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Emergency Operations Room - A Story to Tell from Beirut
The Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) has been providing independent, neutral, and impartial humanitarian aid throughout its 75-year history. LRC seeks to provide help to the most vulnerable according to their needs and regardless of race, gender, religion, political beliefs, or other factors.
Disasters affect entire communities leading to loss of life and damage to property and infrastructure. The affected people, traumatized by the experience, are often unable to provide for their basic needs, at least in the short term. They often need adequate shelter, food, water, and other necessities to sustain life. Thus, rapid action is required to prevent further loss of life. However, as these events are unexpected, responding parties have limited time to prepare. So it is crucial to plan and prepare long before a disaster strikes.
On August 4, 2020, an explosion occurred in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Shockwaves affected the Beirut port, the industrial waterfront, and the city's highly populated residential neighborhoods. The powerful explosion resulted in disastrous outcomes with more than 180 deaths, 6,000 injuries, and infrastructure damage. Housing, food security, education, health care, businesses, and tourism were heavily affected. In times like these, disaster management is vital.
Disaster management is the organization and management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with all the humanitarian aspects of emergencies. It should include mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery to reduce the impact of a disaster. Governments and nonprofit organizations have the primary responsibility for disaster management. Disaster management planning plays a critical role in the prompt response of support organizations to disaster events in order to ensure that affected people can return to normal life within the shortest possible time.
Disasters may be unavoidable, however mitigation measures can reduce the impact of a disaster. That's why disaster preparedness is necessary. This phase of the disaster management cycle aims at identifying the capacities needed to efficiently manage all types of disasters. In this phase, governments, organizations, and individuals develop plans to save lives and minimize disaster damage. Preparedness measures also seek to enhance disaster response operations. Effective disaster preparedness helps alleviate some of the chaos that results from the unexpected crisis. It is critical to have a written plan in place for a response. Such planning reduces duplication of efforts and increases the overall effectiveness of response efforts.
Data management is an instrumental and vital part of the disaster response, wherever a disaster strikes and whatever type of disaster it may be. Data needs to be collected, analyzed, and visualized to help determine the size and scope of a disaster management program. A large amount of data is needed to run the operations, including personal data of affected people and data related to damages, needs, vulnerabilities, capacities, etc. Managing this data is challenging. But when relevant data is employed, it provides crucial information to help prioritize and optimize response efforts and enhance the provided support.
LRC acknowledged the importance of using smart systems and digital tools to enhance the effectiveness of its operations. Consequently, LRC teamed up with Esri Lebanon to develop a smart solution that facilitates data management to enhance decision-making and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the response. The solution was revised and updated so it would be applicable in any type of disaster that might occur.
The Emergency Operations Room (EOR) solution is a configuration in ArcGIS Online that helps stakeholders understand how to manage the different tasks of their daily emergency operations. It is designed to help stakeholders better understand how the crisis is impacting physical locations and workforce capacity. The solution is a communication tool for disseminating information to internal and external stakeholders, helping everyone make decisions using the same source of data, displayed using ArcGIS Dashboards.
The main purpose of the solution is to help the crisis management cell provide, at a minimum, the following:
- Adequate safe water and sanitation
- Adequate food
- Adequate health care including psychological support
- Adequate shelter
- Sufficient cash assistance to meet the basic needs of those affected by the disaster
To ensure the provision of the abovementioned basic needs, the solution helps understand the impact of the crisis in a defined area, especially on the affected people. It makes it easy for dispatchers to have real-time data and report on the status from the field especially since status changes frequently.
The developed solution also aims at coordinating the mobilization of resources efficiently. In times of disaster, local parties take the initiative to support the response. One of the crucial responsibilities of the crisis management cell is to coordinate the response of various parties to ensure a complementary approach and avoid any duplication of effort. The developed solution assists the crisis management cell in fulfilling this role by assigning each nongovernmental organization (NGO) to a specific zone that can be visualized on a web app.
Additionally, the solution allows the crisis management cell to compile and integrate the data received from various data sources, analyze it, and make informed decisions. The added value of EOR is that it allows the management cell to understand the data in real time and easily disseminate information to the field. For instance, the analysis of NGO distribution per zone of action can help the crisis management cell identify areas with a limited number of interventions and mobilize resources accordingly. The solution makes it easy for operators to report on the status of activities, check their locations, view status and workforce capacity on dashboards, and communicate disruptions to stakeholders and the public.
The developed solution enhances accountability and transparency as it allows the community members to participate in the response, provide feedback and complaints through the established call center, and share information with various stakeholders through dashboards and maps. EOR enables enhanced communication as it helps reduce the confusion and misinformation that might arise. The solution includes tools for sharing authoritative information with internal stakeholders so they can use current information for better decision-making and with external stakeholders like donors or the public
The solution allows stakeholders to apply the following functions:
- Assess the needs of the affected population through the call center
- Link the responding parties with the crisis management cell through the NGO registration tools
- Link the needs with the available capacities through the dispatching systems
- Track and follow up on the achievement of received requests through the informative dashboards
- Conduct gap analysis to reorient the efforts and make informed decisions
- Collect feedback from beneficiaries on the quality of services provided
- Report periodically and share information on the implemented interventions
Efficient operation of a crisis management cell
The crisis management cell has the duty of implementing the EOR solution, analyzing the generated data to identify gaps, planning the response, and monitoring the operations.
NGOs and other responding parties: These parties are involved in the solution in various ways. They can provide data related to affected people's needs, the capacity of their teams, and other related data collected through damage/vulnerability assessments. Additionally, NGOs and responding parties can align their operations with the crisis management cell by agreeing on their zone of action, receiving requests from the crisis management cell, and regularly reporting on their progress. The EOR allows a coordinated and efficient response that avoids the duplication of the responding actor's efforts. efforts.
The vulnerable community affected by the crisis: The affected population can report on its needs, follow up on promised services, and provide feedback to the crisis management cell regarding the quality of the service or the behavior of a responding actor. The vulnerable community can also stay up-to-date with the progress of the response through the publicly shared dashboards and reports, which enhances community participation and accountability of the crisis management cell.
Governmental institutions: Government institutions such as ministries and governorates are often involved in the crisis response. Proper communication and data sharing are mandatory between these institutions and the crisis management cell to ensure coordinated action. The EOR allows these entities to have shared platforms and to have access to live data that allows timely decision-making.