in the pandemic outbreak of H1N1 in one of the first countries to experience that pandemic.So again I want to stress the fact that it is not enough to define the organization and define the processes, you must also provide the platforrm to enable effctive coordination and that is where technology can play an important role.
  • And now to the more sensitive subjects. We all know that time can be of the essence when dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. We often talk of the golden hours we have to save people trapped in the rubble following an earthquake. However it is our experience that there is an inherent fear of asking for assistance. One of my collegues within the UN said that this fear was in fact misguided pride, that we were simply to proud to ask for help. One way of getting around this discussion of pride, is not to request or ask for help but rather to welcome it. This simple change of words can be quite dramatic. But this does not just happen at the international level. We also see this happening at the local levels within the country. The local disaster managers do not want to give over control of the response to the central government. What however we often forget is that these individuals have themselves been affected by the disaster itself either directly or indirectly. As an example of this I can mention the earthquake in Bam, Iran in 2003, where all members of the local disaster response committee had died during the earthquake, except for one and he had lost his entire family. In that case of course the central government had to assume control and coordinate the situation. We must however in these cases, still allow the local policy makers, such as politicians and local government officials to be involved in the policy making aspects, even though the central government is taking over the operational aspects of the response.But how do you deal with getting the international community involved. One of the best practices I can point towards in that respect is to give you case of Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have actually written it into their disaster legislation and SOPs how and when the international community will be asked for assistance. They have already defined how the interface between the international community and the local community will be, thereby eliminating lot of conflicts and confusion that will otherwise arise. So my recommendation to you is to accept the fact that you will have disasters which will overwhelm your ability to respond and instead of turning a blind eye towards this, plan for it and welcome assistance rather too early than too late.
  • And now to an even more sensitive subject – the one of disaster politics. The quote on the screen comes from a paper discussing the political effects of disasters.Researchers have pointed out that in fact when a disaster strikes, two crisis often evolve. The first is caused by the physical event and through it we must address the needs of the affected population. The second crisis is one of a political nature where government decisions are criticized and often politicians use the physicial crisis as an opportunity to find ways of attacking those in power.There are a number of things that can be done to minimize the effect of the second crisis. First of all it is important to look at disaster management as a profession. As I mentioned earlier it is important to put a separation between the operational aspects and the policy aspects. Those responsible for the policy should not be directly running the operations. That should be left to the disaster management professionals. The policy makers should ask the person in charge of the operations what he needs from them to ensure he can do his job – and vice versa the disaster manager must be able to directly ask the policy makers for what he needs to get his job done. After Hurricane Katrina devistated New Orleans, one of the key lessons learned was that there was a disconnect between the political level (in other words the president) and those running the operation. There were too many levels of government between the two. As a result a change was made that provides FEMA with a direct link to the president without having to go through multiple levels of bureaucracy.Another way of pre-empting political fighting during a disaster is to include the opposition within the policy making entity in the spirit of a national unity facing this crisis. Or as the old saying goes, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Provide them with the appropriate platform for voicing their concerns, instead of pushing towards communicating via the media. The more involved you get them, they will also understand why certain decisions are being made because they get a better insight into the problems being faced.The key to successful disaster response is to focus on the needs of the people and not on the political needs of the organizations and inviduals involved. This is one of the tenants of the core principals of humanitarian assistance defined by the Red Cross movement and adhered by a large number of internatioal organizations and NGOs around the world.
  • As the initial diaster response phase comes to and end, we must start focusing on the relief efforts. There are a few things to keep in mind during this phase. The first one is quite well defined by the new FEMA Director, Craig Fugate, where he reminds us that the most important asset we have during relief is the people who survived the disasters. We need to involve them and use them in our efforts to rebuild a better community than we had before the disaster struck. Any program that does not involve the affect community directly is doomed to fail.We must also continue to coordinate our efforts during this phase and it is our experience that the cluster approach still works and provides a platform for effective relief coordination.
  • In the end I want to talk about the importance of learning from our experiences. Very often we go on a witch-hunt of finding someone to blame for what went wrong. We are good at identifying what went wrong, in other words identifying the fault, but we often forget to learn from these mistakes. It is human to make mistakes and we all do them, but it is only when we repeat our mistakes again and again that we should get criticized for what we did. Henry Ford, the car maker, said it well when he said „Don‘t find a fault. Find a remidy“. We must focus on learning from our mistakes and adapting our approach to future disasters in such a way that we face those disasters better and in a more efficent manner than before.
  • Thank you!
  • Effective Disaster Coordination

    1. 1. Effective Coordination<br />International Perspective<br />Gísli Ólafsson<br />Disaster Management – Technical Advisor<br />Microsoft Corporation<br />
    2. 2. Climate Change<br />
    3. 3. Live Media Coverage<br />
    4. 4. Social Networks<br />
    5. 5. Comprehensive Approach<br />Move from Response to Risk Management<br />Risks<br />Full Cycle<br />Constituents<br />
    6. 6. Disaster Risk Information<br />Needs to be shared<br />Scientists<br />Responders<br />Citizens<br />
    7. 7. Legislation<br />Organization<br />Training<br />Disaster Preparedness<br />
    8. 8. Legislation<br />
    9. 9. Organization<br />
    10. 10. Training<br />
    11. 11. Coordination<br />Beyond capacity<br />Politics<br />Disaster Response<br />
    12. 12. Normal (routine emergencies)<br /><ul><li>People relate as roles
    13. 13. People are the problem
    14. 14. Orgs are the solution</li></ul>Disaster<br /><ul><li>Relate as People
    15. 15. Orgs are the problem
    16. 16. People are the solution</li></ul>Catastrophe<br /><ul><li>Society breaks down
    17. 17. No relationships – survival
    18. 18. Only happened a few times (Hiroshima)</li></ul>E=mc2 of disasters<br />
    19. 19. Coordination<br />
    20. 20. Cluster Approach<br />
    21. 21. Information Management<br />
    22. 22. OneResponse<br />
    23. 23. Beyond Capacity<br />
    24. 24. We cannot ignore the fact that disasters are by their nature political events - they trigger intense discussions over “who gets what” from government.<br />Disaster Politics<br />
    25. 25. “People who are alive after a disaster are not ‘victims,’ they are ‘survivors,’ with the ability and resources to respond to and recover from disasters.” Craig Fugate, FEMA Director<br />Disaster Recovery<br />
    26. 26. Knowledge Management<br />